Confused, not Dazed

Trump's world

I’m confused. I always thought sincerity and empathy were two highly-valued traits in our leadership. I thought that honesty, devotion to duty, personal sacrifice for our country, and having a shared love of country was honorable and desirable. But then I encounter the brave new world of politics in the post-reality environment we now find ourselves in, and I wonder how we have migrated so far off of the tracks.

I’m confused. I thought overt racism and tiki-torch marches in favor of white nationalism was a relic of the past in this and in other countries. I believed that we were evolving into becoming one human race, instead of fragmenting ourselves into artificial divides based upon minor genetic differences. Now I see moral equivalence declared between liberal protestors, and the followers of Richard Spencer. I see the white race proclaimed as being the savior of the human race, since obviously no other race has ever made any contribution to civilization.

I’m confused. I thought our culture had long gotten past the point where women had validated their worth to society, past the point where they were viewed as merely eye candy and were subject to being considered as the property of their alpha males. I thought that women in our country had earned the right to govern their own reproductive processes without governmental coercion. But now I see misogyny celebrated, declared to be “not politically correct” and exclaimed with adulation, while at the same time women’s rights to control their own body are dying the death of a thousand legislative cuts at the hands of males who ask their mistresses to get an abortion because a pregnancy would not be convenient to the male legislator.

I’m confused. I thought with the near total collapse of communism, that would enable the world to devote some of the excessive expenditures for armaments and armies into works to benefit the mass of humanity. I believed that beating swords into plowshares was good for humanity. I didn’t expect to see ever increasing funding for more and more complex weapons systems, and I didn’t expect to see a call for a return to the nuclear weapon level of the 1970’s.

I’m confused. I thought with the rapid advances in technology and communications, fostered by advances in science, we would be enabled to have a shared vision of reality as defined through science. But now we see alternative facts extolled even though objective reality denies their existence. We see individuals proclaim their right to their own reality, even though that reality may in fact cause risk to their own families and to society (anti-vaccines). We see legislative mandates to “teach the controversy” of evolution when there is no controversy there. We see the denial of all of the evidence of a warming world, and we declare that since trace gases in our atmosphere are such a tiny fraction, there is no way they can influence climate.

I’m confused. I thought Evangelical Christians took a firm moral stand against greed, and vanity, and lust, and unchastity, and wrath, and pride. Yet when presented with a candidate who embodies these traits wholly and completely, they unhesitatingly supported him in the Presidential election. This in support of someone whose familiarity with Christian rituals ended with the death of Norman Vincent Peale, and someone who enjoys only having his little wine and little cracker when at a service.

I’m confused. I thought this country had made substantial improvements in our environment from the days of my youth, when rivers caught fire, and soot-based smog choked the life out of unfortunate people in Pennsylvania (actually before my time). I thought that the return of the bald eagles represented the triumph of wise stewardship of the earth, and I looked forward to exporting these environmental improvements to other countries through provisions in trade pacts. But now I see wholesale and rapid abandonment of environmental progress and trade pacts, all in the name of increasing profits for business (and maybe reclaiming jobs until dwindling resources disappear).

I’m confused. I’ve heard the Republican drumbeats calling out the evils of deficits, and the need to ensure austerity in order to prevent the collapse of our government into a pile of indebted rubble. I’ve seen balanced budgets at the Federal level only once in my lifetime, under a Democratic administration. Yet I see the Republican’s gleefully hop onto a runaway train of tax cuts, aimed not at reforming our tax system, but instead swelling the assets of the top 1% while tossing animal crackers to the masses in order to persuade them of the generosity of their tax cut.

I’m confused. I thought leaders were those who were able to display the trait of reasonableness, and who were able to enunciate the principles for which they stand. I thought they would engage the nation and the legislators with cogent thoughts and well-reasoned opinions. But now I see what passes for Presidential prose as 140-character cartoon bubbles, devoid of depth, internally inconsistent, and lacking in human sensitivity. I see wrath-filled tweets sent during hours when most should be sleeping. I see covfefe extolled as gospel emanating from the fingers of the tweeter-in-chief.

