Kimberley Strassel speaks at Hillsdale College on draining the swamp.
While at the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, we actually had to listen to an employee propose, at an enforcement staff meeting, that the agency should only penalize for-profit, regulated entities.
Is it any wonder that the agency was so hostile to me as a sympathizer with numerous of the concerns of Tea Party patriots? I had to listen to a DEQ manager repeatedly insist that Trump–and by implication, I–were a NAZIs. Is that not a bit over the top and defamatory?
The Bush years of bureaucracy were bad enough. The eight years of Obama produced a palpable change for the worse.
I began as a Total Coliform Rule coordinator at Oklahoma DEQ in October of 20107. I learned a an important paradoxical principle that describes bureaucratic in this post-modern age, post-Obama, is over-reaching in intent & theory and under-performing in practice. How is it that agencies apparently desire to increase their regulatory responsibility and scope of action while refusing to act, to act uniformly and to act rationally?
The prima facie answer is that agencies want to increase their power, and power is measured in–first–statutes, legislation and administrative rules that can be applied, and–second–the person power, FTEs or full time employees that bloat the importance of managers, sections, divisions and departments. Ultimately, this leads to pumped-up salaries that are held in positions, sometimes just long enough, to ensure a nice, cozy retirement landing.
That is all true. But would not the route to becoming emperor of the Universe best be achieved by becoming proficient in little things such that one is then trusted with more important things? (I did not say that first, b.t.w.) But this is not generally attainable in that that the talent levels in government, especially the more local one goes, are simply not comparable to even the average of private industry well-tested in the marketplace or even compared to the Federal agencies.
Government bureaucrats, given the option of becoming more efficient and, thus, more successful according to the originally- and currently-stated, lofty missions versus hiring more people–and ignoring productivity–will chose the latter in most cases.
In this sense, governmental agency heads generally act as if their sub-textual mission is to move as many people from the private sector to the public sector–especially those of marginal employability. This seems, as far as I can tell, to derive from a curious internal need for order and obedience, but order and obedience produced by authoritarian structures produced by fiat. So-and-so is boss because we say he or she is, not because of intelligence, proven skills, objectively recognizable expertise, virtues and wisdom.
To enhance this point, it seems that the more arbitrary, capricious and counter-rational a promotion is, the more delightful it is to the bureaucratic, anti-meritocratic mind that every one else must knuckle under and feign obeisance to individual who do not naturally command respect by word or action. There is some framework of faux justice based purely upon a thuggish “jurisprudence” of maximized payback.
But, no, there is a bit more–I think–to the paradox of increasing codified bureaucratic power (intent) over and against the shunning of ever-improving practice–the latter mode whereby private business define what winning is. Put simply, the explanation is not that government really wants to do more–it is that they want to threaten to do more. Do you remember EPA-Region 6 administrator, Al Armendariz, who explained his policy of enforcement as being analogous to that of the ancient Romans wherein the invading Romans would arbitrarily crucify several inhabitants of a newly invaded town to terrorize the rest into submission.
I cannot resist digressing for a moment–and it is relevant. Here is a video of those remarks. Oklahoma DEQ had a contingent of EPA-Region 6 officials headed to Oklahoma City from Dallas on the day that Armendariz was fired. The office of Senator Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, had a role in posting the video below. The EPA officials turned their vehicle around in fear of what might happen to them in Oklahoma. (I kid you not.) My DEQ manager at the time forbade me from asking EPA officials in a friendly conversation anything about this event. One can only ask, “Do these people have a grip on reality?”
And when EPA Director Gina McCarthy visited the OKC headquarters of DEQ, her arrival was marked by high security, a heavy contingent of body guards and black suburban security vehicles. I passed by them in the lobby as I returned from lunch at just the time that Director McCarthy was returning. I saw her stroll in essentially alone–the “men in black” all disappeared. My conjecture was that she must have been profoundly embarrassed of the inordinate show that here earlier arrival had put on. Nobody knew who she was, nor cared–and certainly the last thing that anyone would have bothered with was attempting to assassinate her. Pomposity + politically tribal paranoia = embarrassment and humorous displays for the rest of us.
This helps explain why Trump won, just to point out that fact. This is what happens when ingroups refuse to talk or listen to the outgroup or pause long enough to ask themselves hard questions–or to let themselves be asked hard questions.
So to complete this circle, governmental agencies desire codified power without having the responsibility of enforcing that power uniformly. These are lazy tyrants compared to certain, notable over-achieving tyrants memorialized in schoolbooks and History-Channel documentaries. Indeed, in agencies tending toward the corrupt end of the scale, arbitrarily selective modes of enforcement create a potential gradient. That gradient is energized by fear of losing one’s business, one’s freedom, one’s life’s earnings–one’s job–by failure to show requisite compliance, obeisance or conformity to arbitrary enforcement–while your neighbor down the road is catered to by self-serving agency officials.
Recalling Ms. Strassel’s broadly-sketched taxonomy of corruption as progressing through mundane varieties, viz., “everyday corruption,” and on toward hard corruption (graft, bribery, embezzlement, fraud, … assassinations), the Armendariz-crucifixion model of regulatory terrorism, the establishment of terroristic enforcement derives from the agency’s capacity to not enforce. It is guaranteed that the governing principle is to defer to the big player, the player in a powerful legislator’s district, or to the regulated player with a special connection to someone in the agency.
Ah, it is not that the agency does all that much enforcing–it is all about the power to not enforce. And these deliberate acts of non-enforcement are much more difficult crimes to prove in a court of law.
So, as Ms. Strassel suggests, retiring many rules and laws for every new one adopted is very important. It is then important for legislators, watchdog groups (real ones, not scam honeypots), and the watchers of the watchers to insist on uniform enforcement. I will have more to say elsewhere about combatting bureautyranny, including the development of new cadres of properly educated and formed public administrators; the promulgation of anti-mobbing measures, practices and policies; and the holding of public officials personally liable for misbehavior of the agencies.