Federal agencies now exist not for the public good but for their employees’ benefit and Obama’s agenda.
When IRS Commissioner John Koskinen arrogantly told Congress that he had no apologies for an agency that has targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, had a top-ranking bureaucrat take the Fifth Amendment, and destroyed its own correspondence, he meant it. Nor did Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA, offer any apologies for concocting a fake persona, replete with false e-mail identity (“Richard Windsor”), to hide her own communications. Kathleen Sebelius was likewise unapologetic after presiding over the ruined initial implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Nor did she pay any consequence for campaigning for Democratic candidates while a cabinet secretary, in violation of the Hatch Act.
Government always grows, sometimes even more rapidly under Republican than under Democratic presidents. But under President Obama we are seeing something a little different — the creation of a partisan, semi-autonomous government that seems to exist for the benefit of its employees and the larger ideological agenda of the present administration.
The common theme of many of the Obama scandals is that expansion of government is a good thing (e.g., more employed constituents, more redistributive regulations on individuals, higher taxes to pay for it all), that government employees should be partisans of those politicians who favor more government, and that what a government agency was constituted to do is not necessarily what it will do.
Take the Veterans Affairs scandal. Delays in providing care were covered up by false record keeping. This criminal fraud contributed to the death of several veterans. The falsification of records also meant both that the scandal would not quickly come to light and that veterans would continue not to receive needed care. No matter: 65 percent of VA executives nevertheless received merit bonuses, among them those at the dysfunctional Phoenix VA Health Care System, where the largest number of veterans died. Overall, 80 percent of VA executives received very high performance rankings for overseeing a scandal-plagued agency. An outsider might conclude that the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy existed not so much for its client veterans as for the fossilized bureaucracy that so poorly runs the hospitals.
That would not be an unreasonable deduction. The General Services Administration, which provides supplies, office space, and so on for federal agencies, supposedly to ensure that they conduct operations efficiently, is likewise out of control. In 2012, videos emerged of lavish GSA junkets to Las Vegas and bizarre government-funded amateur skits and movies. It appeared that federal employees were not only exempt from the law, but sneering about their immunity from accountability.
Under Obama, bureaucracies also freelance far beyond their missions to further the president’s multicultural agenda. One would think that NASA, our agency for exploration of outer space, should have nothing to do with the president’s plans for Muslim outreach, which he thought was going to end the war on terror, remake the Middle East, and ease global tensions. But in 2010, NASA administrator Charles Bolden informed us that, “perhaps foremost, [Obama] wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering — science, math and engineering.” Would that Bolden had ignored that “foremost” distortion of his agency and instead sought to wean the United States off its dependence on Russian rocketry for manned entry into space, in the present age of failed reset with Russia.
In pre-Obama times, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had a necessary and narrowly defined mission: to protect individual achievement from improper infringement. But under Obama it too is now not a disinterested government agency but an arm of the White House, which can be enlisted in the furtherance of a larger social agenda. Most recently it waded into the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins by rescinding the football franchise’s trademark rights to its name — on the basis, apparently, that the president finds that name hurtful to Native Americans. There is no evident feeling among the general public that the team should drop its name, but it has become a cause célèbre among progressives, and thus apparently any government agency must now detour to do what it can to help. Message: We are watching you for incorrect behavior and will seek to destroy any that we deem illiberal.
Sometimes contemporary government bureaucracies are even more blatantly enlisted in the progressive cause of seeing liberal Democrats elected. The Internal Revenue Service has enormous carrot-and-stick power in picking and choosing who needs a tax audit, or which group deserves tax-exempt status. Under Lois Lerner, the IRS’s tax-exemption division targeted conservative groups to defang them before the 2012 election — and then attempted to cover up that perversion of the agency. Lerner herself pled the Fifth Amendment, and now we learn that much of her key e-mail correspondence mysteriously disappeared from her computer. E-mail records from six other IRS officials of interest likewise vanished. The IRS also improperly handed over tax files of particular groups to the FBI for investigation. It is no exaggeration to state that the IRS has now surrendered its reputation as an impartial agency and lost the public trust. It has degenerated into an extension of the White House.