I’m confused. I thought that even with the ongoing decline in educational and moral standards of this country, there was no way the people of this nation would elect a charlatan and singularly vile representative of humanity as its President. I was wrong.

 

Some will say that this commentary represents a sense of denial about the election. Let me say, no, it does not. I see the election of Donald Trump as the last stand of those who are unable to adjust to a changing world. This President has lived up to every one of my expectations of his behavior and policies. I just didn’t realize the pain that the embodiment of his misguided policies would cause as the administration lurches from one self-induced crisis to another, all the while denying there are any problems with their agenda (and besides, it’s all McConnell’s fault). My sincere hope is that for those who still believe that Donald Trump is working for the benefit of any other than the billionaire class, I hope they come to their senses and realize that Donald Trump has a singular achievement that may never be duplicated. He committed the greatest con job ever on the citizens of the US.

Misguided Priorities? You Decide

Eagle_Stadium

Photo posted on Wikimedia commons. Photo by Aerial Photography, Inc. Allen Texas High School.

Compare and contrast the priorities of two adjacent states. In an AP story today, we learned about how Oklahoma’s conservative approach toward taxes has resulted in teachers becoming eligible for a house from Habitat For Humanity, and their children becoming eligible for reduced price school lunches. See the story here:

http://wtop.com/business-finance/2017/08/charities-try-to-help-oklahoma-teachers-survive-pay-collapse/

Meanwhile, in a CNN story, we learn about the ongoing arms race in Texas football stadiums, where new high school stadiums cost as much as $70 million dollars. See the story here:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2729443-72-million-for-a-high-school-stadium-in-texas-its-only-up-from-there

I can think of nothing that displays the misplaced priorities of the US better than these two examples. In one state, teacher’s pay has stayed stagnant for a decade, while its GOP-led legislature maintained extremely low tax rates on oil and gas extraction, and in 2014 passed legislation to cut the personal income tax in the state. This has resulted in Oklahoma per pupil spending on public education to decline by a quarter from 2008 to 2016. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Continental Resources, an oil extraction firm, says “We don’t have a revenue problem in Oklahoma. We have a spending problem.”

Across the Red River in Texas, things are full speed ahead for funding for worship spaces for the Texas state-sponsored religion, high school football. Katy (a Houston suburb that is probably now just wanting the rain to stop) has just completed work on their $72 million dollar facility, replete with luxury boxes and a $2 million dollar video replay board. Granted, Texas does support its teachers better than Oklahoma does, with their average teacher pay about 32nd in the nation as compared to Oklahoma’s position at 48th. Still, the excess public funding for athletic facilities, and the excess adulation given to young male athletes is out of all proportion to the true value of high school athletics.

Can you imagine what it would be like to work for a school system where they passed bond issues to improve the chemistry labs for their high schools? Or one where they upgraded their biology laboratories with modern microscopes instead of using manually focused machines that were obsolete in the 1970’s? Indeed, over and over again we see that the priorities of this nation are to prevent funding for new school academic facilities, preferring instead to cut taxes once again in order to stimulate economic activity. Ask Kansas how that’s working out for them?

We suffer in this country from a surfeit of selfishness. Republicans proudly commit to the principles of Ayn Rand, advocating full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism as the only valid moral code. We no longer recognize a collective need for action and spending unless we ourselves directly benefit from such spending. How many comments on message threads state “Why should I support spending on schools? I have no children going to school.” Such flawed reasoning holds that since I have mine, and have already benefited from common societal spending, I have no duty to the rest of society to enable others to potentially gain the same benefits as I already accrued.

