A balanced federal budget is not enough. It only matches revenues with expenses. The waste and misuse of taxpayer money will continue even with a balanced budget.
The waste is well documented. It has affected the confidence of the people in our government's ability to govern. Surveys have been done that indicate reasons people don't turn out to vote. One of the major reasons given is that "It won't matter who you put in" because nothing changes.President Bush's campaign promise of "no new taxes" has been shattered. Taxes have gone up, yet spending is increasing. Analysts indicate that the budget agreement only slowed the increase in government spending.
The real problem is a lack of fiscal and monetary controls at the federal government.
On the other hand, many state governments have such controls in place. In Utah and in many other states, we have an elected state auditor and an appointed legislative auditor.
The state auditor is the independent "watchdog" over public monies, answerable only to the voters. His job is to expose fraud as well as violation of fiscal laws.
Both auditors are constantly making recommendations to improve economy, efficiency and effectiveness in government. They also have a strong input in the budgeting process.
While we in Utah are not perfect, the non-education component of the state's government runs very efficiently.
During the last gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Norm Bangerter's camp quoted one rating service that said Utah had the most efficient state government in the nation. While many factors are involved here, the control function certainly plays a major part.
No such effective control function exists on the national level.
Presidents Reagan and Bush both have pushed for a line-item veto power. Such power in the presidency would do much to curb the wasteful spending which plagues our nation.
However, the day-to-day control needs to be strengthened. The GAO is the auditing arm of Congress. It corresponds to the legislative auditor's office here in Utah.
What is needed is an independent auditor for the federal government.
Such an auditor could be appointed by the president for a specific term - like the Federal Reserve Board. Or he or she could be popularly elected. Obviously, the latter method would require a change in the Constitution. However, it would be very refreshing to see someone campaign only on the basis of how much more efficient and effective the government has been and will become.
In addition to the traditional auditing powers, I recommend that such an auditor be granted the power to have teeth in his recommendations.
Specifically, he should be given the power to require Congress to vote with a two-thirds majority on any budget or program that falls under specific categories. These would include:
Failure to follow fiscal laws; failure to implement audit recommendations; failure to meet established program objectives; failure of Congress or the department to establish measurable program objectives; consistent or repeated fraud, waste and abuse of government funds.
With such powers granted to an independent watchdog, federal spending would soon be under control.
For example, during a congressional campaign, one of the issues that would come up would be a congressman's vote to override the recommendation of the auditor general. Should a congressman dare to cast such a vote, he could be held accountable by the public during his re-election campaign.
Also, the president and the executive branch of government would be free to suggest to the auditor general where cuts in spending could and should be made.
Speaking from my personal experience in state government, whistle-blowers in the federal system would have a place to go where they would be welcome and appreciated. The GAO auditors and departmental auditors would have a place to get their ideas heard when they are not listened to by program managers.
Yes, we need more than a balanced budget - we need an independent auditor general.
(Richard G. Jensen, a certified public accountant, is former Utah state auditor.)