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Washington bureaucracy is a repetitious soap opera

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Column by Jim Flynn

By Jim Flynn

Job performance information about Congress and federal bureaucracies is considered top secret, purportedly to spare delicate citizens from unnecessary stress.

In reality Washington is more concerned about unnecessary embarrassment.

Despite best efforts to keep voters in the dark, an ongoing parade of scandals and disasters reveal that our politically preoccupied Congress and some elite bureaucracies don’t do the jobs for which they are handsomely paid and pampered.

For nine years, two knowledgeable Boston financial analysts demonstrated to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that Bernie Madoff was running a zillion dollar Ponzi scheme. SEC did nothing because they were held on a tight leash by the Bush Administration’s political delusion that the U.S. financial system was running just fine and should be left alone.

During the eight years Mr. Bush had the SEC on snooze control, idle-time was filled with pornographic web watching. Some of the loafers had annual salaries between $100,000 and $200,000. One executive admitted he spent as much as eight hours a day admiring female nudity. Was anyone fired? No. Did the abuses stop when discovered? No, but several bad boys were told they were naughty and were reassigned.

Long before the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, there was an ongoing scandal at the Minerals Management Service (MMS) whose mission is regulating oil and gas pumped from federal land and collecting royalties from oil companies. MMS was a government version of “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.” The corruption and incompetence was so pervasive auditors were unable to reconstruct how many millions of dollars in royalties were never received. A few of the rock-n-rollers retired; others were given a severe finger wagging and assigned to cubicles without windows as punishment.

Screw-ups which originated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been making news for five years, because in 2005 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was as disorganized as a Chinese fire drill. Although the bureaucratic mess has been reorganized, the costs of the original dysfunctions linger on.

Meanwhile, over at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforcement actions dropped by 50 percent during the Bush presidency. It took four months to issue enforcement letters which used to take two weeks. Using the “chutzpah” defense, FDA said their superior efficiency made fewer enforcement letters necessary. At the same time FDA was telling Congress it needed broader enforcement powers and more employees.

A more recent example of FDA dysfunction is the salmonella egg scandal. Was the problem sudden? Hardly, FDA has been warned about salmonella poisoning in eggs for thirty years. FDA offered a collection of standard excuses in the dropped egg case - flawed legislation, insufficient manpower, and unwillingness of the problem makers to turn themselves in.

When challenged about failures to oversee meat safety, the Department of Agriculture (DOA) responded that their agency needs new legislation and more money. DOA, by the way, is a welfare agency for wealthy corporations, and an overgrown employment service for congressional pals and cronies.

In the case of the Crandall Canyon collapse and several other mine accidents in 2006 and 2007, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSH) said for three years they were not told by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) how severe the safety problems were, because MSH is in the Department of Labor, and BLM is in the Department of the Interior. In Washington, right and left hands don’t wash together.

Federal agencies see their roles as mutually exclusive. Turf protection is endemic. Self-correction is not encouraged.

The most disturbing example of government malfunction was the disaster of 9/11/2001. Sufficient information to prevent the disaster was sprinkled among thirteen intelligence agencies which don’t play well with others. Congress responded to the communication failures by creating the Department of Homeland Security – adding sixteen new departments, each with its own turf.

A significant number of voters will go to the polls in November out of utter disgust with Washington bureaucracy. We’ll soon know whether voters are angry enough to throw out the primary enabler – our dysfunctional Congress.