There was an interesting article in the Washington Post recently that I'm sure escaped the notice of most people but I found it to be an illuminating illustration of why the public takes such a dim view of Congress. In a nutshell, the U.S. Senate reluctantly decided to turn over operation of its network of restaurants to a private firm after losing over $18 million since 1993, an estimated $2 million of which was lost last year alone. The vote took place lateat night because they were embarrassed by the irony of ranting loudly and publicly against privatization of government operations by the executive branch, yet being forced to hire out their own restaurant services because they were so poorly run that taxpayers had to bail them out for over four decades. The Senate restaurant network turned a profit in only seven of its 44 years of operation, a pathetic waste of our tax dollars. What was the reason for this dismal performance over such a long period of time? According to Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), it was "noticeably subpar" food and service. Senators and their staffers would hotfoot it over to the House cafeteria where the service and food were apparently at least up to par. The House contracted out its food services in the 1980s and not only has the contractor satisfied its clientele with their service and the quality and selection of food, they've been profitable and returned $1.2 million in commissions to the House since 2003. That same contractor will be taking over the Senate's food empire and expects to make it profitable in three years and deliver $800,000 in commissions to the Senate. Let's hear it for free enterprise!
The Democrats in the Senate, however, are practically in mourning. They believe their highest obligation is to the labor unions that funded their campaigns and the food service workers who are paid a significantly higher wage than they would make if they worked in the real world. Their lamentations led me to the conclusion that they've forgotten a few fundamental facts about their role as public servants and stewards of our tax dollars so I thought I'd offer them a refresher course to ease their troubled hearts:
1) It's not your money. It's ours. Even your substantial paychecks come from our money.
2) Since it's not your money but ours, your first and highest obligation is to spend and invest it wisely like the managers of a sound financial portfolio.
3) Competent portfolio managers don't continue to pour money into poorly performing securities so you shouldn't be spending our money on failing government programs.
4) We expect program results to be defined and approved by us before a penny is spent and performance measured regularly to be sure we're getting what we pay for. Bad programs should be dropped from the portfolio like a failing stock or mutual fund and the money reinvested in programs that deliver the results we expect.
5) Government is not an employment agency; it's a public service paid for by our tax dollars. If a service can be delivered for less cost and no loss of quality or responsiveness by the private or non-profit sector, there is no excuse for doing it any other way. In that way, you maximize the return on our investment, which is important because...
6) ...it's not your money. It's ours.
I hope this refresher course has been a salve to your wounded consciences. Take heart - in this case, you've done the right thing. Just try to remember this lesson the next time you're tempted to spend our money like a teenager at the mall with Dad's credit card.