We should reform, not defund, necessary government agencies

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to the writing or editing of articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Chris Talgo is an editor at the Heartland Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While Newton described this phenomenon in relation to physics, the basic principle also applies to society in general.

For example, after the death of George Floyd in 2020, many municipalities in the United States took action to “defund the police” to one degree or another. Of course, this action produced an equal and opposite reaction: crime increased as criminals became emboldened due to a reduced police presence.

Since the summer of 2020, the “defund movement” has grown, with some calling for the defunding of ICE, the IRS, and even the FBI. While I am somewhat sympathetic to calls for IRS defunding, I am also well aware that if the IRS were to be “defunded,” the US economy would likely collapse.

In other words, the police, ICE, FBI, and IRS are vital institutions that must exist for society to function and thrive. Without these institutions, anarchy and chaos would likely ensue.

However, this does not mean that these institutions should be beyond scrutiny and their often bloated budgets should constantly grow. Much has been said in recent years about the misdeeds of these institutions. But, the message that the solution is to “defund” these and many other institutions is a far-fetched idea that would do far more harm than good.

On the other hand, many valid arguments can be made from all sides of the political spectrum that many of these institutions are in dire need of reform. For example, in 2022, the IRS budget was $13.2 billion, an increase of more than 10% from the previous year. Yet the performance of the IRS over the past year has been downright abysmal.

Consider: During the 2022 tax season, the IRS answered just 10% of taxpayer calls. The IRS also has a huge problem processing tax returns on time. As CNBC recently reported, “As of June 10, there were 11 million individual filings pending, including filings received before 2022 and new filings from 2021, according to the IRS.”

Essentially, the IRS is woefully incapable of doing its job. But, defunding the IRS is not the solution. Nor is it about pumping billions of dollars in new money into the agency, as the Biden administration and congressional Democrats have recently done.

A much better approach would be a comprehensive review of the agency, conducted by a bipartisan commission, to make the agency more efficient, customer service oriented, technologically up to date, etc.

A similar strategy could apply to all the institutions that have become sclerotic and unable to fulfill their function.

Yet many on the left and right are calling for the “defunding” of institutions not just because they are clumsy and inefficient. A lot of people join the “defund” movement for purely ideological reasons. When we respond to their concerns (or lack thereof in some cases), we must be diligent in defending these institutions if and only if they serve a vital societal function.

This is why calls for defunding the police have been at the forefront of the debate on the defunding movement. It is absurd to think that a city, state or any jurisdiction can function without an appropriate police presence. One of the primary roles of government is to protect the public by maintaining law and order.

Another method we should consider in the effort to reform institutions that have strayed from their mission or become irresponsible is to insist on making them as localized as possible. The further away an institution is geographically from the people it is meant to serve, the less likely it will be to respond to those people.

Finally, it is imperative that these institutions, especially those funded by taxpayer dollars, remember that their primary duty is to serve the American people fairly and frankly. It is we, the people, who finance their salaries, pensions, offices, etc. Therefore, it is incumbent on the leaders of these institutions to ensure that our interests are legitimately served.

Instead of calling for widespread “defunding” of everything we dislike, which is an intellectually lazy approach, it would behoove us all to call for systemic reform of all the rogue institutions that are at the heart of a well-governed society.

Ashley C. Reynolds