Friday, May 31, 2013

The Rise of the Unelected Bureaucrat

My "All In Perspective" Column for the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star-Ledger.  Since my editor's deadlines, it has become even more apparent that no-one will be held accountable for the IRS scandals.  One aspect I did not include in the original column is the part played by the NTEU- the National Treasury Employees' Union.  Most Americans are unaware that the IRS is largely controlled by the NTEU, and that the union's leaders have a cozy relationship with President Barack Obama.  Once again, the 'unholy alliance' between public sector unions and government is thwarting the democratic process.  (Read more.)

Original Column:

In his classic work Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens mocked the inefficiencies of government with references to the “Office of Circumlocution.”  This fictional government office had “its finger in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart.”  Those seeking justice for matters large and small were utterly at the mercy of bureaucrats who insisted on endless paper submissions and re-submissions, and who created a “sea of obfuscation that could not be navigated.”  Neither the elected Members of Parliament, nor even the Prime Minister could overcome the power of the Office of Circumlocution.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to compare today’s IRS with the Office of Circumlocution.  Most Americans took a dim view of IRS machinations prior to the recent scandals and now only the most partisan of partisan hacks express any confidence in the office.  In the past few weeks the public has been inundated with stories of delayed applications, lengthy and inappropriate questionnaires, and targeted tax audits.  Certainly members of the various Tea Party groups, pro-life organizations, and any group critical of the Obama administration would readily agree with the Dickensian comparison.

While the U.S. Constitution provided for a limited government that protected individual freedoms, the truth is that unelected bureaucrats wield an inordinate level of power over American lives.  Yes, we elect the members of Congress, city councils, and school boards to theoretically create policy.  However, those policies are heavily influenced and completely implemented by appointees and employees.  As in the case of the Affordable Care Act, countless unelected government employees crafted the 2,700-page bill, and many congressmen and women voted for the measure without even reading it.  Likewise, appointees and employees in the Department of Health and Human Services have already released 700 pages of new regulations related to ACA.

Although the recent IRS and Department of Justice scandals have at least temporarily restrained some bureaucratic power, it appears that once again the buck stops nowhere.  The President and his top men and women plead ignorance and merely feign benign disgust over the ‘incompetence’ of low-level employees.  A few of those employees have been reassigned, and one department head has resigned a few weeks ahead of schedule.  Once the dust settles, in all likelihood the IRS will be back to business as usual.
Of course, the power of the bureaucrat is not limited to the federal government, but extends to local actors as well.  In the recent investigations of CSCOPE, it has been difficult to determine which elected body has jurisdiction over the curriculum, and the bureaucrats at Texas Education Service Centers seem to have been using the program to implement the Obama Common Core standards that were firmly rejected by Texas.  In some cases local officials have completely abandoned any pretense of answering to elected representatives, like the Round Rock ISD Superintendent who told the Board of Trustees he had the right to determine what information they could have about the district.
An unfortunate number of Americans have unwarranted faith in government to cure all of society’s ills.  As Jonah Goldberg recently stated, people tend to believe in the ‘omnicompetency’ of government officials, and choose to ignore the real nature of mere mortals.  Government bureaucrats at their best will err, but in some cases will be utterly corrupt.  Now the same IRS officials who have allegedly harassed and intimidated American citizens will be in charge of implementing Obamacare and will wield even greater power over our daily lives.  Our big government solutions will always be hampered by inefficiency, incompetence, and at times outright corruption.  It is only by limiting the power of government that we can escape the tyranny of the unelected bureaucrat. 

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