The Border Patrol likewise has metamorphosed into an agency entirely unrecognizable from what it was just six years ago. It has recalibrated how it counts the number of deportees, so that it can posture that it has sent back far more foreign nationals than it actually has. More recently, the children’s crusade from Central America to our southern border was prompted by rumors that the Obama administration would not enforce federal immigration laws and would grant amnesties to those who successfully crossed into the United States.
The result has not just been tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and teens flooding into America, but also the surreal scenario of foreign nationals approaching Border Patrol agents not in fear, but in hopes of being captured. Because of an administration agenda of promoting open borders and issuing executive-order amnesties, the Border Patrol now finds itself a veritable social-welfare agency welcoming thousands illegally into the U.S. In some sense, there is no Border Patrol any more; it disappeared as a law-enforcement agency when immigration law itself ended.
Then there are federal agencies that simply can no longer be assumed to serve the public trust, and insidiously recalibrate the way they do business in hopes of advancing the Obama agenda.
No one has any idea to what degree the Affordable Care Act is working, largely because we do not receive data about how many have paid r are paying their premiums, or how many people are simply transfers into the system from other state and federal health plans. We still do not know how many lost their insurance because of Obamacare, or what are the actual costs for those forced into new plans. Data about enrollees are now hopelessly politicized, in the sense that federal employees know that the more they report new signees into the system and the less they disclose about the circumstances of such enrollees, the better off will be their own careers.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis altered its methodology so that private enterprise’s research-and-development expenses are counted as proof of investment growth. The result was a hoped-for higher rate of GDP growth to report to the public. In the same vein, before the 2012 election, the Census Bureau massaged survey results so that the Labor Department could underreport unemployment statistics. The department also changed its way of reporting unemployment — in a way that we could not have imagined before Obama. Those out of work for more 52 weeks were no longer “unemployed” but reclassified as permanently out of the workforce altogether. The EPA has gone after coal plants and is eying controlling water use on private property. The catalyst is not so much the agency’s perception of the public interest, but a dictate from the administration to enact a particular ideological agenda that has no support in Congress or among the public
Add up these various alphabet-soup pathologies — well apart from the NSA, AP, and Benghazi debacles. Government agencies are now eager to venture into areas well beyond their mandates. They will use any means necessary to further the careers of their executives, massage data to enhance the administration’s agenda, or simply abdicate their responsibility to enforce the law at all if it is found to be politically incorrect.
In other words, we are witnessing a new federal government that is a sort of rogue organism that exists for its own enhancement and is willing to do anything necessary to help those who help it.
This is not America. It is like most failed states abroad, which also are not America.
13 thoughts on “The Federal Octopus”
I see that the lack of fiscal restraint,fiefdoms with the bureaucracies and judicial fiat resemble that a the Achaemenid culture.
Having just read “The Federal Octopus” it occurs to me that certainly a very large percentage of bureaucrats, having no pre-government employment experience, are frightened to death of losing their sinecure. And like their elected associates, they have no idea of the opportunities available to them on the “outside”. This fear alone instructs a powerful incentive to “go along to get along” without meaningful ethical constraint. This is not news of course, it speaks to a century’s-old human “condition”, the currency of which continues to grow at the expense of the classic regard for our “Great American Dream”.
Articulate criticism of the current bureaucratic bloat, in itself, assures one permanent “work”. The challenge is really to make new again the thrill of opportunity, uniquely available to those of us on the “outside”.
Obama is carrying out the Cloward-Piven strategy to a degree the inventors of that strategy could only have dreamed of.
As a Canadian, I am astounded at the fragility of your vaunted “checks and balances.” I don’t believe that a Canadian PM, theoretically stronger if he or she has a majority government (relatively speaking, of course!), would ever flout the country’s constitution the way Obama does routinely and with seeming impunity.
As one Canadian to another: look at what Pierre Trudeau did to Canada. It’s exactly what Obama is now trying to do to the U.S. 40 years later. The difference is Canadians didn’t have a constitution to appeal to in the 1970’s, so nobody brought it up.
