Tricks Bureaucrats Play

Photo of the closed Washington Monument.
CBS News.

In Warnings, I discuss the hundreds of lives that were lost during Katrina and in other situations due to the decisions of the government bureaucracy. And, how no one has been called to account for those decisions.

While politics does not interest me, the quality of government does. As background, a number of years ago, I was the chair of our trade associations lobbying committee. Washington insiders have — for at least 20 years — talked about “the Washington Monument Syndrome” where bureaucrats, when facing budget cuts, offer to cut highly visible services (policeman, closing the Washington Monument) rather than useless fat.

I was reminded of that while reading this morning’s Wichita Eagle online:

Independent studies have shown that Kansas has one of the largest number of state employees, per capita, of any state. There is LOTS of fat that can be cut.

It is long past time that this problem be addressed.

UPDATE: 8:05PM Sunday. Even Newsweek is figuring this out, with the free-market value of the property mentioned below likely far too low:

In fact, the U.S. government currently has about $233 billion worth of nondefense “property, plant, and equipment,” according to the Treasury’s Financial Management Service. That is almost certainly an understatement. The government owns somewhere between 600 million and 700 million acres of land, or about 30 percent of the country’s land surface, much of it in the Western states, where as much as half the land is federally owned.
Washington could also sell its stakes in the Southeastern Power Administration and related assets as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electric-power assets.
It is long past time for some of these useless programs to be cut and assets not necessary for the core mission of the federal and state governments to be sold. 

Steve Forbes on Bureaucracy Costing Lives

But this play-it-safe attitude [of the Food and Drug Administration's] –even at the expense of human lives–is creating a devastating and potentially far more deadly impact: The pipeline for new antibiotics is drying up. Since the 1940s the miracle of penicillin and its relatives has saved tens of millions of lives. Antibiotics easily conquered such illnesses as pneumonia and tuberculosis, which routinely killed countless numbers of people each year. Bacteria, of course, can become drug-resistant, but for decades pharmaceutical companies, especially in the U.S., routinely came up with new antibiotics to fell new killer germs. Now, however, the flow of new stuff has dried to a trickle.


Authorities are taking note of all this, as is the U.S. Congress. Henry Waxman has declared that the pharmaceutical industry’s failure to develop a reliable new class of antibiotics is an example of “market failure.” No it isn’t, Henry; it’s a failure of government regulation. The FDA has made clinical trials cost-prohibitive.


The entire column is here.

Why I Write About Bureaucracy

I write about bureaucracy from time to time here on the blog (including the two postings below) and I also cover the subject in Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather. You might wonder why.
Before I started researching Warnings, I had the same problems with bureaucracy that most people encounter. Ask me about my last visit to the Kansas DMV office; what a nightmare! But, it didn’t seem to be a particularly important topic.
When I was researching the Katrina chapters of Warnings I was amazed and appalled at what I found: Decisions made by bureaucrats directly lead to the deaths of hundreds of people. And, no one has ever been called to account for these decisions! 
In the “Murder by Bureaucracy” chapter, I talk about holding rescuers away from New Orleans and making them take a sexual harassment course while the city was filling with water. About how decisions were made to force Katrina flood victims from escaping. And, to block private sector companies from getting desperately needed supplies from the victims while the federal government was nowhere to be found.
And, here is the clincher: No one has ever been held accountable for these decisions!
You might think these were isolated cases and, if they were, it would be one thing. But, exactly the same mistakes were made in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. And, some of the same mistakes were made in the Gulf oil spill last summer.
An unaccountable bureaucracy isn’t a problem of political party. Katrina occurred under President Bush. The mess during the Gulf oil spill occurred under President Obama. I’m concluding that these ridiculous actions – made by people seemingly unaccountable to anyone – are an increasingly serious threat to our nation.  So, I’m trying to shed some light on these problems when they present themselves. 

Us Making Work for Bureaucrats, Part II

Below I have a posting about the FCC’s Emergency Action Notification System and plans to expand and complicate it — at taxpayer’s expense.

In Part II, I want to comment on a Wall Street Journal article (subscription may be required) about small businesspeople wanting to create bureaucracies to stifle competition.

cat groomers, tattoo artists, tree trimmers and about a dozen other specialists across the country… are clamoring for more rules governing small businesses.

Economists say, and I agree,

But economists—and workers shut out of fields by educational requirements or difficult exams—say licensing mostly serves as a form of protectionism, allowing veterans of the trade to box out competitors who might undercut them on price or offer new services.
“Occupations prefer to be licensed because they can restrict competition and obtain higher wages,” said Morris Kleiner, a labor professor at the University of Minnesota. “If you go to any statehouse, you’ll see a line of occupations out the door wanting to be licensed.”

Just ordered some of these today.
In Kansas, florists do not need a license.

