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汤姆•科伯恩:政府雇员拖累经济

Nin-Hai Tseng 2011年03月09日

共和党参议员汤姆•科伯恩谈及三方面问题:如何整治政府浪费,针对政府雇员的行动,以及美国民众如何了解国会的愚蠢程度。

    上周,美国政府问责局(Government Accountability Office)公布的一份综合调查显示,从教育到国防的许多计划存在重叠和重复之处,而这些计划每年花费美国纳税人数十亿美元,随后俄克拉荷马州参议员汤姆•科伯恩把国会成员称为“蠢材”,甚至“笨蛋”。这份长达330多页的报告是一系列报告的开始,旨在关注政府减少浪费、节约公共开支的可行方式。

    这份报告出炉之际,正值美国极度动荡之时。今年的联邦预算案迟迟未获通过,眼看只有不到两周的时间临时预算案就将到期,共和党和民主党议员一直在就削减开支的方式问题展开激烈辩论。美国2010年预算赤字占GDP的比重接近10%,这是动摇投资者信心的最重要因素之一。

    但美国政府问责局这份报告揭露的问题到底有多严重?科伯恩表示,报告结果应该不会令国会议员甚至美国民众太感意外。他一再强烈要求将此项调查作为条文的一部分写进法律,去年该法律提高了联邦借款限额。此外,政府问责局还发现,提高教师素质的联邦计划有82个,职业培训和就业计划有47个,以及可能会从合并行政、管理及临床职能中受益的数百个军用诊所。

    这位62岁的共和党参议员估计,重复性支出高达1000亿到2000亿美元,不过政府问责局并未公布具体数字。科伯恩指出,如果有什么值得说的,那就是调查结果只是对国会实际上有多么低效做出回应。他希望该报告将会成为大刀阔斧削减开支计划的一个模板。

    我约见了科伯恩,他是一位医学博士,也是南部浸礼会执事。我们谈到了棘手的政府债务和赤字问题、节约政府开支的措施以及2011年联邦预算。

    调查结果是否让您感到惊讶?

    不,那并没让我感到意外。我相信调查结果也不会让美国民众感到惊讶,原因在于从我们的所作所为,以及我们已经差不多放弃了我们的监管责任,他们知道我们有多么愚蠢。

    实际上,存在的问题有两个:一是有多少此类计划超出了美国宪法列举的权利条款,这才是大问题,因为我们让联邦政府去做那些不该它做的事。二是所有计划都出现重复。美国政府所做的一切始终都是出于善意,但当我们看到问题,我们所做的不是进行监督并试图让已有的这些计划发挥作用,相反的,国会议员只是再创建一个计划。

    您觉得最浪费的是什么?

    职业培训比较浪费。我们在政府网站上发布“员工招聘”信息,然而,完成此类计划的那些人却说那就是一个大笑话,完全是浪费时间。

    我并不反对职业培训。我所希望的职业培训计划是,确实能为一些人提供从事某项工作所需的培训。

    为什么我们要有47个各种各样的独立职业培训计划?谁也无法弄明白这一切。如果这是一项联邦政府职能(我对此表示怀疑),那么任何职业培训计划的设计都应该做到能够对其效果进行评估。但是,在这47个计划中,没有一个计划拥有可以评估其效果的任何指标。

    政府问责局的报告直指诸多军事计划。两党的国会议员料将在削减国防支出问题上相当犹豫不决。您有何看法?

    国防支出应该成为讨论议题。我自始至终都这么说。我认为美国国防部至少浪费了500亿美元。但我们确实不知道,因为无法对国防部的任何情况进行评估,因为他们没有审计财务报表。他们甚至不确定买的什么,甚至不确定他们是否已为此买单。

    过去两年我一直在做的工作之一是,实现对美国国防部的财务控制。他们做得非常有效,但他们非常没有效率。在6000亿美元的预算中,仅仅通过健全的管理实践我们就能够节约大笔资金。

    请谈谈未来措施。您希望从该项调查中看到什么?