Checks and Balances are like one-tumbler locks on front doors.
When there is lawlessness and a desire to take from others, a simple lock will not stop a criminal with no compunction about breaking a window or smashing a door. Locks only stop honest people from coming into your house.
When a political individual decides that defeating or destroying her/his opponents is more important than rule of law, she will ignore checks and balances. S/he will take powers that the law denies to her/him.
This is something that US citizens are grappling with; how to restore respect for the constitutional balances that served us well for the first 110 years of our Republic.
This is the Regime ‘transforming America’ I hope everyone that voted for this are the first to get their liberties taken away. They were told
I submit the title of this article should have been “Federalus Maximus”.
Dear Professor Hanson,
If James Madison’s Law is “No leader is an angel” plus “Every leader has a devil & angel on his/her shoulder,” then… JM’s idea was to pit the evil of man (i.e. Tragic View, not Therapeutic View) against his own evil, that is when evil makes itself available to mystic tyranny, which is to say… the empowerment leadership gains,
Hence, the three branches were to each have a “machine gun nest” firing at the other two branches’ similar machine gun nests. The three “machine gun nests” were to fire upon each other’s mystic tyranny, but never to fire upon the people.
Further, if that were to happen, the separate governments of the states were to shoot their “powerful political machine gun nests” back towards the Federal government.” (In all this, I speak figuratively, not literally.)
Mark Levin says our Founders made a way to amend the constitution via states calling for a meeting to do so. You have mentioned concerns that mystic tyranny Progtards might highjack such a meeting (as history might indicate) and make things permanently an “Animal Farm” of Monster Raving Loony Permanence.
Looking at this situation with a wide angle lens, the Right has been pushing back for 30 years against the Left. Both sides say they are right. And it is a crazy Mexican standoff, with nothing happening but more decline.
So professor Hanson, neither side has tried the James Madison argument, have they? The argument would be, coming from the Right, “Hey, we are no angels. That we recognize this, we agree to limit our (three-branch) powers, as well as the out-of-control Fed agencies. Period.”
Back in the day, James Madison trusted this argument to be understood by the people. He wrote it, in his own language, in Federalist 51.
Today, I hear no one in talk radio and no one even in the Tea Party, saying “I AM NO GOD. Elect me, and I will limit my powers and that of the other two branches… while keeping strongly prepared for War… which creates peace… and this is my job, to always know I and the other two branches… are no angels, and power corrupts, etc., etc.
I’d vote for that. Would it be good to trust others would also? (Because the same-old-same-old is tiresome, and losing our nation through right-left exchanges of angst-that-fails-to-stop-decline.)
John Koskinen, solid Democrat and skilled bureaucrat, is the perfect person to do what Obama needs done: to sit before Congress and lie like crazy, never sweating, never wavering.
This “transformation” began in earnest with the implementation of the Senior Executive Service during the Carter Administration. Stocked by liberal academia the SES is now a union that looks out only of itself. It’s charter to provide management oversight over civil service employees is laughable in that it uses leftist theory rather than employee EXPERIENCE in its regulatory practices.
The IRS has nothing but scorn for Federal records retention regulations. When it comes to whistleblowers a classic line shouted by a high level IRS executive to three whistleblowers is most telling: “The organization will get you, you whores!” Read about all this in the book by former IRS historian Shelley Davis titled “Unbridled Power.” Then, perhaps, these current scandals won’t be surprising.
“But under President Obama we are seeing something a little different — the creation of a partisan, semi-autonomous government that seems to exist for the benefit of its employees and the larger ideological agenda of the present administration.”
They’ve been there for decades. The only real difference now is the brazen nature of it. With their own in power, all restraint is gone.
It’s the coming out party of The Tax Ranchers. Not content to simply herd the Tax Cattle with a show of respect, they’re throwing off the pretenses of being “servants” and showing they’re the masters. They’re showing us the whip, and we’ll take it and like it.
Because we have. There have been no consequences for these criminals, but long paid vacations on the public dime, and their 15 minutes of fame, where they get to spit in our faces and laugh.