Legislators at all levels face a challenge in making sure that their legislation and policies represent good governance which utilizes reason, common sense and first principles.  Some common sense goals of politicians should be to limit the control of the government over individuals, allow flexibility for bureaucrats to meet measurable results and to terminate programs that fail to meet their stated goals.  If politicians could employ some simple criteria, the government would work in a manner more consistent with the consent of the governed.

Below is a good, yet not comprehensive guide to protect the taxpayer through good governance.

First, the President of The Heritage Foundation, Ed Feulner, laid out some first principals for legislators in his book Getting America Right.  The following six questions should be asked before a politician embarks on implementing an idea or creating legislation:

  • Is it the government’s business?
  • Does it promote self-reliance?
  • Is it responsible?
  • Does it make us more prosperous?
  • Does it make us safer?
  • Does it unify us?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the analysis of an idea should stop there.

However, secondly once these questions have been addressed here are some supplemental guidelines for legislators and executives to consider including in any legislation as it moves forward through  the governmental process: .

  1. Sunset Legislation – An end date provision should be inserted to every program.  A program should cease to exist once that date is met unless the legislature proactively moves to continue it.  One of the often stated problems with government is that the programs created by Congress live on in perpetuity.  A sunset measure would make this very difficult to happen.  An example of a time frame for a sunset would be anywhere from five to ten years after enactment.
  2. Measurable Outcomes – Specific measurements of success should be mandated as part of any new legislation by a date certain.  No program is worth continuing if it never produces intended outcomes. Along with specific outcomes, the programs should have stated goals and purposes and timetables for completion.
  3. Penalties for Non-Success – If a program fails to meet its intended purpose or outcomes, there should be specific consequences that follow.  Penalties could include such things as loss of a grant, a percentage loss of a block grant to a state, authority being given to another overseer, a probation period, immediate ending of the program.
  4. Pay for it — Any new policy or program that has a cost attached to it should be paid for within the bill or measure.  Paying for it should never amount to new taxation instead it should come in the form of elimination of another program within the overall budget.
  5. Flexibility — Allow whoever administers the program (aside from the federal government) the flexibility of how to run the program. When welfare was reformed in 1996 it gave maximum flexibility along with accountability to the states and they were very innovative in how they restructured their welfare services.  The caveat to flexibility is that it also must be paired with measurable outcomes and penalties for failure to meet those outcomes.
  6. No New Programs – The number of government programs should not be added to.  Instead, take a current program or two or more similar ones and fold them in together. If you think they ought to have a new purpose, then add the new purpose to their description or use of funds.  But never create an entirely new program.  There are plenty of programs on the books that could be reformed to a new purpose.
  7. Grant Program Musts – In the event a program is administered in the form of grants to either states or directly to providers, the following policies should be included in the actual legislation:
    1. Measurable outcomes;
    2. Timetables for completion of outcomes;
    3. Consequences for failure to meet timetables;
    4. Pay grantees after they have completed their task . ie.“Pay for Performance;”
    5. At least 25 percent of grantees each year must be new grantees;
    6. A grantee must have at least 50 percent of its funding from private sources;
    7. A grantee must have at least 3 years of experience/operation before being eligible.

These are some policy principals that should be applied to all ideas coming from local, state and federal politicians.  If you can’t get over the hurdle of Feulner’s threshold questions, then the government should not do it.  If you answer yeas to all the Feulner questions, then you should utilize above referenced ideas to put forth policies that will further the cause of good governance.