Our Man In Liliput

North Penn Tactical Response Team of Montgomer...

Image via Wikipedia

National columnist Dan K. Thomasson chooses to rail against bureaucracy in today’s Joplin Globe (3/11/11).  The attention would seem to be deserved because the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or SIGTARP for short, is a bureaucratic oversight organization charged with tracking government expenditures for the TARP program, including bailouts of the U.S. auto industry and AIGSIGTARP made itself a plump target for criticism by ordering badges, guns, flak jackets and police equipment for their cars.  It would be funny if it weren’t for the expense.  Despite the fact that some two-thirds of the TARP loans have already been repaid the new bureaucracy now proposes a 30% larger budget of $47 million.

I caught some online heat for supporting a different bureaucracy in my previous post, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and perhaps rightly so because, once started, bureaucracies do acquire a life of their own.  But my enthusiasm for the CFPB is borne of a life-long interest in consumer issues and resentment of consumer fraud.  I felt that such oversight was long overdue because fraud and deception is rife.  Nevertheless, Congress will be remiss if they don’t keep a tight rein on the CFPB as well as all the other bureaucracies.  This is one mission where the GOP has my sympathy.

President George W. Bush signs the Homeland Se...

President Bush creates DHS, via Wikipedia

Speaking of which, how about two of the biggest and most useless of them all, the Department of Homeland Security and the Directorate of National Intelligence?  Both of these behemoths were born in a GOP administration and justified as patches to systems perceived to have failed in stopping the 9/11 attacks.  Significantly to me, none of the agencies that DHS and the DNI are supposed to manage were ever held accountable for their failures, except in the press, and if there is any evidence that we are now safer, I’m not aware of it.  The terrorists arrested so far, with only a couple of notable exceptions, seem a miserably inept lot to me.

illustration of Jonathan Swift’s novel Gullive...

Gulliver, Tied Down, via Wikipedia

Bureaucracy has been a problem ever since the invention of government.  Jonathan Swift knew it.  One of the most delightful books I read as a teen was Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726.  I read it as fantasy-adventure at first and only later came to understand how much clever political satire it contains and how very applicable it still is to our clumsy efforts to govern ourselves.  I recall one peculiar scene which I thought very silly when I first read it, but now it makes perfect sense.  In it, governing figures would lie about and only respond to requests for decisions when an aide or functionary would gently bop them on their faces with inflated pig’s bladders at the ends of poles.  This, I later understood, represented the bureaucratic process, i.e., the attention of decision-makers can not be accessed except through subordinates.

Red phone

Image via Wikipedia

Which brings me to the trials and troubles of James Clapper, the current DNI.  Now you might expect a guy in his position to be very tight with the White House, but it became obvious yesterday that he is not when he testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Gaddafi is likely to prevail against rebel forces (assuming outside military forces don’t intervene).  This of course is contrary to the White House’s opinion and position.  Clapper’s unalloyed opinion coming unexpectedly from the bureaucratic void very likely undercut the administration’s credibility for being able to control its own bureaucracy and at the same time exposed the DNI’s own inutility. (Think Camp Swampy in the Beetle Bailey comic strip.)

Organizational chart of the United States Depa...

DHS Organization Chart, via Wikipedia

I did an online search for an organization chart of the “intelligence community” the DNI is supposed to manage, only to find that the web site for that is “under construction”.  Wouldn’t one think that a 7-year-old bureaucracy would have its organization figured out by now?  Nah.  Here is an agency charged with coordinating a sprawling mass of dozens of agencies while having no authority over any of the individual budgets, most of which are secretly imbedded in the Defense Department budget.  I completely understand why president Obama, in a hurry for some intelligence information, might bypass this bureaucratic figurehead and go directly to, say, Leon Panetta at the CIA.  I would too.

Oscar Wilde addressed the issue thus:

“Bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

Here is a good link to more quotes on bureaucracy.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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3 Responses to Our Man In Liliput

  1. ansonburlingame says:


    It is so typical that when things go wrong, particularly in government, that the solution is to add more bureaucracy. When was the last time that we heard of someone getting fired for major errors within the bureaucracy?

    The only possible way to control a bureaucracy in Wash is to control its budget. DNI was doomed to failure without such budget control. When a good leader takes over along with the authority to hire, fire and promote eveyone within his organization and has control of his own budget, then things seem to work.

    For that reason alone I think Rumsfeld MIGHT have been a good SECDEF in reining in defense spending. But once 9/11 occured, his ability to work within interagency organization, well, we see what happened.

    Homeland Security WAS at least a point of responsibility to improve on things noted by the 9/11 commission. Improving communications between all federal, state and local agencies I hold as an example. Establishing interagency centers to share intelligence was another step forward, perhaps.

    But you and I know full well that all the “turfs” now protect that which they send to such interagency organizations and there is little that the DNI can do about it. And when the s… hits the fan WHY does the Director of CIA go on the news? He should be subordinate to DNI.

    But of course he is not and there is part of the problem.

    I still like the idea to promote Obamabank, to get a handle on the greedy fat cats on Wall Street. Why have you not jumped at that opportunity???



  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    ObamaBank? I guess my small life combined with the Earth shifting distracted me from being aware of it. Until you bopped my head with a Gulliver bladder and made me notice it.

    Greedy-fat-cat sarcasm? Now you want me to feel sorry for bankers? OK boys, let’s pass the hat. Shades of Scrooge McDuck! Let’s see, bankers. Aren’t those the guys who, when they need more money, just ring up the Fed and, ka-ching, in come rolling those dollars, all ready to be loaned out at a higher interest rate to the little people. Is this a great country or what?

    But now the big O is to be condemned for trying to recover the taxpayer money that was spent bailing out Goldman and the others after their pyramid scheme of mortgage derivatives tanked? Well, never fear, the bankers know very well how to take their medicine in stride. They merely pass the expense on in the form of those little fees in the fine print at the bottom of our statements. It’s ever so easy.

    I just wish the major part of the nation’s brain-power went into something more productive than manipulating interest rates and derivatives, say like engineering and medicine, but that’s not where the real money is. No, the real money is on Wall Street. And Silicon Valley. That’s just reality.



  3. ansonburlingame says:

    Replys are gettin posted ahead of comments and the g on my computer is sticking!!

    overnment needs to fix that mess, right??

    And please stop using “banks” as the catch-all for disdain. Wall Street is fine but not that little building, OK, midsize one, run by our local neihbors.

    But you betcha, that little “bank” will soon not use or have to chare for the use of debit cards which are much safer for folks to use. The money comes directly from your checking account and thus no loan is made or repayment of such is not needed.

    If you don’t have the money in your account you cannot spend the money with a debit card. My how inconvienent.



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