Want to know how bad it has become?
 The most recent study, from 2008, found 23% of U.S. workers were required to obtain state licenses, up from just 5% in 1950, according to data from Mr. Kleiner. In the mid-1980s, about 800 professions were licensed in at least one state. Today, at least 1,100 are, according to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation, a trade group for regulatory bodies. Among the professions licensed by one or more states: florists, interior designers, private detectives, hearing-aid fitters, conveyor-belt operators and retailers of frozen desserts.

Florists? Interior designers? Frozen dessert retailers?

You probably are thinking, “Yes, but doctors and engineers and others do things that are important to health and safety.” I agree. But, lest you doubt that licensing isn’t about keeping out competition, consider this story from North Carolina from February 3rd:

RALEIGH — David N. Cox says he was merely exercising his right to petition the government, but a state Department of Transportation official has raised allegations that Cox committed a misdemeanor: practicing engineering without a license.

Cox and his North Raleigh neighbors are lobbying city and state officials to add traffic signals at two intersections as part of a planned widening of Falls of Neuse Road.
After an engineering consultant hired by the city said that the signals were not needed, Cox and the North Raleigh Coalition of Homeowners’ Associations responded with a sophisticated analysis of their own.
The eight-page document with maps, diagrams and traffic projections was offered to buttress their contention that signals will be needed at the Falls of Neuse at Coolmore Drive intersection and where the road meets Tabriz Point / Lake Villa Way.
It did not persuade Kevin Lacy, chief traffic engineer for the state DOT, to change his mind about the project. Instead, Lacy called on a state licensing agency, the N.C. Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, to investigate Cox.

“Engineering without a license” is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. While I doubt he will be convicted (the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to petition the government for redress), he will have to spend money to hire an attorney, take time off from work, etc.

So, we can’t entirely blame the bureaucrats. When some of us tell them we want more bureaucracy, they listen.

For the record, meteorologists are not required to be licensed in any state.

Bureaucrats Making Work for Themselves, And Us Part 1

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
— Parkinson’s Law, C. Northcote Parkinson

The morning of September 11th, we were all horrified by the images on television of the burning World Trade Center, videotaped replays of the aircraft hitting the second tower, the Pentagon burning, etc.

But, I’m certain you don’t remember the Emergency Action Notification System (EANS) (tones, followed by, “This is a test…”) coming on with the annoying tones and announcements as the event unfolded. Even though its primary purpose is to notify us of an attack, it was never activated. In spite of the biggest emergency since the Cuban Missile Crisis, EANS wasn’t used yet somehow everyone got the word. 
I attended a government disaster meeting in Norman, OK several months after September 11th and there were two high-level representatives of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in attendance. During a break, I went over and introduced myself and asked why EANS was not used on September 11th. The response surprised me. I thought the answer would be, “we forgot.” Their answer was that it was initially thought Sept. 11 to be too “local” a disaster, so it was not used.  They told me that they would use it for a bigger disaster.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

OK, think about this: If there were a bigger disaster than September 11th, do you believe there is any doubt CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc., etc., etc., would cover it?

If you agree with me that the news networks would cover the disaster then the conclusion that a rational person might reach is: We don’t need the Emergency Action Notification System! 

A bureaucrat’s response: Lets make it bigger and more complicated.

So, today, we find this article from Federal News Radio that tells us:
“The primary goal is to provide the President with a mechanism to communicate with the American public during times of national emergency,” said Fowlkes. The change, she said, is that prior to last week’s order there was no rule in place to call for or allow a test from top to bottom.

The President can’t get on the air in an emergency now?

And, they want to make additional changes (see article at link). So, get ready for more tests and longer tests starting in a few months.

If the politicians in D.C. want to find a way to cut the Federal budget, this would be a good place to start.

But it isn’t just the bureaucrats wanting to build the bureaucracy. Stay tuned for Part II. 

The Dangers of Bureaucracy

Those that have read Warnings know that I am quite critical of the FEMA and Federal Aviation Administration bureaucracies. In addition to what I have written in the book, I have stated on this blog, several times, the problem of crippling bureaucracy is not limited to those agencies. Frighteningly, it apparently extends to the CIA. Here is an important article from Powerline. Some excerpts:

A challenge to free societies today is the growth in size, power, and cost of highly paid, non-producing administrators and bureaucrats. These Soviet-style nomenklatura classes can stifle the fundamental missions of organizations.


Bureaucracy perverts human nature. The CIA is filled with brave, talented, patriotic, and energetic people, but the system does not encourage clandestine work. Clandestine work is hard and lonely, and it takes place in dingy hotel rooms in dysfunctional countries, far from family. Any CIA officer who goes to hunt bin Laden, for example, will be living in tough and dangerous conditions for long periods of time. Absence from CIA headquarters means the officer will not develop the connections, friendships and administrative skills necessary for advancement. Any CIA officer who goes to hunt bin Laden will return years later, unknown and unpromoteable. Espionage has come to be regarded as low-level work, meant for newly trained employees or the naive. It’s much better to become a headquarters manager, with regular hours, low stress, plenty of time with the family, and stronger promotion possibilities.

Please read the whole thing.