    首先,我希望看到国会严肃对待监管问题。奥巴马总统非常关注政府问责局的报告,其政府成员也如此,因为他确实希望进行一些合并。所以,我将与他们以及国会成员共同努力。我们正尝试以政府问责局报告中的计划重复为例,来看看我们如何能节约部分开支。

    之前,我已将该报告的情况告知了奥巴马总统。他表示这将有助于我们进行合并。奥巴马总统曾在参议院呆过,他知道参议院是如何运作的。我们的工作缺乏效率。

    现在距离通过预算案的最后期限仅两周不到,白宫提出削减60多亿美元支出。在并不知道将从何处着手削减支出的情况下,您认为总统应该从何处着手?

    不会削减预算。未来10年,债务将会翻番至26.7万亿美元。靠冻结计划节约的资金甚至不够支付前三年赤字的利息。他们不够果敢,而他们本应如此。

    您对众议院共和党议员要求将今年的预算削减610亿美元有何看法?

    我觉得这还差得远。我们在6个月内的借款金额达到5800亿美元。所以,我们将要借款5800亿美元,但我们只会削减610亿美元?对于认为我们应该立即着手精简联邦政府的美国自由与保守两派民众,你觉得这能达到他们的预期吗?显然没有。

    这是一个好的开端,但我们面临很多重大问题。在过去的一年半当中,我大量学习了国际金融知识,并阅读了全世界每位主要经济学家的著作,还与美国财长蒂莫西•盖特纳和美联储主席本•伯南克进行了讨论。眼下,我们深陷荆棘之中。如果中东局势失控,并且利率上升,那么我们将陷入螺旋下降中无法自拔。我们也将沦落到和日本一样的处境。

    如果我们削减开支的力度过大,那么它是否会使美国经济进一步放缓?民主党已广泛援引高盛报告,称削减610亿美元预算可能会导致美国今年第2和第3季度的GDP下降1.5到2个百分点。

    我不太认同这种说法。毫无疑问,若联邦政府从经济系统中抽走610亿美元,肯定会对GDP产生一定的负面影响。问题是,不以无效方式支出那笔资金,而使其发挥作用的正面影响是什么?

    经济学家们会一致认为这会给GDP带来一点压力,但对未来没有信心。

    随着美国政府着手进行合并,政府雇员将会丢掉工作。在就业相当低迷的时期,这难道不会给失业率带来上行压力吗?

    不会。首先,尽管政府雇员很了不起,并且总体上做得都不错,但在美国,他们并未创造出净经济利益。事实上,他们创造的净经济利益为负。因此,如果减少非生产性资本开支对经济的拖累,我们将会看到这笔资金将会被用在能够产生经济效益的方面。

    我们并非是在谈论解雇成千上万的雇员,我们谈论的是精简的问题。即便涉及多达几十万雇员,如果我们因为精简了一些计划,明年不再需要额外借贷3000亿美元,我们还是会给经济带来巨大的好处。

    Last week, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn called members of Congress everything from "stupid" to "jackasses," following the release of a comprehensive study by the Government Accountability Office that found dozens of overlapping and duplicative programs from education to defense that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year. The 330-plus page report is the first in a series looking at ways government could reduce waste and save public dollars.

    The report couldn't come at a more tumultuous time. With less than two weeks to cut a deal on this year's federal budget, Republicans and Democrats have been hotly debating ways to reduce spending. The U.S. budget deficit for 2010 was at nearly 10% of GDP and it's one of the biggest factors unnerving investors.

    But how big of a deal is the GAO report? Coburn, who pushed for the study as part of a provision he inserted into a law that raised the federal borrowing limit last year, says the findings shouldn't be much of a surprise to lawmakers or even the American public. The agency found, among other things, 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality, 47 for job training and employment, as well as hundreds of military clinics that could gain from consolidating administrative, management and clinical functions.

    The 62-year-old Republican senator estimates there's between $100 billion to $200 billion in duplicative spending, although the GAO did not report a specific figure. Coburn says if anything, the findings echo just how inefficient Congress really is. He hopes the report will serve as a template for plans to reduce spending in a big way.

    I caught up with Coburn, a medical doctor and ordained Southern Baptist deacon. We talked about the government looming debts and deficits, steps to save the government money and the 2011 federal budget.

    Do the findings surprise you?

