What Georgia Could Teach Trump About How to Drain the Swamp
If the Trump administration wants to “dismantle the administrative state,” it might examine state-based efforts to tame the bureaucracy—the oldest being that of Georgia, where a Democratic governor moved state employees away from stringent civil service protections that blocked accountability.
“Who gets cut out of the picture when you protect the civil servant? The average citizen dealing with a bunch of bureaucrats,” Joe Tanner says.
In 1996, then-Gov. Zell Miller signed the Merit System Reform Act, a bill that initially encountered opposition from state employee associations and lawmakers.
Joe Tanner, who was chairman of the state’s Commission on Privatization of State Services during the Miller administration, recalled obtaining one file about hiring a state maintenance worker that was 6 inches thick. A file regarding firing another state maintenance worker for repeatedly not showing up for work was 12 inches thick.
After state Sen. Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, showed the two stacks on the Senate floor, the bill sailed to passage. The state Senate vote was 40-8, the House 141-35.
It worked beautifully to transform state government because people knew they had to get to work, even if they had a little sniffle. A lot of people will say, ‘You have to protect the civil servants.’ Who gets cut out of the picture when you protect the civil servant? The average citizen dealing with a bunch of bureaucrats.
The Georgia law ensured all state employees hired after July 1, 1996, would be at-will employees, but grandfathered in civil service protections for all of the existing employees.
The “at-will” designation means employers may fire employees without going through a long appeals process, which public sector employees rely on.
By 2012, over 88 percent of Georgia state employees were working on an at-will basis, hires and pay had actually increased, as did communication between employees and supervisors. The result of Georgia’s reform was not a decimation of the civil service, but instead, a more flexible and responsive system that adapted as the needs of the agency changed over time.
Trumping the State Department
Reining in the budget and activities of this bloated bureaucracy is essential
President Trump’s budgetary assault on the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is long overdue. He is forcing a rethinking that will benefit America and the world.
The State Department is one of the most bloated of federal bureaucracies. Front line consular officers, many just starting their careers at State, actually help Americans abroad. However, there are also countless “Hallway Ambassadors” who aimlessly roam from irrelevant meeting to obscure policy forum, killing time and our tax dollars.
Legions of these taxpayer funded drones fill the State Department. Some are reemployed retirees who travel to overseas missions conducting “inspections” to justify their additional salaries.
The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) is to the State Department what the Teacher Unions are to public education. It exists to protect tenure and to prevent any accountability or reduction among the State Department drones.
The Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC) is a uniquely harmful part of State. This Bureau’s main mission has been to create photo ops of treaty signings. The arms control treaties have usually been unenforceable with sworn enemies of America. The Bureau’s agreements with the Soviet Union undermined U.S. security. Its bureaucrats developed elaborate procedures for justifying the minimizing or overlooking of blatant treaty violations. They are using this same play book for the Iranian Nuclear deal.
Headquarters waste and dysfunction are just the beginning of State Department ineffectiveness. In the mid-1980’s, I viewed State Department field operations personally while serving as Director of the U.S. Peace Corps in Malawi.
The most egregious problem was the un-American culture that permeates career Foreign Service Officers. Except for toasting America at the July 4th Embassy party each year, being pro-American is viewed as unprofessional. Long serving Americans would advise me that rising above nationalism and acting “world wise” was the mark of a seasoned diplomat.
Not only did these U.S. foreign bureaucrats avoid Americanism, they avoided the host country. The Embassy team members spent their business and recreational time with diplomats from the other Embassies and with European expatriates living in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city. Their only sojourns outside the capital were to Salima, the lakeside resort, or to the Ambassador’s vacation home on the Zomba Plateau.
As Country Director, I eliminated the chauffer-driven luxury car used by my predecessor and reallocated the chauffer to other duties. At the wheel of a Nissan Patrol, I spent the majority of my time in the field with my seventy-five volunteers. This meant absorbing in depth knowledge of Malawi and its people.
State Department versus reality was proven many times over. The most blatant was the 1985 fuel shortage. Malawi was land-locked. The Mozambique Civil War closed off its closest ports. A problematic network of rail lines brought goods, including gasoline, to Malawi via South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. My volunteers told me a Zimbabwean labor dispute was going to cause a five week disruption of fuel to Malawi. I dutifully reported this to the Embassy Team. They scoffed, assuring me that their British friend running Mobil-Malawi was telling them no disruption would occur. I directed my staff to begin stockpiling gasoline.
The disruption occurred. The Embassy team kept dismissing my reports and telling themselves the disruption would be short-lived. By week four, the Embassy motor pool was without fuel. Staff was delivering messages via bicycle. By week five, the Ambassador asked to purchase fuel from the Peace Corps, which had remained fully operational.
