The budget-cutting proposals President Reagan presented to Congress and the nation last week may be taken in some quarters as a historic divide between the gets and the get-nots, but to at least one American the thrust was nothing new. Donald Lambro, a 40-year-old syndicated columnist, is credited with being a crucial influence on Candidate Reagan’s budget promises—and on the President’s fiscal program. His recent book on bureaucratic bloat, Fat City: How Washington Wastes Your Taxes (Regnery/Gateway, Inc., $12.95), is an archly conservative hit list of 100 federal agencies and programs. His argument often veers into simplistics, but Reagan’s respect for it is clear: Every member of his Cabinet was given a copy of Fat City in advance of his collision with Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman. A 1963 graduate of Boston University who spent 10 years as an investigative reporter for UPI in Washington before inaugurating his column last year, Lambro recently declined an offer to join the White House policy staff. But from his office within a stone’s throw of most federal office buildings, he intends to remain a force for drastic spending cuts. He discussed his provocative ideas last week with PEOPLE’S Washington bureau chief, Garry Clifford.
How much money do you think the federal government is wasting?
I estimate that at least $100 billion is being wasted through fraud, abuse, mismanagement, extravagance and useless programs.
What are the worst offenders?
One of the most wasteful is revenue sharing. We’re giving away $6.8 billion to state and local governments whether they need it or not. In fiscal 1980 45 states showed a surplus, and 32 of the surpluses were greater than the amount of revenue sharing. The federal government is running a $78 billion deficit this year. We can’t afford it.
What about poverty and social service programs?
Thomas Sowell, a UCLA economist, estimated that with the $200 billion we spend on them every year, we could lift every man, woman and child out of poverty three times over. Instead, the money is going into the pockets of the “poverty industry”—the government workers, consultants and special interest organizations who do studies and reports. The poor have helped many a middle-class liberal achieve affluence with government money. Something like $800 million a year is going to subsidize school lunches for middle-and upper-class kids.
What are some of the major programs you would scrap?
I would abolish the Consumer Products Safety Commission. It is an inept agency that is costing $40 million a year. It has failed to curb accidents and is primarily based on the premise that if we all lived in rubber rooms, nothing would ever happen to us. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration costs $200 million. It has bought a lot of hardware for police stations but has done nothing to reduce crime.
Do you think the President’s cuts go deep enough?
In some areas, no. The President has called for a five percent cut in consulting, but he could cut it by 50 percent and the only people who would notice are the consultants.
What are some of the government’s most flagrantly wasteful activities?
The government is perhaps the biggest movie producer in the history of the world—they’ve made over 100,000 films since World War I. These cost from one-half to three-quarters of a billion dollars a year. One choice example was a film called Your Teeth Are in Your Hands, which tells naval recruits how to brush their teeth. It cost $35,000. Just before Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz resigned under fire from President Ford for making an ethnic joke, the department made a film called Secretary Butz: Conduct and Ethics. That’s a tremendous waste of money.
Are there others that obvious?
There are hundreds of them. The National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice is costing us more than $1 million a year. We’re paying people to go out on the range on weekends to shoot. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission has been in operation since 1955, and we have yet to see a monument to FDR. Smallpox has been wiped off the face of the earth, yet we still fund the Office of Smallpox Eradication each year for more than $1.2 million. There is a Beekeepers Indemnity that costs us $2.9 million a year. It pays beekeepers in the event their bees are killed by federally registered pesticides. An official of the program told me: “You know, since we have been making these payments, we haven’t heard of a single bee dying of natural causes.”
Is the government effective at providing needed services?
No. Take the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has spent over $80 billion to provide the ill-housed with decent shelter. Yet with that money, we could have bought more than 1.6 million new $50,000 single-family homes.
Is Congress padding its own nest?
In the Capitol and congressional office buildings, we pay $893,000 for elevator operators to run automatic elevators. The subsidy for the Senate dining rooms alone will be close to $1 million. But the executive branch does well too. The Attorney General has two chefs—one for breakfast, one for lunch.
What can be done?
The cuts have to be made by legislation, by the Congress, which has created a monster that is largely out of control. Congress should declare a two-or three-year moratorium on all new legislation and conduct a wholesale reexamination and reevaluation of every agency and department in the federal government. This is the kind of action demanded by the American people.