Trump should “Can­cel or­der!” of $1 tril­lion in spend­ing, for now

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump should heed his own ad­vice and “Can­cel or­der!” for his $1 tril­lion spend­ing pack­age, at least for now.

Turns out Trump was mostly right with his re­cent Twit­ter post at­tack­ing Boe­ing for plans to build two new Air Force One planes for $3.75 bil­lion.

But his aim was a lit­tle off. It’s not ex­clu­sively Boe­ing’s fault the govern­ment is go­ing to spend that much on two planes.

What Trump says in 140 char­ac­ters, how­ever im­per­fect and ill-ad­vised, is ex­actly what The Wash­ing­ton Post said in a front-page story this week: There is ex­treme waste in govern­ment con­tract­ing.

The Post found ev­i­dence that the Pen­tagon hid $125 bil­lion in ad­min­is­tra­tive waste, much of it fun­neled through con­tracts with pri­vate com­pa­nies.

Un­for­tu­nately, the prob­lem isn’t lim­ited to de­fense. It’s ram­pant across the fed­eral govern­ment’s pro­cure­ment pro­cesses. And here’s the scary part. Trump is get­ting ready to drop some­thing like $1 tril­lion in in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing in his first 100 days. Given the bi­par­ti­san agree­ment for some kind of stim­u­lus, his plan al­most seems in­evitable.

“We are go­ing to fix our in­ner cities and re­build our high­ways, bridges, tun­nels, air­ports, schools, hos­pi­tals,” Trump said dur­ing his vic­tory speech a month ago. “We’re go­ing to re­build our in­fra­struc­ture, which will be­come — by the way — sec­ond to none. And we will put mil­lions of our peo­ple to work as we re­build it.”

For that money to have any real im­pact on the econ­omy, and to leave the last­ing legacy of Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower (a name both Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton evoked when talk­ing about their plans), Trump will have to re­form how such money is dis­trib­uted and spent. But en­act­ing mean­ing­ful re­form is not go­ing to hap­pen in Trump’s first three months in of­fice. Ac­com­plish­ing such a task will in­volve tak­ing down a legacy of crony­ism and graft.

The pres­i­dent-elect and Congress ought to slow down their de­sire to sad­dle the na­tion with even more out-of­con­trol spend­ing, and first de­sign a sys­tem ac­tu­ally able to en­sure the tax­pay­ers’ money will reach in­tended tar­gets.

Trump’s plan talks a good game. He pledges to “link in­creases in spend­ing to re­forms that stream­line per­mit­ting and ap­provals, improve the project de­liv­ery sys­tem, and cut waste­ful spend­ing on boon­dog­gles.”

He also pledges to “com­plete projects faster and at lower cost through sig­nif­i­cant reg­u­la­tory re­form and end­ing need­less red tape.” Be­fore a dime gets spent, we hope Congress backs Trump’s calls for th­ese re­forms.

Democrats can play their part in this con­ser­va­tive­backed spend­ing spree by be­ing vig­i­lant. There are some good pro­tec­tions in the “red tape:” Rules and reg­u­la­tions that were drafted in re­sponse to a spe­cific abuser, such as a friend of a con­gress­man who got a lu­cra­tive con­tract, a his­tory of racism and sex­ism in pub­lic bid­ding pro­cesses, and price goug­ing.

Can both ef­fi­ciency and reg­u­la­tion live in har­mony? Cer­tainly.

Also, Trump’s plan em­pha­sizes pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships and tax cred­its to in­cen­tivize busi­ness in­vest­ments. Congress needs to set tight guardrails defin­ing where ex­actly this money is headed to keep it a pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture plan and not a pri­vate sub­sidy.

Trump should learn from the mixed re­sults both pres­i­dents Barack Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush had with their stim­u­lus spend­ing — bil­lions can dis­ap­pear quickly with­out thought­ful in­vest­ment and mean­ing­ful over­sight.

Oth­er­wise, Trump could find him­self sub­ject to de­ri­sive tweets that ar­gue: “Costs are out of con­trol. Can­cel or­der!”

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