When politicians in Washington oppose a government agency, they are rarely able to abolish it. For example, many Republicans have advocated terminating the Social Security Administration over the decades, but because it is an agency that provides benefits to millions of constituents, critics have been unsuccessful in their attempts to dismantle it. Government agencies, once entrenched, are deeply rooted in the Washington bureaucracy. With millions of clients, tens of thousands of government bureaucrats, and the politicians who spend much of their time responding to constituent demands as the latter make their way through the bureaucratic labyrinth, government agencies produce widespread demand for and reliance on their services, making it much more difficult to abolish them.
Once this phenomenon was understood by Republicans, that is, understanding that they were committing political suicide by advocating the demise of popular government agencies, they shifted their strategy by focusing on one or both of the following. First, during austere economic times, they have always used the excuse that government spending is out of control in order to justify cutting funding for many federal programs they dislike. Second, in more prosperous times, Republicans preemptively decided that, since they cannot abolish popular government programs, they would dramatically subject bureaucratic agencies to increased oversight, requiring them to spend vast amounts of time attending to bureaucratic minutiae -increased paperwork, red tape, and bureaucratic procedures –for the purpose of complying with multiple new regulatory mandates. Ironically, as the Party that complains about big government, the Republicans’ strategy since the mid-1990s has been to further bureaucratize government programs to the degree necessary to make them ineffective.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to impose so much regulatory oversight and time spent on completing relentless bureaucratic minutiae, that the agencies goals are largely stifled. By significantly diminishing the amount of time spent on achieving agencies’ actual goals, bureaucrats now spend even more time complying with new and often meaningless reporting requirements or face the threat of defunding. So, if Republicans couldn’t convince the public that government agencies are a waste of tax-payer dollars, they have attempted to make their cause a self-fulfilling prophecy. The essential goal among many Republicans is to promote the idea that these government agencies are a waste of tax-payer money because they are serving fewer clients and spending more time filling out paperwork. Weaving such a façade into the fabric of public agencies will justify arguments to either dismantle them or to privatize them. Setting the stage for privatization is a circuitous yet ingenious way to achieve their ultimate goals of turning traditional public services over to for-profit corporations. Moreover, having built the institutional bureaucratic structure with tax-payer money, private corporations can take possession of capital investments that have been subsidized by public revenues.
These strategies apply to many government agencies and many other traditional public functions including but not limited to k-12 schooling and higher education. Regarding k-12 schooling, for example, No Child Left Behind subsidizes for-profit corporations interested in developing or operating schools and school services, not to mention the fact that the law subsidizes private religious schools. The substantial focus on standardized testing, the time spent on teaching to the tes, and the billions of tax-payer dollars paid to corporate test makers substantiates my claimes. Perhaps, before long I may be required to announce at the beginning of each class the following statement: “Today’s class and its curriculum are brought to you by Exxon.” Or, in attempt to show deference to standardized assessments, I will pose the statement as a multiple choice question: “Today’s class and its curriculum are brought to you by: a) Exxon, b) Chevron, c) McDonalds, d) Coca Cola, or e) Haliburton?
But seriously, while there are problems with government bureaucracies (this is a given), we should genuinely reconsider turning many of our traditional public responsibilities over to corporate America. The fundamental purpose of many of our public investments should not rely on profit-making. Even the neo-liberals’ economic protagonist, Adam Smith, would agree.
© Brian W. Dotts and Democratus, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian W. Dotts and Democratus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.