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 AIG. SIGTARP 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.