Indeed, you see many screeds in the blogosphere about the unfairness of being taxed at all, that all taxes represent a taking from someone who has earned everything they have. If our entire society thought and acted like that, then we would live in a world of constant violence, where only those who could spend for defensive capabilities would be allowed to hold on to their own hard-earned assets. Taxes are necessary, and the belief that lowered taxation will always result in increased economic activity, so much so that it will lift the entire society out of poverty, has been proven demonstrably false. State after state has attempted that as a prescription for stagnant economies, and in each case, the results have not met expectations. See Kansas and Oklahoma and their growth rates vs. that of California, who chose a different path.

The issue of spending on schools, both teachers and facilities, is symptomatic of the direction that this nation has taken over the last four decades. At the national level, we grew tired of a congressional appropriations process that resulted in infrastructure spending only where it benefited powerful congressmen and women. So we banned earmarks, and now have included all infrastructure spending within the discretionary spending caps which are falling further and further behind in meeting critical needs. Meanwhile, attacks on unions have created the image of the Teachers Union slackers, living high on the hog on our largesse while simultaneously shirking their responsibility to adequately educate our children.

It is certainly true that the past method for allocating infrastructure spending was fraught with manipulation and waste. That is not an excuse though for letting all of it rust away and collapse like the levees did in New Orleans. We need civic-minded politicians who are willing and able to accept the recommendations of experts, who can assign priority to the critical infrastructure upgrades that are needed. These experts must also assess the capabilities of our construction contractors. Since we have neglected necessary funding for so long, we cannot scale back up immediately with 2x or greater spending on roads and bridges. We need to ramp up the spending rate over time, and we need a plan that is longer than that of a continuing resolution in order to provide contractors with the confidence that they can procure additional equipment, and hire trained workers, and receive an adequate return on their investment. Not to mention that we need some sort of training protocol for those who would benefit from infrastructure jobs. I know, I referred to the ultimate oxymoron – civic-minded politicians. In this day and age of polarization and political fratricide as practiced by President Trump, it is nigh unto impossible to conceive of a civic-minded politician. Put your disbelief away for a while, and just imagine a congress packed with such critters.

Likewise, public school education has suffered from waste, and a lack of accountability. It is unacceptable to have incompetent teachers protected from losing their jobs due to bureaucratic procedures. We need to enable the system to eliminate those teachers who do not perform, while increasing the pay so that the profession attracts more capable applicants who would actually be able to pay off their student loans. But it also needs to be acknowledged that we have failed our education systems by systematically refusing to upgrade facilities, voting down bond issues repeatedly until the very roofs start caving in on the poor students caught in the public school system. The solutions identified by the head of the Department of Education involves increasing the profit potential for investors in charter schools, affecting only a fraction of the total school population, instead of offering real assistance in enabling our school systems to succeed. We don’t need curriculum mandates and charter schools, we need assistance for teacher salaries and school facilities.

America was great when we had a firm commitment to public schools, and to public infrastructure. That we have meandered so far away from that commitment speaks to our failure to reinvest in our future. Are we that selfish that we opt for a fragmented and failing society just so we can retain a few more percent of our income? But the philosophy of conservatism since the days of Reagan keeps insisting that prosperity is just one more tax cut away. Sad. So sad.

Is This Sentence Too Long For You?

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One hundred and forty characters. That is the new delineation between acceptable political discourse, and incomprehensible gibberish, according to the new world order. Twitter me this: Are we so limited in our attention span that we can only understand concepts described in 140 characters or less?

The simple answer is, yes, we have regressed back into simplicity. We are so immersed in the shallowness of thoughts induced by our addiction to our electronic devices, that we now find it uncomfortable to concentrate for longer than a single tweet. And, appropriate for a nation addicted to fluff, we have selected a celebrity leader who epitomizes our shallowness.

When did we begin to worship “the cult of the celebrity?” Certainly in the 1800’s, the emergence of celebrities began. Fostered by the development of mass media (newspapers and magazines), and the growth of cities, a critical mass coalesced whereby people could become familiar with famous people, even if they never had the possibility of seeing these people perform. Think of Jenny Lind (supported by one P. T. Barnum). Think of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show. Think of Samuel Clemens and his touring lectures. Certainly in the late 1800’s, it became possible for individuals to become famous for being famous.

