Beware the apparatchikacy of the Civil Service System

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Sunday, 16 June 2013

Frank J. Fleming wonders “Why does the government hate conservatives?”  And by “government,” he implicitly means the 1.8 million civilian employees of America’s largest employer.  It’s a good question.  But I think that it doesn’t go far enough in wondering who these 1.8 million people are.

One truth almost universally and uncritically accepted is that the American civil service system implemented by degrees during the early Progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a good thing.  Perhaps now is the time to question the wisdom of government by tenured appartchiks.  Whatever its downfalls, the spoils system at least had the benefit of a thorough housecleaning every four to eight years.  Absent such high turnover, the current system erects a legalocracy of inefficiency behind which anonymous and unfirable cogs operate with impunity for decades and generations.  Without fear of ever being outside the system, government workers themselves have every incentive to complicate that system in their own favor.  Rules become undecipherable, the pace of action becomes glacial, and budgets grow unsustainably large.  Meanwhile, administrations come and go and the bureaucracy continues to grow.

James Taranto has argued that if the ongoing IRS scandal didn’t generate in the White House that it is actually a far worse outcome for Americans than if the President himself directed the targeting of conservative groups.  His point is that if the targeting is spontaneous, then it is indicative that the government itself has become politicized.

A return to the spoils system, admittedly, would not fix that, as almost definitionally such a system is partisan.  But there is a difference between a partisan government that owes allegiance to a temporary leadership and a politicized government whose only allegiance is to the continued growth of government itself.  As Taranto argues, if this is the case then “government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.”

While Democrats generally embrace a larger government, they would be mistaken to believe that they too aren’t in the crosshairs of certain branches of the bureaucracy.  In the realm of Defense the tilt of those who work there has been generally Republican, as that party has been more predisposed to greater Defense spending over the last couple generations.  The entrenchment is so deep that even when a Nobel Peace Prize winning President who ran on a platform of decreased wartime activity finds it difficult to reverse course.  One can’t help but to wonder how much of the argument in favor of opening yet another Mideastern front in Syria came from self-serving bureacrats whose departments and budgets would expand as the result of the military action.

Isolated from firing as they are, civil service bureaucrats are impervious to change.  At worst, they hold the line and wait four to eight years for a change in government.  But they never retreat.  And hence, the apparatchikacy continues to grow.

Returning to Fleming’s question we stumble across the obvious answer, Why does government hate [fiscal] conservatives?  Because fiscal conservatism necessarily means a decrease in the size of government.  And nothing is more dangerous to the bureaucracy that has become the fourth branch of government.  What is scariest is that if the apparatchikacy itself wins in a battle against the citizenry that supports it, then we are no longer citizens, but have instead returned to the days of 1775 where we are subjects of an unelected government.

UPDATE:

A. Barton Hinkle raises the same concern:

” . . . it is not a happy thing to note that the fourth branch of government – the administrative state against which Republican politicians rail – is largely impervious to elections. And that despite the uproar over domestic surveillance, an activity the election of Barack Obama was supposed to curtail, the general consensus seems to hold that such monitoring will continue unabated. Politicians come and go; autonomous agencies and mass surveillance are here to stay. Elections still matter a great deal in the U.S., but they matter now less than they once did – and less than they should.”

* These opinions are my own and not those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.

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