Savings bond program is not in any danger


December 05, 1993|By JANE BRYANT QUINN | JANE BRYANT QUINN,1993, Washington Post Writers Group

NEW YORK -- There's one thing fund-raisers know well. Scare tactics work, especially when you're scaring Americans about the survival of something they hold dear -- for example, U.S. Savings Bonds.

I recently got a letter from a new organization called the U.S. Savings Bonds Foundation, formed to promote the savings bond program. "Dear Mrs. Quinn," it read, "We need your help!" It went on to claim that the savings bonds were in imminent danger of extinction.

Thanks to the foundation's efforts, the letter said, this frightful peril has been averted. But "the crisis is not over." Would I please send my generous tax-deductible contribution to help save the savings bonds that we all know and love.

In a pig's eye I will. The savings bond program is not in danger of extinction.

What is in danger are the jobs of some of the people who sell the bonds. They were targeted during Vice President Al Gore's Reinventing Government investigation as employees the government might do without.

This tax-exempt foundation, then, is raising money to fight cuts in government bureaucracy (to prevent the "immediate danger" that jobs will be abolished, the letter says).

It is masking its purpose behind the inflammatory claim that, if the bureaucrats go, your savings bonds go with them.

The fund-raising letter I got wasn't mailed to the general public, says the foundation's president Thomas Anfinson, a former executive director of the Savings Bonds Division, but only to people connected with the savings bond program. He says it wasn't a scare tactic. But he plans to "make the public aware any time the program is in jeopardy" -- as it would be, he asserts, if the structure for selling bonds is changed.

U.S. Savings Bonds are sold chiefly through banks and corporate payroll-deduction plans. To get institutions to offer them, the Treasury employs 220 workers in 62 field offices around the United States.

It was Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman's interesting idea that this marketing could be done by mail, phone, fax and travel, by 10 employees housed in the Bureau of the Public Debt.

That sounds to me like an idea worth trying.

Anfinson's goal, apparently, is to tie so many political knots around the program that no president will ever be able to change it.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., he says, is the "point guy" for 'N legislation that would, among other things, give the program more congressional protection and end the Treasury's current authority over the budget of the Savings Bond Division. (Dreier's office didn't respond to questions.)

There's the bureaucratic mind at work. Keep all the jobs you've got already, add new costs, get congressmen to protect you and make the public think you're advancing their interests. The world is full of organizations that deserve your money. The U.S. Savings Bonds Foundation isn't one of them.

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