By the early 1960’s, the cult of the celebrity was well established. In 1961, Daniel Boorstin wrote in his seminal book “The Image, or What Happened to the American Dream”, “The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness”. At the time he wrote those words, it applied to a much smaller group of people. Zsa Zsa Gabor comes to mind as exemplifying celebrity culture in the late 1950’s, and even then she did have some accomplishments as a movie actress. Boorstin was definitely prescient in foreseeing the direction of the culture.

America has also harbored a strong anti-intellectual bent. One of my favorite movies, Bringing Up Baby (and it’s ’70’s remake, What’s Up Doc), personified the attitudes towards intellectuals and scientists in popular culture. Cary Grant is the hapless paleontologist who inexplicably becomes the pursued object of the alpha female Katherine Hepburn. It is Hepburn as the mob moll, spitting out the end of a cigar, who rescues the scientist from incarceration. Small point, maybe, but except for film biographies of noble scientists struggling against society, movie culture rarely pictured scientists at all, and if they were pictured, more often than not they were objects of ridicule. They were the Nutty Professor instead of the rugged individualists portrayed in hundreds of westerns.

Today, anti-intellectualism is worn as a badge of honor by many in our society. In our schools, those who excel academically are derided and bullied by those who do not value scholastic achievement. In government, our politicians state, “I am not a scientist, but…” just before they explain why they are against scientific consensus on an issue, usually climate change. Anti-vaxxers who couldn’t describe the functions of vaccines in stimulating the immune system, claim that the cost / benefit ratio of vaccines has been miscalculated ever since the invention of the smallpox vaccine. And since the latest Presidential election, the scientists of the Federal government have been demeaned, threatened with slashed funding, and have been removed from any position of power and influence. Indeed, as of early July, no one has been nominated for the position of National Science Advisor.

Science and scientists have taken the brunt of the anti-intellectualism of the Trump administration, but other intellectuals are the victims of his misguided philosophy of dismembering government as a ruling strategy. Why rely upon professional diplomats who have spent decades studying issues and learning about regional and global political issues? Let’s just go to a meeting of world leaders and wing it. What could possibly go wrong?

So now we have the Tweeter-in-Chief using stream of consciousness to posit the latest birth of a thought (A cyber-security cooperative between us and Russia!), only to come back 12 hours later saying, “Not gonna happen!” My question is who is going to end up running the Trump empire once all of the key players end up imprisoned due to their actions during the campaign and subsequent time in power. Maybe we can get a remake of the First Wives Club (or first and second and third wives club) with Ivana, Marla, and Melania? I’d pay to see that.

Back to 140 characters. It is so deeply ironic that when NPR decided this year to not only recite the Declaration of Independence, but to tweet it, that many in the twittersphere took the words of our founding fathers as disrespect against the dear leader. Can you imagine that happening in any time other than the present, that such profound ignorance would display itself in a public medium?

I am reminded of the wisdom of the National Lampoon back in the early 1970’s for their parody, Deteriorata. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey6ugTmCYMk ). They, too, foresaw what was happening, and where we were headed. One of my favorite lines in this piece is: “Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls would barely get your feet wet.” What an appropriate metaphor for government of the tweet, by the twit, and for the twitted.

Obstruction, Thy Name Is Grover

It started with an effort in California to rein in property tax increases. With the enormous growth in population and property values in California reflected in the 1970’s property assessment rates, Howard Jarvis was the organizing force that enabled Proposition 13 to succeed at the ballot box in California in 1978. Proposition 13 froze real estate taxes in California and greatly limited the potential rate of property tax increase allowed. Thus began the revolt against any form of increased taxes that became the mantra of the Republican party since that time.

President Reagan in 1981 assumed the mantle of the outsider who decried and denounced the government in his inaugural address. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” He then took the lead in the passage of two significant income tax reductions during his two terms. Yet he wasn’t totally committed as an anti-tax ideologue, since he also oversaw several tax increases that affected social security taxes, and broadened the taxable base, exposing formerly exempt forms of income to the new lower tax rates.

