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Isn’t a ‘Bainful’ Turnaround What America Needs?

Peter Gridley | Getty Images

There’s a very troubled company out there called U.S. Government, Inc. It’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. And it badly needs to be taken over and turned around. It probably even needs the services of a good private-equity firm, with plenty of experience and a reasonably good track record in downsizing, modernizing, shrinking staff, and making substantial changes in management. Yes, layoffs will be a necessary part of the restructuring.

A quick look at the income statement of this troubled firm tells the story. Just in the past year (FY 2011) the firm spent $3.7 trillion, but took in only $2.2 trillion in sales revenues. Hence its deficit came to $1.5 trillion.

Just in the first three months of the new year (FY 2012), the firm’s troubles continued. Outlays for all purposes came in at $874 billion, but income was only $554 billion. So the shortfall was $320 billion. No hope of a self-imposed turnaround here. Indeed, both the senior management and the board of directors show no signs of making major changes to their business strategy.

Hope for future profits? That’s out of the question. The firms only chance of survival is a takeover.

Worldwide employment for U.S. Government, Inc. is estimated to be over two million, a completely unmanageable number for a venture like this. Total compensation for this company is roughly twice the level of its private-sector counterparts. And its retirement and health-insurance benefits are so large in relation to contributions paid that its benefit plans are careening toward insolvency.

In fact, the total debt of this firm now equals its total income -- an unsustainable position that suggests to many observers that future financing needs will not be met.

The product line of this troubled firm has been rejected over and over by growing segments of its customer base. And its product pricing (taxes) is not even remotely competitive. Even worse, heavily unionized work rules and regulations are so onerous that the prospects for even reasonable productivity and efficiency are long gone.

Its credit rating? That’s been marked down, with more downgrades expected in the future.

The very troubled U.S. Government, Inc. had long been either number one or in the top three worldwide in terms of economic freedom. But as a result of all these deteriorating conditions, it has fallen four years in a row in this category, slipping all the way to tenth. In fact, over the past ten years, the firm has barely grown and its share price has been flat. Without the kind of radical change that comes from a takeover and turnaround, more economic slippage is baked in the cake.

Restructuring this company seems a hopeless proposition. But wait a minute. There’s a highly regarded private-equity operation located in Boston that has a good (but not perfect) track record in turning around hopeless ventures. Though there have been failures for this firm, notable successes include Staples , The Sports Authority, Domino’s Pizza , and Steel Dynamics .

Anyone operating in business knows full well that even the smartest reorganizing firms are prone to failure as well as success in our free-market capitalist system. But the customer base of the troubled U.S. Government, Inc. seems like it is desperate enough to go the takeover route.

Some are concerned that private-equity specialists are too hard hearted. But in these tough times, people are willing to take a risk. That even includes the current CEO of the failed U.S. Government, Inc., one Barack Obama. He just announced plans to merge the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. In other words, he’s borrowing a private-equity tactic.

Alas, this move is way too small and way too late. Much more radical surgery will be necessary.

At a recent family election in New Hampshire, the former head of the Boston takeover firm, one Mitt Romney, emerged victorious with a sweep of all the key voter segments. Sounding like Ronald Reagan on the evening of his victory, the former turnaround CEO expressed confidence that the troubled U.S. Government, Inc. could be saved. He was even optimistic.

But he warned that if family members expected a bidding war for more unpaid-for benefits with excessive price tags, well, he wouldn’t be the man for that job. Tough measures would be necessary instead.

So now the question is, will America, Inc. ask this former turnaround CEO to prevent the bankruptcy of U.S. Government, Inc.? Isn’t a Bainful turnaround exactly what America needs?

Questions? Comments, send your emails to: lkudlow@kudlow.com

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