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In The Public Interest: Everybody Hates Waste, Right?

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Over the last year, serious policy debates have been subject to showdowns and shouting matches. Posturing and partisanship. Scrapping bills and taking names.

But when it comes to the serious fiscal issues our country is facing, we don't have room or time for all that drama. As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known to many as "the debt commission"), begins its important mission on Tuesday, its members would do well to focus on waste within our existing system. For example, more than $1 trillion can be saved right off the bat, as these pages illustrated so effectively.

Taking on our deficit might seem like an awesome challenge, but its one that all parties agree needs facing. Cutting waste and making the government more accountable gets support from Democrats and Republicans alike. We saw that last week, when the House Armed Services Committee quietly, yet unanimously, passed H.R. 5013 (PDF), the Implementing Management for Performance and Related Reforms to Obtain Value in Every Acquisition (IMPROVE) Act of 2010.

Based on the findings of the bipartisan Defense Acquisition Panel, the legislation seeks to make sure that the Pentagon reduces waste, spends taxpayer dollars more carefully and pays for services and programs that provide the best value. And given that the Department of Defense owns 86 percent of the government's assets, worth an estimated $4.6 trillion (PDF), it makes sense that both Democrats and Republicans want to make sure that taxpayers are getting the most bang for the buck.

Specifically, the IMPROVE Act makes the contracting process more competitive and accessible to more small businesses. It bans contractors that fail to pay their taxes and calls for standards to be used by managers to assess cost, quality, market research, long-term sustainability, workforce quality and contractor performance. Finally, it incentivizes acquisition staff to save taxpayer dollars and provides for more tools and training to help them do their jobs.

Collecting information, comparing data and evaluating costs is critical to make informed decisions and to be more accountable to taxpayers. As an example, the Defense Acquisition Panel report notes that the cost of an aircraft refrigerator increased from $13,825 in March of 2002 to $32,642 in September of 2004, without any explanation. Taxpayers deserve better than that.

The reforms are projected to save $135 billion over five years, according to Committee staff.

It's hard to argue with a serious effort to promote fiscal responsibility and to support better service and responsiveness at the largest government agency. These are the kinds of changes that should be made government-wide and should receive attention from the Fiscal Commission.

There's a lot of emotion about where to cut spending and how to increase revenue. The Fiscal Commission will face tough choices. Congress and the President will as well. The IMPROVE Act, while not perfect, serves as an example of how it can be done - with both sides of the aisle coming together to work in the public interest.

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