WSJ Notable & Quotable: Broken government

The 2009 economic stimulus package promoted by President Obama included $5 billion to weatherize some 607,000 homes—with the goals of both spurring the economy and increasing energy efficiency.

But the project was required to comply with a statute called the Davis-Bacon Act (signed into law by President Hoover in 1931), which provides that construction projects with federal funding must pay workers the “prevailing wage”—basically a union perk that costs taxpayers about 20% more than actual labor rates.

This requirement comes with a mass of red tape; bureaucrats in the Labor Department must set wages, as a matter of law, for each category of construction worker in each of three thousand counties in America.

There was no schedule for “weather proofers.” So the Labor Department began a slow trudge of determining how much weatherproofers should be paid in Merced County, California; Monmouth County, New Jersey; and several thousand other counties.

The stimulus plan had projected that California would weatherproof twenty-five hundred homes per month. At the end of 2009, the actual total was twelve.

By Philip K. Howard, from his new book  The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government (Norton, 2014).

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