The Genius of Bureaucracy

As a long-time observer of government and, for the last five years or so, one who has worked on a number of government projects, I continue to be amazed at the abject idiocy produced by our federal bureaucracy. Now, I want to be careful here because many federal workers and contractors I have worked with have been extraordinarily talented professionals. In fact, working in government, I have been continually stuck by the bipolar nature of the institution—it seems to attract some of the most dedicated people, and at the same time some of the most indifferent, disinterested morons.

Because the morons, unfortunately, outnumber the good ones, it happens fairly regularly that a bad idea originates somewhere in the ranks of the federal bureaucracy and manages to snake through the channels of authority, being signed-off on by five or ten managers and analysts and Deputy Under-Secretaries before eventually being implemented. In the real world, one of those five or ten reviewers would have said, “Hey, this is a bad idea.” In government, well, it doesn’t always work that way.

For example, some low- or middle-ranked bureaucrat somewhere in the labyrinths of the Washington, DC, federal buildings thought it would be a wonderful idea to fly one of the presidential planes—a Boeing 747 that looks very much like an airliner—right over the Statue of Liberty in New York with a couple of F-16 fighter jets trailing it. “After all,” says the anonymous bureaucrat, “we need a new picture of Air Force One.” So, without bothering to make any public announcements or properly informing the City of New York, the photo-op happened. It went great.

Except, of course, that thousands of New Yorkers looked up to see what appeared to be a low-flying airliner trailed by fighter jets zooming over lower Manhattan . . . sort of like another couple of airliners did eight years ago, killing 3,000 people when they slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Seeing this, New Yorkers prudently evacuated their buildings, left the city, called 9-1-1, etc. Way-to-go, anonymous bureaucrat and team of anonymous managers who signed off on this grand idea.

I’ve personally seen this kind of thing happen, albeit on a much smaller and less newsworthy scale. I’ve watched equally dumb ideas progress through the system, collecting approval signatures, and then watched everybody scatter like cockroaches when higher-ups start asking who’s responsible for the mess that results. Somehow, in my experience, the contractors always get blamed . . . even if the contractor can print out the e-mail where the government manager ordered them to do whatever it was. Before too long the contractor gets replaced, and the government manager who made the bad decision gets to keep his office and even gets a pay raise.

This, folks, is why we need reform of the bureaucracy. People who enter the public service should be paid based on merit and skill, and if they under-perform they should be fired. This is how the private sector works, and it is no wonder that the private sector (on average) works better, cheaper, and more efficiently than the government.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.