At the mercy of bureaucrats

Art Chance
Art Chance


I rarely write about anything but State matters, but I was a federal employee for awhile, and I know my way around the US government a bit.

In my time — almost 40 years ago — the federal government was very structured and rule driven. You started a memo with “Pursuant to the authority of nn CFR nnn, I have determined …”

Since the Clinton-Gore “streamlining,” the US has become much more of a cult of personality, and basically if the boss wants it, the boss gets it.

The State was already a cult of personality when I came to work there in 1987. It was the rarest State employee who had a clue why they did what they did or what legal authority they operated under; if the SOP or the boss said do it, they did it.

Back in the 1980s there was still some progeny of the old federal Territorial Service so in the ministerial positions there was at least the attempt to maintain some legal integrity. There were some finance, personnel, and procurement types who still had the skill and guts – and were close enough to retirement or didn’t know any better – to tell a director or commissioner s/he couldn’t legally do something.

By the 1990s those were all gone, though a few, veterans of the Department of Administration, remained dispersed around State government in places they could hide from the Knowles Administration’s “re-engineering” efforts.

We made some attempt to restore ministerial authority in the Murkowski Administration but the “get the boss what he wants” culture had become dominant. Any responsible Administrative Services director, finance officer, or procurement officer should have just flatly told Frank Murkowski he couldn’t buy that damned jet and if necessary told him that if it got mentioned again it would be on the front page of the Empire and the ADN. Instead, the people whose job it was to protect the governor from bad acts helped perpetrate the bad act. As far as I know, they’re all still working for the State and Frank Murkowski isn’t, in large measure because of that jet.

Which brings me to the current federal government.

Clinton-Gore purged everyone from the federal government who’d ever had a Republican thought and removed most ministerial processes in the name of streamlining.  Streamlining is Democrat-speak for “we can do what we want.”

George W. Bush did the usual Republican thing of appliquéing a few buddies in the high-level positions and leaving the Democrats in charge of the rest of the government.

Obama purged everyone on whom any Republican thoughts might have rubbed off. So now we have 25 years of people who were hired or promoted under the Clinton-Gore “streamlined,” anything-goes system. These are the people who are supposed to make sure hires are legal, security clearances are appropriate, travel is in accordance with the rules, and purchases are legal.

The Democrats have prevented the Trump Administration from meaningfully installing a government below the Cabinet officers by slow-rolling every appointment.   To make it worse, it is hard to find potential appointees who are willing to endure being mau-maued on national television, so the Democrats are able to essentially keep the Obama Administration in place below the cabinet officer level.

The grossly ineffective Jeff Sessions, a once-good man who spent too much time in the Senate, remains Attorney General because if he were removed, the Democrats would block confirmation of a successor and a demonstrably corrupt Obama holdover would be President Donald Trump’s attorney general.

There are people whose job it is to arrange the travel of cabinet officers and to make sure that travel is in accordance with the rules.   High-level ‘crats, and especially cabinet officers, don’t make their own travel arrangements; they tell a staffer to arrange a trip to Podunk on Friday, the staffer calls the travel office, and the travel office makes the arrangements.

Even if you’re a cabinet officer you travel cheapest and closest to necessary time unless there is an explicit extenuating circumstance or no other way to travel.  It is someone’s job to know that and even if the traveler wants something else, they can’t have it.

It was somebody’s job to refuse to book the charter flights that got the DHSS secretary fired. It was somebody’s job to refuse to make the travel arrangements that are hanging over Secretary Ryan Zinke’s head.  It was somebody’s job to refuse to even consider buying a $50,000 dining table for Sec. Ben Carson’s dining room, and that somebody who didn’t do their job was probably the one who leaked the contemplated purchase to the media.

Unless and until the Trump Administration gets some middle management hired/confirmed that actually knows how the government is supposed to work, they are going to be bedeviled by set-ups that are quickly leaked, and media demands for the heads of people who made the mistake of trusting the bureaucrats whose job it is to make sure that the rules are followed.

And it doesn’t just happen in DC; I’ve seen more than a few State of Alaska appointees set up and taken out by corrupt ‘crats in Juneau too.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.