    No they didn't surprise me. And I'm sure they're not going to surprise the American people because they know how stupid we are in terms of what we've done and how we've kind of abdicated our responsibility to do oversight.

    There are really two issues: One is how many of these programs are outside the enumerated powers clause of the U.S. Constitution and that's a big problem, because we've got the federal government doing things that it was never intended to do. The second thing is we have all this duplication. What happens in Washington is always well-intentioned but what we do is we see a problem and instead of doing the oversight and seeing how we make the programs that we have work, members of Congress just create another program.

    What do you find most wasteful?

    Job training is wasteful. We put 'help wanted' on our government website and we're getting people who have been through these programs who say they are a total joke and a total waste of time.

    I'm not against job training. I want a job-training program that actually trains somebody to do something that they get a job for.

    Why should we have 47 different separate job training programs? Nobody understands them all. If it's a federal role -- which I question --then any job-training program ought to be designed so that you can measure its effectiveness. None of the 47 has any metrics on it to measure effectiveness.

    The GAO report took particular aim at military programs. Lawmakers from both parties will probably be very hesitant about reducing defense spending. What are your thoughts?

    Defense spending should be on the table. I've said that all along. I think there is at least $50 billion of waste in the US Department of Defense. But we don't really know because nothing in the Defense Department can be measured because they don't have audited financial statements. They're not even sure what they're buying and they're not even sure if they've paid for it.

    One of the things I've been working on for the last two years is to put financial controls in the Defense Department. They're highly effective at what they do but they're highly inefficient. There's a lot of money in that $600 billion budget that we could save just through good management practices.

    Let's talk next steps. What would you like to see come out of this study?

    First of all I'd like to see Congress get serious about oversight. The President is very interested in the GAO report and so is his staff because he does want to do some consolidation. So I'm going to be working with them, as well as members of Congress. We're going to try to take examples of duplication in the GAO report and look at how we can get some savings.

    I told President Obama ahead of time about the report. He said that would help us consolidate things. I mean he's been in the Senate, he knows how the Senate works. We don't work effectively.

    With less than two weeks to cut a deal on the budget, the White House has proposed more than $6 billion in spending cuts. Without knowing where the cuts would be made, what are your thoughts on the President's starting off point?

    There are no budget cuts. The debt doubles over the next 10 years to $26.7 trillion. The savings by freezing won't even pay the interest costs for the first three years of deficits that he's going to run. They weren't bold and they should have been.

    What about House Republicans' call to cut $61 billion from this year's budget?

    I think it's not nearly enough. The amount of money we borrow over that six months is $580 billion. So we're going to borrow $580 billion but we're only going to cut spending by $61 billion? How do you think that fits with the expectations of Americans both liberal and conservative who think we ought to be downsizing the federal government right now? It doesn't fit.

    It's a good start but we have big problems. I've studied a lot of international finance in the last year and a half and I've read the works of every major economist around the world and I've talked to US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and I've talked to US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. We're in deep weeds right now. If something collapses in the Middle East and interest rates go up we have the potential to go on a downward spiral that we cannot get out of. We're going to become Japan, too.

    If we cut too much, wouldn't that slow America's economy even further? Democrats have widely cited a Goldman Sachs report that says cutting the budget by $61 billion could reduce GDP by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year.

    I tend not to believe that statement as I look at it. There's no doubt that if you take $61 billion out of the economy from the federal government that you'll have some negative effect on GDP. The question is what's the positive effect that you get from not spending that money in a nonproductive manner and putting that same money to work?

    Economists would agree that you'll have a little pressure on GDP, but there's no confidence out there about the future.

    With consolidation, public employees would lose their jobs. Couldn't that put upward pressure on unemployment at a pretty dismal time?

    No. First of all, government employees, although they're fabulous and they overall do a great job, they produce no net economic benefit in our country. Matter of fact, they produce a net negative economic benefit. So if you take the drag off the economy by nonproductive implementation of capital what you're going to see is that capital is then going to be put to use in something that is productive.

    We're not talking about letting go hundreds and thousands of employees -- we're talking about streamlining things. Even if it were hundreds of thousands of employees, if we're not borrowing another $300 billion additional next year because we streamlined some programs, that has some tremendous benefit to the economy as well.

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