TWO VIEWS: Harvey presents a chance to re-examine role of government


Hurricane Harvey is sure to test the mettle of incoming Texas legislators.

When lawmakers reconvene in January 2019, the state’s revenue picture is likely to be a little gloomier than usual, given that total losses from the storm could reach $190 billion. Even if the economic impact doesn’t hit revenues hard, Harvey will force a few extra budgetary confrontations, like providing financial assistance to Houston and surrounding areas, building and expanding infrastructure and lowering property taxes — both for those affected by the disaster and all Texans.

To be fair, federal assistance and some of the state’s $11 billion rainy day fund may help blunt Harvey’s impact, but even still, there are tough choices that lie ahead.

COMMENTARY: Add legal aid to the list of ways to help Harvey victims.

But where there is challenge, there is usually also opportunity — and that’s no different here.

Harvey’s silver lining is that it’s a chance rethink government— whom it serves, what it does and how it spends the public’s money. Done right, a top-to-bottom review of Texas governments could help weed out waste, redirect money from wants to needs and result in a better overall product. That’s not just pie-in-the-sky thinking either; President Ronald Reagan proved as much.

Faced with mounting budget deficits in the early 1980s, Reagan launched an ambitious effort to examine everything the federal government did and find out if there was a better way to do it. The governmentwide review started when Reagan signed an executive order creating the Private Sector Survey on Cost Control in the Federal Government, otherwise known as the Grace Commission.

The Grace Commission’s goal was simple: seek out waste in the federal government. What made the commission special, however, was that it was composed of and driven exclusively by the private sector.

COMPTROLLER: Lawmakers face $2 billion Hurricane Harvey bill.

In partnership with 161 top executives from around the country and 2,000-plus volunteers, the Grace Commission conducted an exhaustive examination of almost every federal department, agency and function looking for ways to interweave private-sector thinking and innovation. The commission’s findings were impressive.

After two years of study, the private sector-led group published a comprehensive report offering almost 2,500 suggestions to make the federal government run cheaper and better. Had all the commission’s recommendations been adopted, U.S. taxpayers could have saved as much as $424.4 billion over a three-year period — a princely sum even by today’s standards.

Of course, not all the commission’s recommendations were adopted by Congress or implemented by agencies due in large part to politics; but even still, the entire affair was quite a success. After all, the commission helped to reduce federal expenditures by $110 billion, improved the delivery of core government services, and, perhaps most importantly, created a model for others to emulate.

The example set by Reagan in the 1980s is one worth duplicating in Texas today.

Private-sector-led efficiency committees have enormous potential to positively impact the direction of state fiscal matters, as well as city finances. Unleashing the creativity and ingenuity of executives and entrepreneurs on Texas’ state and local governments has the potential to be a real game-changer — one that can help free up much-needed resources to assist in disaster recovery, eliminate waste, that has built up over time, and improve public services. Moreover, it’ll put fresh eyes on old problems to imagine new solutions.

SPECIAL REPORT: Port Aransas faces long road to recovery.

Harvey may be one of the worst natural disasters to ever befall Texas, but there is still some good that can come of it.

Next session, conservative lawmakers must seize on the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Reagan and partner with the private sector to rethink government. Especially in today’s difficult fiscal environment, we need to make sure that government is as efficient as possible and that every tax dollar is being put to its highest and best use.

Quintero leads the Think Local Liberty project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Viewpoints: How Texas should start assessing dam safety across state
Viewpoints: How Texas should start assessing dam safety across state

Texas has made progress in addressing dam safety — there is no doubt. But more needs to be done to keep Texans who live near dams safe. Twenty years after the Austin American-Statesman reported on widespread shortcomings in dam safety, another Statesman investigation by Ralph K.M. Haurwitz published last week found hundreds of dams in Texas remain...
Alberta Phillips: Just one flag honors all veterans — Old Glory
Alberta Phillips: Just one flag honors all veterans — Old Glory

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is being slammed for his decision not to participate in last Saturday’s Veterans Day Parade. That criticism from Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and many others took aim at the wrong target. Adler made a moral decision. It was the parade committee that goofed up badly with a decision that demeans the dignity of...
Commentary: My family fought for the Confederacy. They were heroes
Commentary: My family fought for the Confederacy. They were heroes

Rich Oppel and I have been friends of sorts for 20-plus years. Recently, he mentioned he was “provoked” by my outburst of anger over a guest commentary suggesting “we mothball Confederate statues.” By mothballing, he meant removing them from their current location to an unknown destination. RICH OPPEL: Where does America&rsquo...
Letters to the editor: Nov. 18, 2017

Re: Nov. 14 article, “AISD moves to rename remaining schools with Confederate ties by August.” When will it end? If we’re going to re-name some Austin schools because they were named for Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, we also need to look at other places that bear these names. There is a street named after Lanier in my neighborhood...
Juan Castillo: How common sense can transcend ideology about guns
Juan Castillo: How common sense can transcend ideology about guns

It seems outrageous now, but cruising New Mexico streets while tossing back a beer used to be as common as hatch chiles in August. It was the culture, pure and simple, says Doug Fritzsche, who used to live there. Not surprisingly, until the 1990s, New Mexico led the nation in alcohol-related deaths, the New York Times reported back in 2005. Carnage...
More Stories