Carving Off The Extra Bits Of Government Spending To Reduce The Deficit

Joanne Butler | Former Staffer, House Ways and Means Committee

President Trump has a lot of things on his plate, including being blamed for ballooning the deficit. He should take some practical steps that folks on Main Street will understand to reduce the deficit. Namely, selling off excess, outdated federal stuff.

Let’s start with artwork. The Labor Department has a great one, entitled “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. Surprisingly, this was executed in the 1970s, long before Hillary arrived in D.C. As it is made with metal, it requires upkeep via federal taxpayer funds.

This 2007 Washingtonian Magazine article lays out what artwork had been bought at the time of publication. That was eleven years ago; doubtless there’s more now.

The idea of having artwork in federal spaces dates back to Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, where local artists decorated federal buildings (including many post offices). Later, President Kennedy revived the notion, setting aside a percentage of monies spent on new construction for the purchase of artwork.

While the rest of America goes to work in office parks, skyscrapers, or factory floors, they seem to do just fine without what passes for artwork today.

Trust me, “She Who Must Be Obeyed” could be hauled off for scrap metal, and not one Labor employee would complain. Or even better, it could be auctioned off with the money going to the U.S. Treasury.

Turning to real estate, I believe it’s fair to ask why the U.S. government owns about 85 percent of the acreage in Nevada.

Look at the U.S. Forest Service (a part of the Department of Agriculture, not Interior). Unlike National Parks, which are inviolable, Forest Service properties are leased for commercial purposes – timber planting/harvesting being its main use.

Why are Forest Service lands still owned by the federal government? Why can’t they be auctioned off (sensibly) to firms in the timber industry? Environmentalists will protest about risks to the land (and their loss of sympathetic ears at the Forest Service).

It is not, however, in a timber company’s best interest to destroy its land. Overworked, poor soil results in poor harvests, which goes straight to the firm’s bottom line.

Need I remind my readers of how monies from the sale of the land would go to the U.S. Treasury?

Besides the Forest Service land, the Interior Department (through its Bureau of Land Management/BLM), also owns vast amounts of western property.

Remember Cliven Bundy, the rancher who had a nasty standoff with BLM employees over grazing rights?

His complaint is a familiar one – being overcharged for grazing fees and over-managed by the BLM.

The deficit-reducing solution would be to sell the land at auction and close the BLM. If Ted Turner snaps up the land (he’s the second-largest landowner in the U.S., with 16 ranches in the west), that creates a clear contract-based system of ranching.

For example, if Jim Smith wants to ranch on Mr. Turner’s property, he will do so via a commercial contract, spelling out rights and responsibilities of both parties. Turner, or anyone like him, will want the rancher to manage the land in a way that’s not destructive to its value. The contract would define what negative actions would be sufficient for the landowner to cancel the contract with the rancher.

Meanwhile, the rancher would know exactly how much to pay for grazing rights for a specified number of years, and could include a clause to reimburse the rancher if the landowner terminates the contract for a reason unrelated to any negative actions by the rancher.

Some environmentalists say cattle are an invasive species in the West. Well, so are human beings. We’re probably more invasive! It’s strange to see someone denounce cattle as invasive, when the denouncer could opt to make himself non-invasive, if you know what I mean.

What about mining, drilling, and mineral rights on BLM land? That’s a tougher issue. If environmental damage caused by mining, etc., is a concern, the government could limit the sale to surface rights only.

Lastly, there’s the military ownership of U.S. land in the West. The Army’s Fort Bliss installation encompasses 1,700 acres across Texas and New Mexico. That’s larger than Rhode Island, and a mere 200 acres smaller than Delaware.

Some of fort’s space is vital as it engages in missile launches. But would a mere one percent shrinkage be dangerous? An audit of the Fort Bliss acreage, and other large U.S. military bases might reveal property that could be sold for private use (e.g., ranching, skiing). With the monies going to … you know.

Ordinary Americans know what to do when they have too much debt. They sit at the kitchen table and decide on what they can do without. Clever families search their closets and sell items on eBay!

While eBay is not an option for the disposal of federal property, the President should follow Main Street’s example and monetize excess property.  Not only would it help pay down the debt, but it also would be a clear demonstration to Main Street that President Trump is serious about changing an intrusive, wasteful federal government.

Joanne Butler is a graduate of the Kennedy School at Harvard, was a professional staff member (Republican) at the House Ways and Means Committee, and served in President George W. Bush’s administration. The Ghanaian poet, Kwesi Brew, has described her as ‘vibrant.’


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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