Lawmaker's mission: slim down federal spending
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) represents one of a new breed of incoming Republican lawmakers intent on reducing what they view as a bloated and wasteful federal bureaucracy. As the new chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Oversight of Government Management and the District of Columbia Subcommittee Brownback is well-positioned to bring his ideas to the forefront of the discussion.
Brownback's message is a simple one: The government must not perform those functions such as data processing that already exist within the private sector. In his successful campaigns for the Senate and the House the refrain "reduce reform and return" was spoken like a mantra.
"We need to reduce the federal government - its size scope and intricacies " Brownback said in a recent interview. "What's happening now is mostly talk [about downsizing]. I'd like to see the action."
This philosophy dates back to Brownback's tenure as secretary of agriculture in the Kansas state government. There Brownback said he outsourced and privatized many functions traditionally run by the state government thereby saving money while improving the performance of these functions. Although information processing was not among the tasks handed over to the private sector in Kansas Brownback said he believes it fits well into the list of traditional government roles better handled by commercial
NPR Falls ShortIn Brownback's view even Vice President Gore's National Performance Review initiatives to streamline government and make it more responsive have fallen short of the mark.
Although he acknowledged that the Clinton administration has made some strides in the right direction Brownback said the NPR has barely scratched the surface of what is necessary for a leaner bureaucracy."Gore never asked the first question: Should the government be doing these activities in the first place?" Brownback said.
Born in 1956 Brownback grew up on a farm in Kansas where he still resides. Intent on "supporting my farming habit with law practices " he received a law degree from the University of Kansas in 1982. He practiced private law in Manhattan Kan. for six years while teaching agricultural law and co-authoring two books on the subject.
He was appointed the state's agriculture secretary in 1988 and remained in the position for six years except for a one-year break in which he worked as a White House fellow at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
In 1994 he won a landslide victory for a seat in U.S. House of Representatives running on promises to reduce the size and the intrusiveness of the federal government and to reform Congress. He led a group of freshman members who called themselves the New Federalists in their call for free-market reforms and legislation to reduce the regulatory and tax burdens imposed by the federal government.Last year he narrowly won the seat vacated by former Sen. Bob Dole and set to work pushing forward his agenda within the Senate. Earlier this year he signed on as a co-sponsor of the Freedom From Government Competition Act of 1997. The bill proposed by Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) would bar the government from activities deemed "strictly commercial " including many information technology-related duties.
Brownback said he realizes the bill will meet stiff opposition from Senate Democrats and administration officials at the Office of Management and Budget. At a conference this month on federal procurement regulations a government IT acquisition professional expressed concern that the bill would impair his agency's ability to have its payroll data processed by the General Services Administration a service his agency has used for years.
Bruce McConnell chief of information policy at OMB assured attendees at the conference that OMB would fight the Thomas bill. "We do oppose it because it would impose very arbitrary restrictions on [cross-agency activities] " McConnell said. "We have been able to defeat this for several years when it's come up and we will continue to do so."
Opponents of sweeping legislation for outsourcing and privatization said they do not oppose the principles of the bill but would like to be able to "insource" their work to other agencies if those agencies can do it for less money. The Thomas bill would make that virtually impossible they argue.
Brownback remains unmoved by such arguments restating his belief that government simply should not be involved in such functions. "Government is 20 percent of the economy " he said. "I think we should change the agenda for Washington but we've got far to go."