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Civil Service With Coercive Powers Threatens Our Democracy

Yesterday I wasted 45 minutes on the telephone negotiating with our city arborist. As the co-chair of our homeowners’ association landscape committee, I’ve been arguing with the arborist for several years over our application to remove the ginkgo trees and replace them with redwoods. The trees are on our property but they face out on a city sidewalk so a permit is required.

The arborist followed the letter but not the spirit of the law. He looked for a way to say “no” when “yes” would help the homeowners and had no negative impact on the public interest.

I was laughing with the arborist. We were, after all, discussing the sex life of trees. But what I really wanted to do was jump across the desk, grab him by the collar and scream “what part of YOU WORK FOR ME (a tax payer) do you not understand??

All across the country and at every level of government honest, hard working, law abiding citizens are having the same experience over building permits, tax bills, traffic tickets, Social Security benefits, veterans benefits etc. – every single day.

It’s not our politicians who govern today. It’s a multi-million member Civil Service that is anonymous, unelected, and largely unaccountable. At every level of government from hamlet council to Washington, D.C. the laws debated and passed by our elected representatives are turned into reams of enforcement regulations written by a faceless bureaucrat empowered to interpret those laws. Then the same bureaucrat uses those regulations to limit our freedom and choice.

Every day, millions of times a day, the facts don’t matter only the bureaucrat’s opinion counts – whether it’s ginkgoes or redwoods, white potatoes or sweet potatoes on the school lunch tray or approving or denying an organization’s IRS application for tax-exempt status!

The last is the ultimate hubris! Faceless bureaucrats decided their personal political convictions were, in fact, the law – the U.S. Constitution and the laws passed by a duly elected Congress be damned.

We pay the taxes that fund the salaries of all these public employees – and their cozy retirements, also. Still, WE live in fear and are intimidated by THEM!!

If we are not deferential and compliant when seeking bureaucratic approval, they can do worse to us than just say no. They can confiscate our property or throw us in jail if we don’t pay and obey! Yes, even over a tree!

Didn’t we rebel against King George III for just the same behavior? Thomas Jefferson speaking for the Continental Congress declared that governments – derive “just powers from the consent of the governed”.

But, in 21st century America it seems that proposition has been turned on its head. I don’t consent to being bullied by an unelected bureaucracy at any level of government! It is time we start to dare our elected officials to do their jobs and rein in an out-of-control bureaucracy.

President Woodrow Wilson first proposed Civil Service in 1912. He argued there should be a small coterie of “experts” to advise the elected representatives about the application of “best business practices” to the administration of government. An “expert” was qualified by virtue of a high level of training and skill plus extensive experience. Wilson argued these individuals must be protected – by a Civil Service code – to guarantee the candor of their advice to Congress or the President.

Wilson’s vision honored the federal model of government enshrined in the Constitution. National priorities would be debated and decided and, sometimes, initially funded, in Washington. But the states, our laboratories of innovation, would have flexibility in implementing them – including buying services outside the government. In some instances, national initiatives might result from successful experiments at the state level.

In Wilson’s vision a few hundred “experts” would help to shape policy that would be administered around the country by a few thousand civil servants working within the broader economy and society. For example, schools would contract for commercial janitorial services rather than directly hiring janitors. That’s the government model we should return to.

We need to SHRINK GOVERNMENT! President Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union message,  we must modernize and streamline government. Government must focus on the delivery of core services, efficiently, innovatively and equally.

The federal government led the way to our current state of dysfunction. Reversing it starts with stopping the knee jerk reaction that all solutions to all problems start and end in Washington, D.C. As the people of Oklahoma have, sadly, illustrated recently, in the face of disaster nobody’s sitting around waiting for FEMA to come to the rescue.

Government governs best closest to the people. Proximity leads to modesty – as our city arborist was reminded.

Don’t take “no” for an answer. Complain to your elected representative when the bureaucrat says no! Make noise, people!!

Forward this blog with your own comments to your representatives at all levels of government.

Photo Credit: IAS Tutorial

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