Thursday, December 21, 2006


Oversight and Over-Legislation (Part Two)

(A continuation from Part One: Oversight, forming a two-part manifesto on misplaced attention and misguided action.)

Government bureaucracy waddles resplendently, with numerous examples of oversight for the sake of little more than demonstration of “public concern” or “protection of public safety.”

For better or worse, I have consulted most regularly in recent years within State Government. I have seen the many historical layers of multiple bureaucracies, and have grown adept at seeing the layers much as an archaeologist sees the demarcations between stratum deposits.

At the most ancient layers, one sees the remnants and artifacts of FDR’s New Deal, such as Social Security and Central Bank, financial institution, and stock market-related regulatory constructs. World War Two and the hotter portions of the Cold War generated many national security, Intelligence, and military related government components.

Within more recent layers, one can find the origins of the Great Society: primarily evidenced by great expansion of social services and public welfare, health and other human service organizations, but likewise adding significant apparatus for the protection, enhancement, and preservation of Civil Rights. A subsequent generation of Government Activism against Activism pared some of these accretions, but far less than intended or supposed. Even the widely admired Welfare Reform generated as much government process and procedure as it purported to eliminate, and added its own legislation or regulatory debris within government organizations.

Do you think I exaggerate? Talk to any knowledgeable IT department manager with decades of experience in Federal and State Government. If they’re honest and forthright, they could regale you for hours with stories of adding yet one more PC to a bureaucrat’s desktop, the result of an initiative that wanted a new system but refused to integrate with or adapt the already existing ones. That’s just a PC-based symptom of what happens with entire agencies, where “task forces” become Executive Branch working groups, become Authorities or Offices, or if they’re really well endowed, Agencies.

With no explicit or implicit obligation to work with, fix, or adapt what already exists, each new initiative creates its own structure, tools, and processes. Earlier versions most often remain intact, and a certain amount of redundancy and overlap is built in by design. Constituencies develop around the bureaucracies, both if terms of the special interests served, but also by civil service legions, and the political opportunists who view each new initiative as their ticket up and onward.

The Military itself can be at times a paragon of bureaucratic bloat and accretion, when not challenged and confronted by grenade throwers like recently departed Secretary Rumsfeld. I often noted how each new field grade command needed to completely reverse or fundamentally change some process or command structure. If decentralized, the push was to centralize. If centralized, then one could expect decentralization. Some elder leader way back when told me, such reorganizations were undertaken to justify the Legion of Merit as an End of Tour Award for certain field grades. I couldn’t say, as I never saw such citations, but I saw the repetitive cycles enough to see them coming, with each iteration entirely predicted by whatever would reverse or undo whatever had been before.

Civilian Governmental bureaucracies are somewhat different, if for no other reason than their finances are so much less constrained by the reality of war, which from time to time brings sanity to the military. Blowing stuff up and killing people tends to bring reality into sharp focus, for losses must be replaced, and often explained. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and even though lives are often at stake, the very process by which combat is waged is an excellent means of generating feedback, revealing strengths, and exposing vulnerabilities. Civilian Government bureaucracies rarely experience such revelation.

That Government might at times be chastened by the requirements of war, is perhaps the best justification for insisting on a Government-wide wartime posture in times of, well, war. I think that helped us immeasurably in WWII, in constraining the activist impulse, or over-husbanding the bacon.

But for some time now, the Politician must show action and accomplishment, achievement and influence. It doesn’t matter that the last really necessary change in law happened in the 1960’s with Civil Rights legislation, and even that merely echoed laws that were on the books, but ignored. (An aside: One could even make the argument that the Constitution and original Bill of Rights ought to have set sufficient precedent for everything that was to follow, but over-interpretation of those documents suggests we may never see an end to new “rights” and privileges from an activist government.)

Politicians by temperament and political necessity seek brand new “opportunities” for Government attention and operation. If these same opportunities carry companion indulgences for political cronies, contributors, fellow travelers, rogues and thieves, well all the better!