This inconsistency from the leader of the Republicans led a 29-year old veteran of anti-communist battles across the globe to create an organization that has hobbled the US ever since its founding. Grover Norquist established Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in 1985 as requested by President Reagan, and shortly thereafter became the chief evangelist for the philosophical position that all government spending is bad, and that it should become an existential crisis if a Republican politician ever supports a tax increase. Thus began the saga of the pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, that an overwhelming number of Republican legislators have affixed their signatures to, stating that they will “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates”.

So much of the polarization in Congress flows directly from the pernicious effects of this pledge, and from the personal crusading of Grover Norquist against any attempt to increase tax revenues, either at a federal or a state level. Indeed, the state of Kansas attempted to follow the guidance of Norquist and fellow economic guru Arthur Laffer by slashing their income tax rates in order to unleash a supply-side revolution at the state level. Five years later, with the state hobbled by the unforeseen consequences of the tax reductions, the legislature of Kansas overrode their governor’s veto of tax increases in order to restore the functioning of the state government at a minimal level. Governor Brownback is not chastened, though, and still champions the same tax slash and burn strategy for the Federal government.

Grover Norquist’s penchant for bullying recalcitrant Republicans is straight-forward. As the Washington Post quoted Norquist in a July 12, 2011 story, “There are times,” he boasted, “when we’ll call everybody in the congressional district and let them know that one guy signed the pledge and one guy didn’t.” Indeed, the reluctance of Republicans to seriously address needed fiscal remedies stems from the likelihood that ATR and other political organizations spawned from ATR vitriol will cause the emergence of a well-funded primary opponent in the legislator’s next race. It is well known that the influence of Grover Norquist and his pledge was one of the main reasons why the bipartisan effort to address deficits and spending in 2011 through the super committee came to failure. See this 2011 editorial from the New York Times for a contemporaneous perspective:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/opinion/republicans-are-endangering-national-security.html  Thus came into effect that blind ax swinger called the sequester that has run amuck over the past few years, slicing both defense and discretionary spending.

In less partisan times, the two parties could actually work together to have a legitimate debate about the true size and function of a government. We could make longer term plans to address the deferred maintenance of our US infrastructure. We could discuss ways to reduce safety net spending by improving workforce participation rates and labor skills. We could discuss how to encourage entrepreneurship and reducing artificial barriers to entry caused by state licensing requirements for many trades. But the hyperbolic partisan wrangling wrought about through generations of adherence to a flawed political philosophy means that the worst threat that Senator McConnell can issue is to force the Republicans to work with the Democrats on health care legislation. After all, as Grover has said, bipartisanship is “date rape”.

There are many areas where legislative efforts involving both parties should bear significant fruit. Indeed, overregulation has become a problem, although the wholesale shredding of environmental regulations will only bear toxic fruit. We desperately need a longer term program of infrastructure repair and replacement. We do need to simplify the tax code and reduce the nominal top business rate in order to improve our competitiveness in a global economy.

But with the political discourse from one side beginning and ending with the phrase, no additional taxes, we cannot move forward. I put forth the proposition that Grover Norquist is one of the most dangerous people in politics, and that the culture of absolutely no compromise allowed has poisoned political discourse. Only when politicians are able to overcome the siren song of simplistic solutions like the Taxpayer Protection Pledge will we be able to begin to fix the myriads of problems we face in this nation and in the world. Look at what 30+ years of adherence to this pledge has achieved! You tell me if we are on a sustainable path given the childishness we face in our politics.

There are indeed legitimate roles for a government that cannot be met by private sector solutions. And taxes, instead of being viewed as money stolen from individuals, represent the price we incur to live in a civilized society, rather than living in an anarchic world where strength is the only security available to men and women and children. I worked in the corporate world for 40 years. I do not want totally unfettered capitalism where there are no rules and anything goes, because in such an environment, we all lose.

