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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Problems with government? Where do I start?

Everyone agrees that government is broken. Why is it broken? In my next few columns, I’ll share with you what I think is wrong with government.

We often hear politicians and pundits bloviate about the “lack of leadership,” the “waste, fraud and abuse,” “corruption,” and the “incompetence” of some current officeholder. These are all real problems to varying degrees with different elected officials and at different levels of government — federal, state and local — and they make for good speeches and headlines. There are, however, systemic problems that need to be understood before they can be addressed.

The sheer size of government is the cause of many problems. Government is big. Many governments are bigger than most businesses, and there are all kinds of factors that make it impossible for government to be run like a business. Nassau County’s budget, for example, is over $2.5 billion. If Nassau County were on the Fortune 1000 list, it would be somewhere in the 800s — bigger than Groupon. New York City, with a budget of around $75 billion, would be No. 35, in between Microsoft and Amazon on the list.

New York state, with a $140 billion budget, would be No. 10, just below General Electric. And of course the federal government, whose budget is $3.5 trillion, is way, way larger than No. 1 on Fortune’s list, Walmart, and its $476 billion budget. In so many cases, government is simply too big.

Complicating matters is the fact that government doesn’t just have one “business.” It has dozens of them. Think of Nassau County alone. To oversimplify things, it has a security business (the police); a landscaping business (the parks); a road-paving business (the Department of Public Works); a sewer business; an accounting and finance business; a law business; a drug, alcohol and mental health business; and two dozen other businesses focused on youths, seniors, housing, corrections, consumer protection, health, economic development, and on and on. Each requires leadership by people of differing skill sets and talents, and within each “business” are multiple divisions and programs. You get the idea.

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