Thursday, October 16, 2014

Federal Government Lurches Toward End-State Dysfunction

Bloat and Mission Creep

End-state bureaucracies eventually crumble when four conditions obtain: 1. confusion about or deliberate perversion of mission (purpose, policy); 2. alienation of markets or constituents; 3. ever-expanding maintenance costs; and 4. institutional arrogance that forecloses adaptive change from within.
But even in a clearly moribund and declining state, inertia of scale may prolong their existence for long periods. In these times they are deceptively fragile and unable to survive crises of their own making.  That would seem to be the condition of several agencies of the federal government -- State, EPA, Justice, BATFE, Agriculture, Education, DHS and, most recently brought to public attention, CDC.

Independent, private contractors can rationalize these agencies; the government cannot.  Anything government tries to fix -- usually what government broke -- is inevitably made worse in the process.  And still worse in the next iteration, ad infinitum.  But nothing will be done without serious, focused action by our elected representatives; and the conspicuous dearth of courage -- particularly in the Republican majority House and its feckless "leadership".  A risible appellation.
The corrupt Centers for Disease Control may continue to lie, dissemble and endanger the public health that is their mission to protect, but the Ebola crisis brightly illuminates the dark, bloated inner workings of that agency.  As is the case with most opaque bureaucracies, we can imagine that the great majority of employees are diligent, hard-working and loyal to the agency's mission.  That makes them immanently less promotable than their cynical fellows whose loyalties and labor objectives lie with pleasing the management class.  Workers with integrity, as is so often the case, find themselves constantly frustrated in their efforts to produce good outcomes within a broken, dysfunctional system.

The head of the fish.  Dr. Tom Frieden -- doubtless a bright man -- seems disturbingly typical of agency heads in the federal government.  Thoroughly politicized, hard-left ideologues charged with overseeing bloated, rent-seeking agencies whose original missions have been diluted by multiplication to justify increased funding.  In the case of CDC, just another corrupt, statist technocrat with medical training. *

The agencies enumerated above -- and others -- are creatures of the US Congress, and they can be undone by the same body.  Absent principled congressional leadership, however, they will remain in place until the nation collapses under their collective weight and escalating malfeasance.

The question now is whether our elected representatives are subjects rather than independent federal officers and whether we are a nation of serfs rather than citizens.

*   I am not particularly interested in Dr. Frieden's resignation or firing.  Yet another agency head without credibility empowers opposition by keeping incompetence and politicization on public display.  In any case, his clone -- but for better communication skills to calm the waters -- is likely waiting in the wings.

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