The Embassy was blind-sided on an even more important issue. Air Malawi announced it was going to purchase a new fleet of passenger jets along with a comprehensive parts and maintenance agreement. At this point the State Department replaced the Embassy’s Commercial Attaché with a Hispanic who could barely speak English. Instead of sending this person to Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea, they posted him to the most Anglophile country in Africa. He was miserable and totally ineffective.
Alternatively, the German Ambassador moved about Malawi’s 28 regions, equaling my zeal for the field. When Boeing’s sales team arrived they were given a proper, but cool reception. The Fokker team arrived to a hero’s welcome and the multi-million dollar deal was signed shortly thereafter. American business lost a huge contract.
USAID has spent over $1 trillion on overseas projects since its founding in 1961. Empty buildings and rusting tractors are silent testaments to its failures. What funds were not diverted to corrupt government officials went for unsustainable efforts, driven more by academic theories than practicality.
State Department and USAID need a fundamental review and a day of reckoning. This is fertile territory for President Trump and Secretary Tillerson to implant business principles and common sense.
Law Takes a Holiday
Victor Davis Hanson
In the 1934 romantic movie “Death Takes a Holiday,” Death assumes human form for three days, and the world turns chaotic.
The same thing happens when the law goes on a vacation. Rules are unenforced or politicized. Citizens quickly lose faith in the legal system. Anarchy follows — ensuring that there can be neither prosperity nor security.
The United States is descending into such as abyss, as politics now seem to govern whether existing laws are enforced.
Sociologists in the 1980s found out that when even minor infractions were ignored — such as the breaking of windows, or vendors walking into the street to hawk wares to motorists in a traffic jam — misdemeanors then spiraled into felonies as lawbreakers become emboldened.
A federal law states that the president can by proclamation “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” Yet a federal judge ruled that president Trump cannot do what the law allows in temporarily suspending immigration from countries previously singled out by the Obama administration for their laxity in vetting their emigrants.
In the logic of his 43-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson seemed to strike down the travel ban based on his own subjective opinion of a president’s supposedly incorrect attitudes and past statements.
Some 500 “sanctuary” cities and counties have decided for political reasons that federal immigration law does not fully apply within their jurisdictions. They have done so with impunity, believing that illegal immigration is a winning political issue given changing demography. In a way, they have already legally seceded from the union and provided other cities with a model of how to ignore any federal law they do not like.
The law states that foreign nationals cannot enter and permanently reside in the United States without going through a checkpoint and in most cases obtaining a legal visa or green card. But immigration law has been all but ignored. Or it was redefined as not committing additional crimes while otherwise violating immigration law. Then the law was effectively watered down further to allow entering and residing illegally if not committing “serious” crimes. Now, the adjective “serious” is being redefined as something that does not lead to too many deportations.
The logical end is no immigration law at all — and open borders.
There is a federal law that forbids the IRS from unfairly targeting private groups or individuals on the basis of their politics. Lois Lerner, an IRS director, did just that but faced no legal consequences.
Perhaps Lerner’s exemption emboldened New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to invite IRS employees via social media to unlawfully leak Donald Trump’s tax returns. Later, someone leaked Trump’s 2005 tax return to MSNBC.
There are statutes that prevent federal intelligence and investigatory agencies from leaking classified documents. No matter. For the last six months, the media has trafficked in reports that Trump is under some sort of investigation by government agencies for allegedly colluding with the Russians. That narrative is usually based on information from “unnamed sources” affiliated with the FBI, NSA or CIA. No one has been punished for such leaking.
The leakers apparently feel that prosecutors and the courts do not mind if someone’s privacy is illegally violated, as long as it is the privacy of someone they all loathe, like Donald Trump.
The logic seems also to be that we need only follow the laws that we like — and assume that law enforcement must make the necessary adjustments.
At this late date, a return to legality and respect for the law might seem extremist or revolutionary. For the federal government to demand that cities follow federal law or face cutoffs in federal funds might cause rioting.
Going after federal officials who leak classified documents to reporters would make those officials martyrs.
And to warn high-ranking IRS officials that they could likely go to prison for targeting groups based on their political beliefs might earn a prosecutor an unexpected IRS audit.
There is one common denominator in all these instances of attempted legal nullification: the liberal belief that laws should “progress” to reflect the supposedly superior political agenda of the left.
And if laws don’t progress? Then they can be safely ignored.
But when the law is what we say it is, or what we want it to be, there is no law. And when there is no law, there is not much left but something resembling Russia, Somalia or Venezuela.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.
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