Pulling the plug on federal agencies’ TVs

Joanne Butler Contributor
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Back in the 1980s, a friend of mine was laid off from a defense contractor. That night he unplugged the cable box to his TV — to send his family a message that things were going to be tough for a while. I suggest that, especially in light of the sequester, the federal government follow my friend’s example and get busy pulling the plug on unnecessary televisions and cable TV contracts.

When I last worked in the federal government, I was surprised to find the person in charge of the monthly building parking passes had a cable TV in his office. There are thousands of people like him.

I realize my TV idea lacks the big-think/PowerPoint-rich quality surrounding discussions about entitlement spending, but it’s simple, quick and would send a message to the federal workforce that belts really are tightening.

Message to Speaker Boehner: As my buddies in the Marine Corps would say, here’s your punch list for getting this done.

Step One: Have each committee chairman send a letter to each agency head under his/her jurisdiction asking for an inventory of: (i) televisions in that agency, (ii) the name and title of the officeholder with the television, and (iii) a plan (within 30 days of the date of the letter) to reduce the number of televisions by 75 percent or more. The plan should state the savings expected from the cancellation of the cable contracts (the value of used TVs being nominal).

Step Two: If the plan doesn’t appear in 30 days (a reasonable expectation), keep pushing the agency to produce the plan.

Step Three: When the plan finally appears, publicize its contents and have the Government Accountability Office (GAO) scrutinize it. I expect there will be some flat-screen surprises in it.

Step Four: Have the GAO monitor the situation and issue reports on how agencies are executing their plans to reduce their cable television use. Publicize and praise those agencies that are pulling the plug, and shame those that aren’t.

I realize that each federal agency needs some cable televisions — for the agency head, the congressional affairs office, the press office and the top-tier staff (e.g., chief agency attorney), to monitor congressional hearings, etc. But the parking lot clerk? No way! Ditto for front-office clerical staff. I think they will be much more productive when there’s no television blaring away in the reception area.

Oh, and let’s not forget Step Five: When the GSA sells off those excess televisions, members of Congress should let their constituents know. It might even make a great photo-op!

Will this cure this deficit? No. But it’s worth doing because the culture of D.C. needs changing and this is an excellent, highly visible and easy-to-comprehend first step.

Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at The Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at joanne-butler@comcast.net.