In “Wasted,” I lamented the fact that the Illinois public has so little basis on which to judge the merit in that perennial complaint that our tax money is being wasted by grasping public employees, bumbling bureaucrats, and corrupt pols.

I suspect that the very first letter to the very first editor of the very first newspaper ever published complained about government waste. The topic is unavoidable. I took it up in the context of local government services in April 17, 2014. (See “Rearranging the desks.”)


The original progressive reformers also believed that “waste” – overstaffing with patronage hacks, loose procurement practices, casual oversight of public projects – caused money to leak from the machinery of local government like oil from an engine whose nuts are loose. The good citizens of the Springfield Survey [in 1910] came up with a list of fixes; their investigations had revealed where the leaks were but they had no wrench. . . . [A] century later, the Citizens Efficiency Commission made many of the same kinds of recommendations about public services in Not-Yet-Greater Springfield.


These are still faults and they still need to be repaired. I fear however that our governor has settled on a fix before quite grasping what is causing them.

The State of Illinois already has in place provisions for program oversight. Mainly they are meant to ensure that a dollar meant to be spent on Program A is in fact spent on Program A. This is an essential measure of a program but hardly the only one; it’s like judging a good husband simply because he is sexually faithful.

Had Rauner been interested in really reforming state government, he would have undertaken a systematic review, involving experienced analysts and stakeholders, of every major program. He would have charged them to ask not how much does it cost but is the need for it real? Is state government the best provider? Can it be done better – not just cheaper – privately with state support? Is the program as administered run in the most cost-effective way — that is, not the cheapest way per person served but the way that will achieve the desired ends at the least cost in money and suffering?

There might be a reason why he hasn’t ventured such a review. If you believe – and  lots do — that the only meaningful criterion of government spending is what you spend and not what you get for the money -- a rigorous evaluation of the governor’s officer to date would suggest that the money needed to run it was ill spent. 

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