This time of year, I often wonder how Americans would respond to a true state of the union in the form of a simple report card that tracks specific measures that our government officials should care about most. The following is my attempt to define an annual report card for the federal government.
A Non-Partisan Annual Report Card
The first step is to develop a simple report card that captures the essence of what government should do, with objective measures that the average American would understand. Such a report card would be non-partisan and applied no matter which party currently holds the White House. To build such a report card, I begin with the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution authorizes the federal government to collect taxes and borrow money, as well as draft an annual budget. To measure the country's financial health each year, my report card would include revenue to the treasury, the state of the budget deficit, and cumulative debt.
The federal government is also given the power to ensure free commerce between the states and regulate commerce with foreign nation, so measures of economic performance belong in a state of the union report card. I would report on national GDP and employment. I would also report on inflation and the actions of the treasury since the government is authorized to coin money and regulate its value.
Naturally, the federal government is charged with providing the common defense along with raising armies and declaring war. This is not quite as easy to report on, but I would expect an annual report card to summarize our current military engagements around the world, the quality of our equipment and weapons, and whether or not recruitment is meeting the current needs of the country. With the responsibility to establish immigration rules, I would incorporate metrics on naturalization, illegal border crossings, and overall border security measures.
The federal government is also charged with administering justice, issuing patents and copyrights, and establishing post offices. In terms of justice, I would like to hear status from various departments including the FBI and ICE. I'd like some measure of efficiency and competence for the patent office and post office, as well as a summary of their financial stability.
Specific Report Card Measures
The following are specific metrics that can be graded with the usual letter grades:
Revenues to the Treasury: Measured in dollars, percent of GDP, and increase/decrease over prior year.
- Deficit: Measured in dollars, percent of GDP, and increase/decrease over prior year.
- Total Debt: Measured in dollars, percent of GDP, and increase/decrease over prior year.
- GDP: Measured in dollars and increase/decrease over prior year.
- Employment: Measured as percent and includes labor force participation.
- Inflation: Measured as a percentage and effects on consumer prices.
- Military Operations: Subjective assessment of current military engagements and progress toward military objectives.
- Equipment and Weapon Quality: Assessment of the overall age and quality of current equipment and weapons that support military forces.
- Military Recruitment: Measured in new recruits, recruiting goals, and assessment of force size relative to expected future needs.
- Illegal Border Crossings: Measured in number of crossings, increase/decrease over prior year, and improvements in border security measures.
In a follow-up post, I'll try to build the 2012 state of the union report card and see what the true current state of the union is beyond political rhetoric.