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August 30, 2006


Occasionally, you see arguments over whether the conservative movement sees smaller government as an end or a mean, that is, whether they support the privatization of public services only when it results in cheaper and more efficient outcomes or whether they'll allow greater expense and inefficiency in order to satisfy an ideological distaste for government. Over at the IRS, we're seeing evidence for the latter:

Unless Congress steps in to stop it, the IRS is set to begin implementing a wildly inefficient plan to outsource the collection of past-due taxes from those who owe $25,000 or less. IRS employees could collect these taxes for about three cents on the dollar, comparable to other federal programs' collection costs. But Congress has not allowed the IRS, which is eliminating some of its most efficient enforcement staff, to hire the personnel it would need to do the job. Instead, the agency has signed contracts with private debt collectors allowing them to keep about 23% of every taxpayer dollar they retrieve. Employing these firms is almost eight times more expensive than relying on the IRS, but, according to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, it fits in with the Bush administration's efforts to reduce the size of government.
Over 10 years, the companies hired are projected to collect overdue taxes totaling $1.4 billion, $330 million of which the companies keep as fees. According to the IRS' own estimates, over those same 10 years, the agency could collect $87 billion in unpaid taxes at a cost of just under $300 million — if allowed to hire sufficient personnel. In total, utilizing the private sector instead of augmenting IRS personnel would leave in the hands of delinquent taxpayers more than $85 billion owed to the federal government.

This is really a rather important test case: I've no particular investment in whether IRS employees or outside firms conduct tax enforcement. I would, however, like to save money and collect taxes. Similarly, I'd happily support a health care system expanding private options and offering vouchers for private insurance if I'd seen any evidence that such a structure would offer cheaper or better care. The problem is, there are too many examples of conservatives outsourcing government functions simply because they loathe government, and seeking ways to rationalize or justify the added expense and inconvenience because they're unwilling to deviate from the ultimate goal of a reduced public sector. The changes underway at the IRS are merely one example.

Pay close attention, also, to the news that Congress simply won't appropriate the funds to fully staff the IRS. We're seeing this at the Patent Office, the FDA, and a variety of other government agencies as well. The right refuses to allocate the necessary money for them to function properly, and then points to the inevitable mistakes or inconveniences of an understaffed, underfunded department as proof that their duties should be handed over to the private sector.

August 30, 2006 | Permalink



Posted by: TJ | Aug 30, 2006 1:14:24 PM

"Occasionally, you see arguments over whether the conservative movement sees smaller government as an end or a mean"

Anyone who argues over this is fairly stupid. Some see it as a means, others as an end. Like the Liberal movement, the conservative movement isn't monolithic.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 30, 2006 1:56:26 PM

I just get the idea that conservatives think that government tax collectors are just so mean because it's not as easy to buy off civil service employees. Outsource it to people with a profit motive and that problem goes away.

Posted by: Dr. Squid | Aug 30, 2006 2:16:04 PM

"Some see it as a means, others as an end. Like the Liberal movement, the conservative movement isn't monolithic."

True. But the conservatives in power see it as an end, not a means. No matter that there are dissenters on their own side of the aisle, what happens when conservatives get power is that they cut government for the sake of cutting government, regardless of consequences. Maybe this could be changed by radically remaking the right wing of America, but that will be a change made over decades (think LBJ to Clinton), not months.

Posted by: Kylroy | Aug 30, 2006 2:21:28 PM

The conservative movement in America wishes to destroy our current government while remaking it into an entity that exists solely to protect their own interests at the expense of everyone else.

If there are conservatives who disagree with this statement, I would invite them to stop voting for politicians and policies that are accomplishing this. If Dave Justus or anyone else does not like to be painted with this brush, then use the Power Of The Internet to organize and attempt reform within the GOP. Otherwise I am forced through your inaction to believe such statements.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 30, 2006 2:26:34 PM

Why it's just like implementing No Child Left Behind, not funding it, allowing it to fail, then calling for Federal funding of private schools.

Posted by: Mudge | Aug 30, 2006 3:03:38 PM

I don't think that thinking about ideology or ideals is really of much use here. It's just straightforward graft and corruption. It's a bit like asking which governing ideology supports taxpayer-funded trips to conferences in resorts in Hawai'i or something.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Aug 30, 2006 3:26:07 PM

S'pose the company they're outsourcing it to has connections to the neocon network? Like the IEM charade in New Orleans post Katrina.