 

Let the Games Begin

 

Let’s get ready to rrrrruuuummmmbbbblllle! The Senate Republicans have now laid down the gantlet, and it is now time for us to have a complete and thorough discussion and debate about government involvement in the health care system. One where open suggestions and ideas may be freely floated, and where hearings will bring forth legions of experts, putting forth the benefits of the case for both parties.

Oh. You mean that’s not going to happen? We’re going to barely have a week to discuss and debate this immense change being proposed to our already dysfunctional health care system, then a vote will be forced through? No other alternatives except for what 13 white male Senators came up with will even be considered?

I am truly disgusted by the spectacle of our legislators working hard to craft a bill aimed at causing the greatest amount of harm to the greatest number of people. The old adage was that the legislative and bill drafting process was akin to making sausage. That may still hold true, but it seems that a new step is added whereby the sausage has to pass through the digestive system before the new legislation is laid, steaming fresh, at the feet of its admiring partisan supporters.

It has come down to this. Both parties repudiate any notion of working across the aisle in order to craft a thoughtful comprehensive approach to dealing with the huge problem we have with excessive costs and maldistribution of health care services. Instead, one party works diligently behind closed doors to create a tax cut that only affects those who have income greater than $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint filers). True, it also removes $19 billion in taxes imposed on medical insurers, pharmaceutical firms, and medical device manufacturers. The removal of these taxes shows the value of campaign contributions to the Senators who drafted this legislation. I saw today on TV that over the past few years, these Senators received about $0.5 million in campaign contributions from these entities. $19 billion / $0.5 million = $38,000 in tax benefits for each dollar in campaign contributions.

So we have a bill nominally posited as a health care bill, but in reality it’s a tax cut favoring the top 1% of income earners, and favoring those whose businesses greatly benefited by the increased demand attributable to the Affordable Care Act. And in order to frame this as a win for the average person, we will enable states to allow for limited insurance products, much like it was prior to the ACA’s implementation. Can’t wait to see the expression on the face of some poor schmuck who grabbed on to one of the new cheap health care insurance plans only to find out it pays a total of $400 per day for hospitalization expenses when they have to cover a heart attack hospitalization.. But it’s all good, since the health insurance consumer could have chosen a better plan (but couldn’t afford it).

Let’s have a real debate as the outcome of this faux discussion. Let’s make a determination whether we believe the US is an outlier from the rest of the civilized world, and make health care an independent responsibility, or whether we wish to join the rest of the world and enable a single-payer system to provide health care for all citizens.

My confidence that this type of discussion will occur in the hallowed halls of Congress? Less than the square root of negative 1. My reasoning? There is zero incentive for members of Congress to reach across the aisle and actively involve the opposition party in legislative negotiation. As the French have said, La Plus ça Change, la plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same. It sounds better in French.

Whatever happens with the current health care bill negotiations, I sincerely doubt whether the outcome will improve the situation for the majority in this country who are dependent upon either government policies directly, or dependent upon the structures set up by the ACA.

I call for the creation of a brand new party that is no beholden to the existing power structure. I call for a Macron-like entity to take over US politics from the completely corrupt and compromised party structures that we are burdened with. Part of our problem in the US is that we do not have a parliamentary structure. If we did, then Nancy Pelosi would have been driven from her leadership position in disgrace over the last few election cycles as her position would have been exposed as having a fatal flaw. Meaning, the vast majority of voters in this country do not agree with a San Francisco liberal.

Nothing will happen unless enough of us speak out and demand change. Even then, there is no guarantee that we will see significant change. But I do know that if no one speaks out, there will be no change. I am speaking out, here and now.

Pay Me Now, or Pay Me Later! Guess What? It’s Now Later!

Computer desk IBM 360 Desk Console

Want to cut down on the size and ineffectiveness of the Federal government? If so, then you will need to shell out significant dollars to replace the decades-old IT systems that the government uses for many of its programs. And you will need to rework many of the procurement practices and political machinations that have hamstrung efforts to update IT systems in the past.

