Gardner on Democracy — Part Two
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Executive Agencies and Democracy
Gardner on Democracy
Laws must be administered, and even a good law is of little value in the hands of executive agencies that cannot function effectively.
To repair the functioning of the executive agencies, particularly those at the state and local level, will take extraordinary effort and time. Some of the present agencies took years to evolve to their present level of mediocrity and incompetence. It wa sn’t the work of a day, and it won’t be undone in a day. In some cases a rigorous upgrading of staff will be essential. In other cases, reorganization of the agencies and overhaul of its operating procedures will be needed. Nothing can be accomplished if the agency is poorly conceived, its powers undercut by other parts of the executive branch, its jurisdiction artificially restricted or fragmented. Nor can it function effectively if it is consistently undercut by higher levels of government.
Many citizens wonder why such faults can’t be corrected in straightforward fashion. If the agency is badly organized, reorganize it! If the staff is weak, strengthen it! If the agency’s authority is not adequate, give it a clear mandate!
It sounds simple. But unfortunately there are those who oppose such action. There are always those who are happy with incompetence and confusion that work to their profit. A special-interest lobbyist may have spent years perfecting his knowledge of the present agency organization with all its quirks and foibles, and polishing his friendships with existing decision-makers. He has, so to speak, spent years digging his tunnel into the public treasury, and he doesn’t want the vault moved. Similarly, there a re senators and representatives who have discovered that they can profit by the administrative confusion of existing arrangements and will oppose any change.
One of the realities that constantly undermines the public interest is the existence, at both federal and state levels, of what might appropriately be called the unholy trinity. It takes many forms, but most typically it consists of an upper-middle-leve l bureaucrat (say, a bureau chief from one of the cabinet departments), a legislator (say, a member of one of the appropriations committees), and a lobbyist from one of the well-heeled special interest groups. As a rule, they will have been friends for ye ars. They have gone fishing together. Their wives play bridge together. They have seen Presidents, cabinet members, and governors come and go. Their names are rarely seen in the newspapers. They are a part of the permanent, invisible government. And as th e years go by they shape policy in substantial ways.
It always puzzles the outsider that a cabinet member is not master in his own house; and countless journalistic pieces have been written about the stubborn bureaucrat. It isn’t that the cabinet member can’t win against the stubborn bureaucrat. He can. B ut he can’t win against a bureaucrat in league with a member of the Appropriations Committee and a powerful lobby. In such a battle, the cabinet member may find his appropriations endangered. He may find himself receiving angry letters and telephone calls from a variety of influential people. The President may call him in to find out what all the fuss is about. And at no time can he clearly identify the forces arrayed against him. His opponents are masters of the circuitous route.
Every President puts forward reorganization plans. So do most governors. But they can never afford to tell the public in all candor what vested interests are blocking the reorganization and why. So they never gain the support that public indignation wou ld provide. Citizen groups should call for reorganization of executive agencies, should publicly identify the hidden alliances sabotaging reorganization, and should rally public support for government that works.
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