by Barry Rubin
As a native-born Washingtonian (Columbia Hospital for Women) whose family arrived in the city when President Theodore Roosevelt was in office, I note an omission in all the budget/economic debate that amazes me.
It is scarcely a secret in Washington that Federal government employees generally don’t work real hard and don’t get a lot of good things done. Sure, people who work in the government bureaucracy will heatedly deny this when they’re interviewed in the mass media or in the propaganda coming from the Federal employees unions. But people in the nation’s capital know that isn’t true. Have you ever actually been in any government office? And I don’t mean those created to serve the public directly (though post offices and motor vehicle bureaus are good places to start. I mean behind the scenes, when people are sitting around doing either nothing or something useless or counterproductive.
There is massive over-staffing, make-work, and totally unnecessary spending. People justify themselves because they run “projects” and enforce regulations. But most of these projects don’t actually achieve anything while many of the regulations either bring no change for the better or actually make things worse.
As I said, none of this is a secret. People who work in government know it. I will limit myself to one anecdote: a government employee doing what is ostensibly vital work who remarks that there are three people doing his job that could be done by one.
And so when President Barack Obama claims–as he did recently–that cutting the government budget will bring the end of weather forecasts, nobody being able to get a scholarship, and children’s lives would be endangered by the lack of food inspection, how can anyone keep a straight face? It wasn’t long ago that Senator Harry Reid was explaining that the administration couldn’t cut the budget because that would eliminate the much-loved Cowboy Poetry Festival.
But let’s get real. If the entire departments of education, energy, and several others would be abolished–with their few vital functions being transferred elsewhere–would the quality of life suffer in the United States? Would the quality of education plummet? Would America be less able to produce energy it needs? Actually, energy production would almost certainly improve.
Here’s a good idea for journalists. Pick a government department that deals with domestic matters–Labor, Justice, Agriculture, Education, your choice–go through its organizational table and ask what “vital” service is carried out by any given bureau, office, branch, or section. Isn’t it amazing that nobody is doing that in all the passionate debate over government spending levels, taxes, and regulations?
I don’t say this from any ideological preconception but merely from reality, including years of observation. Why should any real liberal–as opposed to a statist, radical, populist seeking to build a political base by trading government jobs and entitlements for votes–fight to keep the government from shrinking in the face of huge deficits?
A very large proportion of Federal employees shuffle paper, do absolutely useless things, and have a productivity level far below that of those citizens who pay their salaries. Hasn’t anyone actually been in a government office or ever had a private conversation with a bureaucrat who admitted the truth? And the same, of course, holds for state governments.
I can imagine someone reading this with horror. Yet the whole thing is actually quite humorous. The ineffectiveness and uselessness of most of what goes on in large sectors of the Federal government is really obvious from close up. You don’t start by talking about firing those who feed starving children but those who maintain useless (even strangling) regulations and do absolutely nothing useful. To pretend that much, most, or almost all of those ever-expanding government offices (someone should do a tour to show the endless increase of buildings spreading all over the Washington area), are vital is hilarious.
Leave the firefighters, police, and teachers alone. Fire the useless bureaucrats. They know who they are. Why don’t we?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com