It is not a secret that the IRS is at the rear of the organizations that are updating their IT systems. Two of the main systems for the IRS are IT antiques dating back over 50 years ago, running on IBM mainframes, with programming that is written in assembly language code. There have been requests to modernize the systems involved, but since the IRS is viewed as anathema to the Republicans dominating Congress, the trend over the past decade has been to cut IRS spending, not upgrade the systems. I actually remember IBM mainframes – the IBM 360 was the workhorse of the university computing systems at our school. The fact that essential government functions still run on a similar system now should bring shame to any who care about efficient government services. Indeed, it appears that up to $60 billion per year across the Federal government is being spent trying to nursemaid these antiquated systems through yet another day.

Not only does the government incur substantial costs for keeping these antiques running, it cannot achieve the efficiencies in service delivery that are possible if we use modern computer systems. I worked for over 20 years for my company installing and upgrading our business enterprise software. Our system was SAP, and in the early 1990’s I began work at a chemical plant implementing the mainframe version of this system. Beginning in 1999, I worked full time on SAP implementation for our department, and I understand the complexity involved in uprooting existing systems and implementing brand new business processes. The period immediately before and after go-live was always traumatic and stressful. But it is only after going through these efforts that it is possible to reap the benefits of improved IT. The increase in direct IT support costs is greatly outweighed by the reductions in support staff at the plants and in central offices. Not only are overall costs lowered, but the information that comes from such a system is up to date and accurate. When I began working at a plant, it took a clerk in each process in a plant multiple days to assemble the information needed for monthly cost reporting. These reports were circulated in a preliminary form among the management of the process, and eventually they were issued. Then the plant accountant would assemble all of the overhead cost sheets, and the allocated costs would be figured. All of this meant that cost information was never current, always subject to significant revisions, and provided only a snapshot once a month.

By the time I retired in 2015, cost data was available instantaneously for all products, including labor costing and allocated overheads. The manpower was greatly reduced at a site, the information was better, and managers could focus on factors within their control instead of trying to manipulate the reports to put their operations in a better light.

The Federal government cannot achieve the efficiencies that private industry has achieved, because the impetus to upgrade IT systems has not been sufficient to enable the departments to get the funds to implement the upgrades. In fact, lately this effort has gone in the opposite direction. According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), Operations & Maintenance spending on IT systems has been rising year by year since 2012, while spending for modernization and development has declined. From fiscal years 2010 to 2017, such spending has decreased by $7.3 billion.

Even when funds are appropriated for upgrades, current procurement practices preclude efficient implementation. I am aware of an effort to implement a portion of business enterprise software for the army. Supposedly the contract for this project was approved in late 2016. However, due to the nature of government procurement, a competitor who was unsuccessful in the bidding process appealed the awarding of the contract. It has been six months, and there has not been any update on the resolution of the situation. Meanwhile, those employees who would have been assigned to the project are awaiting actual productive work at the government contractor. Such delays lead to projects running behind schedule and much above budget.

One reason why the funding has decreased for modernizing IT systems has been the sequester process for budgeting. With funding for discretionary spending flattened by decree, it has been increasingly difficult to gain support for funding for IT improvements. But for fiscal conservatives, it should be a primary goal to ensure that if the government must spend tax dollars, they should do it in a cost-effective manner, and in such a way that overall government employees could be reduced. Unfortunately, this approach has not reached the top 10 list of the Grover Norquist acolytes who view any increase in expenditure from a government agency as sacrilege.

Since the current administration is full of folks with business experience, maybe these types of modernization efforts may finally gain traction. This is one area where I do find agreement with the priorities of the Trump administration. This past week’s gathering of tech business executives with the administration did discuss IT modernization. My fear is that in this administration’s pogrom against discretionary spending, once more we will fall further behind the IT curve. Future archeologists will excavate data centers complete with mainframes and tape drives intact, and will marvel that these relics maintained their usefulness long after they had been abandoned by the world of business.