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Funding freedom's demise

By Henry Lamb
web posted March 31, 2008

Youngsters who are just entering the work place have never known the difference.  Baby-boomers and beyond, know that government rules and regulations have increased exponentially, and continue to squeeze freedom from almost every endeavor.  Few people recognized the incremental constrictions, nor the institutions and processes that apply the pressure.  These institutions have a common denominator: they are private organizations funded by the federal government.  Here are only a few of dozens of these Public/Private Partnerships, and the federal funding they received during the last three years for which information is available at the Office of Management and Budget.

  • American Planning Association – ($1,966,037)
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators – ($15,016,767)
  • The State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators – ($4,191,958)
  • National Association of Conservation Districts – ($1,834,449)
  • National Education Association – ($2,894,293)

Why is the federal government funding private not-for-profit organizations?

All of these PPPs operate in much the same way.  Their leadership tends to be current or past bureaucrats from federal or state agencies, or consultants, or providers of services, to the various agencies represented by the organization.   The State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, for example, is a part of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which "represents air control agencies in 53 states and territories and over 165 major metropolitan areas across the United States."

Get this picture:  bureaucrats who work for the government, join together in these private, not-for-profit organizations, solicit funds from the agencies for which they work, for the purposes of hiring professional staff to influence local, state, and federal legislators to adopt the policies the organizations develop.  Quite often, this incestuous inner-circle of self-appointed experts write the legislation that elected officials consider.  Inevitably, this legislation is designed to expand the budgets and power of the bureaucracy. 

Take a look at the legislative agenda of the American Planning Association.  This PPP has been working overtime to block the rash of eminent domain reform legislation that arose after the Kelo decision. 

Most of these organizations have state chapters that function at the state level the same way the national organization influences Congress.  The state chapter leadership consists of state and local bureaucrats who lobby their governments for funds, and then hire professional staff to influence local and state policy makers.

Individual voters who support or oppose a particular legislative proposal are frustrated when they try to contact their elected officials to express their view.   If an individual gets a response at all, it frequently is a staff-written "thank you for writing" piece, with assurances that the official will give the issue diligent consideration before voting.  The legislative director of the well-funded-by – feds PPP, can take the legislator to dinner, provide significant campaign donations, and promise his organization's support for the legislator's other pet projects – while on a salary paid by the poor sap who can't get his representative on the phone.

The continuing expansion of freedom-eroding rules and regulations is hard evidence of the power of these PPPs.

This self-serving circle of influence has existed too long.  It is way past time for elected officials to muster the backbone to bring this process to a screeching halt.  Congress should lead the way by enacting legislation that will require every such Public/Private Partnership to be a written agreement that sets forth the obligations of both parties.  The PPP agreement should be made public, with full disclosure of funds, and the names of individuals who are on the public payroll and who are also members of the organization that receives federal funds.  No federal funds should be used for membership fees for federal employees who choose to become members of these organizations. 

Every PPP should be specifically approved by the appropriate oversight committee of the legislative body that provides the funding.  Every PPP should be time-limited to no more than four years, with a full review of public benefits published before renewal.

 Additionally,  records of every grant to every not-for-profit organization should be made readily available to the public.  While there are currently existing laws that require full disclosure, government agencies have been able to avoid making this information easily available.  The Office of Management and Budget has been working to improve the situation, but there is no excuse for the delay in this age of instant communication.

The State of Arizona has introduced legislation that will require reform of the PPP process.  All states should introduce similar legislation. 

If there were ever a situation where the inmates run the asylum, the current PPP system is it.  The very agencies that administer the rules, make the rules, and use tax dollars to create, fund, and join the not-for-profit organizations that influence the legislators to adopt the laws that expand the organizations' power to make and administer even more rules.  ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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