Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Failure of Policy

You might not see what I see in this story from The New York Times. You might see an isolated incident. Or it might fit with your idea on how the government really works. I see a failure of ideology -- a failure of policy.

Sex, Drug Use and Graft Cited in Interior Department

In my view, this is the key statement:

”Based in suburban Denver and modeled to operate like a private sector energy company,...“

In other words, the Minerals Management Service is operating as designed. As always, I think it worth your time to read the article, even if it does seem like the same old story. But just in case you don’t have time, here are some key points.

”...the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes. “

”The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch. “

”The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.” “

”One of the reports says that the officials viewed themselves as exempt from those limits (government ethics rules), indulging themselves in the expense-account-fueled world of oil and gas executives. “

Businesses do it. When we ask that government run “ more like a business” why should we be surprised that government does the same things that businesses do ? I know what we say we want. I know that we all want government to be more efficient -- as businesses are alleged to be. There’s a flip side to that coin. To put it bluntly, it’s a lot easier to get people to be efficient when the rewards are booze, sex and dope. Not to mention money. And don’t forget, all those expensive “motivators” are just the cost of doing business. They just get tacked onto the cost. I bet a smart accountant has even figured out a way to claim they’re tax deductible.

Something to think about the next time you’re pumping gas into your car. It beats watching the numbers on the pump spin so fast that it makes you dizzy.

Business isn’t government and government isn’t business. At least it isn’t supposed to be. When we ask the regulators to act more like the regulated, we shouldn’t be surprised when regulators start breaking the regulations. You’re not surprised when a business breaks the regulations are you ?

It’s as simple as the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” We in the U.S.A. “wished for” a more efficient government and we allowed ourselves to believe that acting “more like a business” was the way to go. It has brought us to the brink of a financial disaster, another bailout that will cost -- not billions but -- trillions of taxpayer dollars to cover, a war fought by as many contractors (aka mercenaries) as government troops and an air traffic control system that gets closer to failure every day.

This policy didn’t didn’t start with the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration simply carried it to the extremes. You have the power to end it on November 4th. You can vote for the party that believes in Big Business and small government or you can vote for the party that believes in Government. You can vote Republican and tell yourself you’re voting for lower taxes. Just remember to factor in the cost of acting “ more like a business.

Don Brown
September 11, 2008

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