Act Like America's CEO
Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, and R. Warren Langley, former president of the Pacific Stock Exchange, are board members of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. The goal of BLSP is to ensure that–in the next century and beyond–America retains its position as the economic and military leader of the world.
President George W. Bush was elected twice by promising to run the government like a business. But it’s clear that if President Bush were the CEO of a public company and he was responsible for a deficit and spending priorities like America’s, he’d have been fired years ago.
The current fiscal crisis in Washington could force the president to start acting more businesslike. As businesspeople, we can assure you that CEOs are constantly balancing the twin needs of making money in the short term with investing in the future, so that profits don’t disappear a few years down the line. President Bush, too, has to find money to pay for the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina relief in the short term—while also investing in programs, like education, that are essential to our nation’s long-term security. Of course, the president could retract some of his tax cuts or begin withdrawing troops from Iraq—moves that could generate hundreds of billions of dollars. But assuming he won’t, what else must he do?
As our CEO, President Bush needs to make an honest assessment of our national checkbook. Such an analysis would reveal that the Pentagon budget—more than the ledger of any other single federal department—could yield big-time savings. It only needs to be subjected to the cost-cutting methodology of a business executive intent on ferreting out waste.
That view is held by President Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense Lawrence J. Korb, who argues that America could save $60 billion by cuttings weapons still being built or maintained—believe it or not—to fight the defunct Soviet Union. These cuts, Korb points out, would not affect our nation’s ability to fight terrorists or the Iraq War. (The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are funded by “supplemental” appropriations, not by the Pentagon’s annual budget.) It’s true that even a whopping number like $60 billion will not solve cure America’s fiscal woes, but it certainly is a big chunk of money.
A business-minded president, along with Congress, would decide how to spend the $60 billion with a cost-benefit analysis. Which of America’s fiscal needs require immediate investments, and which can be deferred?
From a business perspective, we can no longer defer the spending required to prepare us for the defining wars of the coming century. But these wars will be fought on economic battlefields, not military. So the top priority of our leaders now should be to ensure America has the arsenal it needs to win these future battles. For $60 billion in wasted Pentagon funding, America could:
Retrain hundreds of thousands of workers. America’s workers, the foot soldiers of economic expansion, need training as the technology shifts.
Renovate our public schools and provide health insurance for our children. America’s future recruits, our children, need to be equipped with the skills to trump their adversaries in the global economy. We should begin upgrading America’s crumbling public schools and provide health insurance to every kid who lacks it in our country, the world’s richest.
Take steps toward energy independence. The nation with the most energy-efficient infrastructure will possess a devastating weapon in future global economic wars.
Help poor nations. To promote the values of a free society and democracy, we should double the federal budget for humanitarian foreign aid, saving the lives of millions of children who currently die of hunger in impoverished nations.
Critical in this era of budget scarcity, President Bush and Congress must undertake a hard-nosed and bipartisan analysis of the widely acknowledged waste at the Pentagon. This is the only way we can 1) strengthen our strategic security by reducing our dependence on oil and rebuilding our stature overseas; and 2) ensure our economic competitiveness and security by investing in the jobs of tomorrow and the kids of today who will hold them.
It’s time for our CEO to be a strategic leader—and for Americans to hold him accountable for our future.
Distributed by MinutemanMedia.org.