"On a typical Monday morning, about 30 representatives of Ohio State University board commerical airliners for Washington. They will spend the day here prowling the halls of Congress, the federal agencies and the grantsmanship ghetto near Dupont Circle seeking some of the $63 million in federal aid the school receives each year."
So began yesterday's news story about lobbyists for the "education industry." In it, staff writers Donald Baker and Bart Barnes told us that Ohio State is merely one of hundreds of educational institutions that extract billions in grants and loans from Washington each year.
I happen to think it is right and proper for some of my tax dollars to be used to raise the quality of American education and make it available to more people.
However, I must confess I was disturbed by the huge dollar amounts mentioned in the story. I realize that nothing is cheap these days, but increases in the costs of education, health care and fuel have been too sharp to ignore.
This nation is far too prosperous for anybody to argue that it cannot afford to provide aid programs for education. Admittedly, it is painful to have so much extracted from our paychecks each week. But it would be far worse to save the dollars by cutting back on needed support for education.
Obviously, the key word in that statement is "needed." Is all that lobbying really needed? How much does Ohio State pay out for lobbying salaries? How much does it pay to transport 30 lobbyists to Washington each week, house and feed them while they are here, and bring them home again? How many extra millions must a hundred universities wheedle from the government just to cover the costs of such wheedling?
It seems to me that if government aid programs are properly organized and implemented, it should be relatively simple for schools to know what's available and how to apply for it. If there are too many aid programs or it they overlap so extensively that only a specialist can keep track of what's being offered, it is the government's responsibility to simplify its activities and offer them in a useful and comprehensible manner.
It would also be a great improvement if government agencies could decide how to apportion available funds without being distracted by hordes of lobbyists, each clamoring for a bigger slice of the pie. Decisions could be made in a quiet and orderly manner rather than in response to manipulation and political pressure.
The conclusion seems inescapable therefore that our tax bill is being inflated by education's middlemen, the lobbyists who earn their living by neutralizing the work of other lobbyisits.
The average citizen doesn't mind contributing to a worthy cause. He does become upset when he learns that a disproportionate amount of his contribution is being devoted to "overhead" and fund-raising expenses. POSTSCRIPT
About a week ago, I called the Department of Transportation for information about safety helmets for motorcyclists. "No problem," was the answer. "We have some good material on that. We'll send some over."
When the material arrived yesterday, I put it on a postal scale. It weighed 6 pounds and 13 ounces. The material said it is clearly in the best interest of a motorcycle operator or passenger to wear a safety helmet, and it cited overwhelming proof of that statement. For example: "Deaths from head injuries have doubled in three states that have repealed mandatory motorcycle helmet use laws."
I have been an unwavering supporter of helmet laws, seat belt laws, speed limit laws and other measures that are unpopular with many vehicle operators. It is reassuring to find that scientific studies are carefully tabulated statistics confirm my seat-of-the-pants opinions about highway safety.
Nevertheless, as I try to make my way through more than 6 pounds of material on this subject, I find myself asking, "Do we really need so much?"
I think that in most agencies we could do with at least a little bit less and thereby divert hundreds of millions of dollars to other uses. For one thing, the Soviet Union has made it clear that unless we strengthen our defense at once, we risk suffering disastrous consequences.
If we begin beefing up our armed services, we will be forced to choose between fueling inflation and trimming unessential government spending. Where shall we begin to trim -- on the other fellow's pet project? THOUGHT FOR TODAY
I'm reminded of Paul Sweeney's cogent comment:
"If you don't save for tomorrow, you spend you life paying for yesterday."