Eventually, even the most bloat-happy of pork-meisters run out of ideas for new departments and mechanisms of public service. This happens particularly and peculiarly when the two political parties, in effect, pretty much share the same views on substantive public policy issues -- if not publicly, privately. In this instance, the adept Politician must find the issue for which he or she may become the Champion.

Politicians strenuously avoid irrelevancy by latching on to current events, and thereby generate government process out of whole cloth.

Entire Agencies and Departments of Federal and State governments created in response to perceived emergencies and issues, with no real purpose, no ability to fundamentally affect the issue or its component causes, or are otherwise completely redundant to already in place processes, that would deal adequately with the issue under scrutiny.

There exist no sunset provisions on bureaucracy, though they should. No law should be allowed to take effect without an automatic retirement provision (with or without review).

In the example of hate crime legislation: declaring certain crimes “extra bad,” making “extra punishments,” or creating the potential for what could otherwise be construed as double jeopardy, for things that are already criminalized behavior.

Senator Chuck Schumer smells an issue with sensational media reports about E Coli at Taco Bell, and immediately he wants to call for special tracking of all wholesale produce. No matter that the FDA already handles food inspection, let’s have another Agency! More patronage jobs for our Party Friends! More regulations, as if businesses weren’t already being slowly strangled. This, despite a starkly aggressive tort litigation industry that must already be shilling for volunteers for the “Got Sick, Now Get Paid” gravy train of litigation against Taco Bell’s owners.

Notice that these same politicos calling for more oversight, extra layers of “Defense” against “corporate wrongdoing” don’t have the same stomach for regulating trial lawyers or class action extortionists. No doubt, that couldn’t have anything to do with big contributions from Trial Lawyers, Class Action Law Firms, etc.

Funny how Big Government can never be so big or intrusive enough in squatting on top of the people who really create wealth and economic prosperity – corporations – while never seeing a legal abuse they’re willing to curtail. Businesses create jobs. Lawsuits do create a small number of jobs, for attorneys, surely, a multitude more paralegals. But Businesses create many orders of magnitude more.

That surely must explain why one Party in America is preferred by Business, while the other Party is preferred by Lawyers. If we came down on both with equal rigor, I might not find it so unfair. But as it stands, I’d vote with Shakespeare, “First, kill all the lawyers.”

However true may or may not be that characterization, I do not mean this to be an indictment of one Party and deference to the other, as I would echo Shakespeare also in this: “A pox on both your houses.” Both stand convicted of misplaced attention and misguided action.

“Petition to the King” ‘twas ever thus, and we’ve merely traded the elaborate ornamentation of the Regent’s palace for the K Street tramplings of the modern political lobbyist. That does not mean we are necessarily condemned to suffer these fools in perpetuity.

Are they inevitable? Certainly with the current two party system, absence of meaningful term limitation, and no structural requirement to eliminate or replace more bureaucracy for every newly proposed construct. Voters are lazy, their elected representatives lazier still. They vote what they perceive as their pocketbook, but the money never makes its way back to the vast majority of them, but rather only to those who pose in their place and pocket their benefits.

My experience as a soldier in Iraq taught me many things of lasting value. In fact, my deployment for OIF III was the mechanism by which God taught me how to define value itself: for me, my soldiers, my family, my community, my nation, and the world we all inhabit.

Life is precious, but short, and we none of us know the day or time that our fleeting time here on earth will be at an end. There is much, much more that could be done, than ever we attempt. We all too often pay most attention to the wrong things; and when we take action, we do so too frequently in error, confounding our expectations. It should surprise us not at all if our Government acts the same way, although we wish they had more foresight, and took a more principled responsibility for policy outcomes.

Rather than despair, I think this gives us reason to pause and consider. We need to revisit the objects of our attention, focus or refocus as required, and consider what end results we really wish to see. Only then, can we properly evaluate potential courses of action and their effectiveness, anticipate likely outcomes and unintended consequences, and then, discuss amongst ourselves.

Sounds like a lot of work. We better get busy.

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