Honestly, the neocon repubs have no interest in downsizing government, just spending government money on corporate welfare(ie-the trillion dollar fiasco in Iraq) rather than social welfare.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Aug 30, 2006 3:48:55 PM

"I don't think that thinking about ideology or ideals is really of much use here. It's just straightforward graft and corruption."

The Democrats got pretty corrupt and lazy as a result of 40 years of largely unopposed majority. But even at the height of Tip O'Neill and the D's old-boys-club worst, I don't recall them ever gutting federal agencies to the point of leaving them useless - especially something as vital as revenue generation. The essence of effective graft is making sure the business runs smoothly enough that nobody really misses what you skim off the top. The GOP is not skimming off the top, they're taking the whole tank - either that or they're deliberately sabotaging government effectiveness. Neither speaks well of their ability to govern.

Posted by: Kylroy | Aug 30, 2006 3:51:30 PM

The Patent Office is doing their best on the staffing issue.

Earlier this year, I challenged all of USPTO’s senior managers – not only our patent managers – to find a way to hire more patent examiners, train them better, retain them better, and encourage telecommuting. In FY05, which ends in just a few weeks, we will have hired approximately 940 patent examiners, which represents about a 25% increase in our examining staff. We plan then to hire an additional 1,000 patent examiners each fiscal year, through fiscal year 2011.

There is a lot of attrition. It is difficult to keep examiners because of the wages. It is also difficult to train that many new examiners.

There is an issue where the patent office wants to change administrative rules for policy reasons that would be more appropriately implemented through the legislative process. This is somewhat related to the staffing issue in that the strain on the staff is given as the putative reason for the rule changes. But, they are still trying to actively hire new examiners to cut the backlog.

Posted by: joeo | Aug 30, 2006 3:57:42 PM

The economic conservative worldview generally argues that private industry can do any given task cheaper and more efficiently than public government. In this case, its proven not to be true. Therefore, we can derive certain possbilities about the motivations of a conservative supporting this governmental decision.

1. They are on the winning end of the stick (government contracts.)

2. They loate government, even at the expense of efficiency.

3. They are trying to make excuses for the Bush Administration.

4. Deadlock in Congress makes a time-crital important bill impossible to pass. The problem is, Bush could get Congress to appropriate the funds necessary but he won't even ask. Why? BECAUSE IT GOES AGAINST THE CONSERVATIVE WORLDVIEW.

Posted by: Adrock | Aug 30, 2006 4:17:01 PM

I think conservatives make shit up as they go- once you understand that. their world view makes alot of sense. if you don't understand that you spend a lot of time analyzing what conservatives think.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 30, 2006 5:12:30 PM

"I think conservatives make shit up as they go"

Absolutely correct! Why hurt your brain using reason trying to figure this crap out?

Posted by: CParis | Aug 30, 2006 5:52:59 PM

Well, I'm generally conservative but I think this is
as dumb as a rock. I don't know for sure but I suspect
the ACA (if I have that right, the Association of
Collections agencies) did some pretty good lobbying behind the scenes to get this passed.

I don't support it at all.

Regards, HM

Posted by: HM | Aug 30, 2006 6:11:31 PM


You can't be a conservative because you disagree with something the Bush Administration does. By definition that makes you a commie luvin', islamo-fascist supportin', gay, femin-nazi terrorist who hates us for our wiretapped endorsed freedoms.

yours truly,

founding member of the group described above

Posted by: akaison | Aug 30, 2006 10:56:28 PM


you must also be mexican- unless you happen to get in the way of Fred or Toke- in which case you are probably one of the coloreds. Or if it is Allen- you are probably Macaca. but conservative? no thats not possible.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 30, 2006 10:57:55 PM

Give him a break akaison ... maybe he's just working from a dictionary printed in the 1970's, and failed to catch up with the redefinition in terms of the version of reality that Big Bubba has decided, this week, is appropriate for this week.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Aug 31, 2006 7:53:42 AM


You might be amazed at how much I disagree with Bush.
Other than that, though, it appears you may be right.
Just don't tell anyone.

Regards, HM

Posted by: HM | Aug 31, 2006 9:48:32 AM


there you go again. it's well known that dictionaries have a liberal basis. you keep this talk up, and you wake up one day with a nuclear cloud in your bedroom or kitchen. although on every other thursday, they tend to appear in you liberals bathrooms.


Posted by: akaison | Aug 31, 2006 10:31:46 AM

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