Bureaucracy

ptrprncplIn the quirky romantic comedy Harold and Maude, Maude (Ruth Gordon), admonishes a motorcycle officer, “Don’t get officious. You’re not yourself when you’re officious. ”

Exasperated, she turns to Harold, “That is the curse of a government job.”

Indeed.

Unfortunately, it is we the people who suffer the curse.

Fortunately, we have noticed.

President Obama’s refusal to suspend flights from Ebola-ravished African countries is extremely unpopular but we’ve noticed that our wishes are secondary to his politics.

We’ve noticed the targeting of conservative groups for political ends by faceless apparatchiks like the Internal Revenue Service’s Lois Lerner. A local businessman recently blurted, “When will Republicans stop holding hearings and send somebody to jail?” Answer: probably never.

Corruption, inertia, incompetence and “officiousness” are the coin of the realm of today’s bureaucratic state. Everywhere “public servants” engage in conduct that, were the roles reversed, would get us fired, sued, or sent to jail.

Red light cameras have enriched Chicago’s coffers by $500 million in the past decade. A former city bureaucrat, an outside consultant, and the former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems, the company that operated the city’s traffic cameras until last year, are under Federal indictment for corruption.

The Chicago Tribune found a pattern of implausible ticket spikes at dozens of intersections, apparently caused by the operator temporarily changing parameters for things like a rolling red light to raise revenues. Many yellow lights were found to be set below the city and federal minimum of three seconds. The purpose of a shorter yellow is self-evident.

Corruption and incompetence run neck and neck.

The Federal Center for Disease Control’s ever- shifting Ebola protocols are but the tip of the iceberg.

Missouri, Nevada, and Massachusetts have banned the installation of highway guardrails that the Federal Highway Administration insists are safe. Pending lawsuits allege that some guardrail heads apparently malfunctioned, turning the rails into spears when cars hit them instead of cushioning the blow. Five deaths and many more injuries are reported. An internal Agency letter asking the manufacturer to conduct additional testing was never sent.

The Peter Principle flourishes.

Years ago, my mother’s advice to her sons was unwavering: “Get a government job.” To her, a “government job” meant security and respect.

We lived in a modest Philadelphia row home. The Clarks lived next door. He was a fireman. A few doors away Mr. McDevitt was a cop. My mother knew our committeeman (Democrat of course). Bill Lennox, another neighbor, was Sheriff. At Christmas, we looked forward to City trash men (full of Christmas cheer) stopping by for their holiday gift.

City workers were good people engaged in deliciously romantic jobs: firemen saving lives, cops confronting criminals, others selflessly toiling in City Hall to make the City a better place.

Back then, “government,” was benign, well-intentioned, helpful (including help with the occasional traffic ticket), and capable.

No more.

In the years since, government, unlimited and unimpeded, has continued to grow.

And we who foolishly trusted it and fed it with our tax dollars daily suffer the curse of the faceless, officious monolith it has become.

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