Waste Point

by Don Boudreaux on June 25, 2008

in Education

Would Americans be well-served by Uncle Sam opening up an academy to train bureaucrats?  George Leef argues not, and for good reasons.

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{ 12 comments }

LowcountryJoe June 25, 2008 at 11:23 am

Clever title. The paper that George Leef wrote (found two hyperlinks down the chain) has an interesting and eye-opening executive summary. I can attest to the degraded cirriculum; I noticed a huge difference as I switched from a fairly rigorous Economics major to the Business Administration major [the rigor was not the reason for my switch, the availiblity of the upper-level Econ courses with my own schedule was the factor].

PaulD June 25, 2008 at 1:03 pm

If we did not already have military academies, would it make sense for the federal government to create them? I don't think so. So it makes even less sense to create a government academy

Martin Brock June 25, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Let's dump the Teaching academies (training professional teachers in generic teaching) while we're at it too.

Don June 25, 2008 at 4:32 pm

The French already have this in ENA. No one would say it has been a stunning success, except maybe the small band of elites who went there and can always get a high paying government, NGO, or multi-lateral institution job.

Fabio Franco June 25, 2008 at 5:30 pm

In Brazil we have these bureaucratic academies. Through the entrance exam, they try to screen out undesirables (those who are in favor of the US and the free market). If any of those go by unnoticed, there is still a chance of converting them through indoctrination: all are forced to read communist, anti-American authors. And government has gone on a hiring spree! Hundreds of thousands of new bureacrats. By bloating the bureacracy with subtle Gramscian hiring tactics, the socialists have completely taken over all spheres of government. Even if a new Administration comes along, it won't matter, for the newly hired public employees have life-long guaranteed jobs. The socialists and their cohorts are now entrenched in the state for generations to come.

A fate like ours is what awaits the US if the bureaucrat acadamy proposal goes through and the Democrats take over. It will be the Latin Americanization of America.

Methinks June 25, 2008 at 6:12 pm

The French already have this in ENA. No one would say it has been a stunning success,

Took the words right out of my mouth, Don. All it teaches them is how to use connections to get favours paid for by the taxpayers.

Methinks June 25, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Fabio, thanks for sharing that. Terrifying.

Dr. T June 25, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Would Americans be well-served by Uncle Sam opening up an academy to train bureaucrats?

Obviously, that would depend on the training. If the training was about putting the people first, becoming more efficient, using logic and reason instead of 'zero tolerance' rules, etc., then I would favor it.

But, with a bureaucrat academy run by the federal government, the training is more likely to include: making your boss look good, climbing the bureaucratic ladder to that G-15 position, obscuring unwanted findings behind gobbledygook and bureaucratese, effective lying with statistics and charts, convincing your employees to vote for the right candidates, creatively reclassifying your position to get a grade increase, etc.

Given the above, my answer to the question is no.

M. Hodak June 25, 2008 at 9:06 pm

"convincing your employees to vote for the right candidates"

My first job out of college was in the federal government, and my experience was that this is resolutely avoided. Also, my training for my position (in Patent Law) was at a government-run school called the "Patent Academy," which was extremely practical and useful to my job, albeit only one semester's worth of coursework.

Furthermore, I think our service academies offer among the best all-around educations available today. It's worth noting that Academy students are spared the type of political correctness rampant at top universities. There's a reason Harvard is afraid of infection by ROTC.

Having said all that, and being French by birth, I agree with Don, although I would say that ENA is not alone in France in breeding this elite, influence-peddling culture. And, in the vein of empirical evidence, I find Fabio's warning instructive and compelling, although I think the culture he identifies is also more broadly Latin American, not just at their academy.

And I love the title of this post.

Ben June 25, 2008 at 10:10 pm

I have a counter-proposal.

1. All senior government officials must have management experience in the private sector, preferably for-profit.

2. Federal agencies can't hire anyone under the age of 28.

Point 1 is pretty obvious, but point 2 might need some explaining. A big problem with many agencies like the CIA is that they prefer to recruit kids straight out of college so they can indoctrinate them. Our government sorely needs an injection of fresh ideas, and you have to have at least 10 years in the real world before you can bring those ideas to the table.

vidyohs June 26, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Actually Fabio is wrong only on one count.

It is not our future, it is a thing of the past, the scenario Fabio draws is, and has been, here.

I too worked for the government, first 21 years active duty, then 3 1/2 years with the US Army Comm Command. I am sad to say that while I thought the military was f..ked up, I had a rude awakening when I signed on to Civil Service.

I can and probably will say more on the subject and draw on anecdote after anecdote to illustrate Fabio's scenario being a reality; but, right now I have an important task to take care of.

vidyohs June 26, 2008 at 10:09 pm

This post might become a tad long. The subject requires the flushing process. Be honest with me as you read and be honest with yourself as well.

First let me say that I personally believe that a Public Service Academy (PSA) would be a horrible thing. For one thing I can see where it would morph into a semi-secret society such as the legal profession and the BAR where if one is not one of the "chosen" then one is not privy to its methods and scripture. On the practical side if a PSA were created with our present laws and restrictions on hiring and firing in effect plus the fact that Civil Servants get full benefit of all legal rights and privileges of normal citizens then I can see where our beauracracy would become even more of a government within a government.

Disagree with me if you will, I couldn't care less. I have expereince to equal any one's and probably much more than most in dealing with the idiocy of beauracracy and I ain't no slouch in observing and thinking about what I observed.

Our government beauracracy is like a huge lump of intellectualless sludge that kills initiative, ambition, and eventually smooths out all but the most rebellious and lucky. (Unions perform much the same process when allowed to penetrate and pollute the marketplace) When I speak of rebellious I am not speaking of anyone really radical, just those that have an innate belief that things should be done efficently and cheaply when using the public monies and who insist on agitating for those principles.

Conservative thinking politicians come into the Presidency thinking that they can and will change things dramatically to make government work better; and, everything they do hits that resistant sludge and has a minor momentary visible affect; but then it is slowly absorbed and ignored and things go on as usual within the sludge. Reports are gun-decked (faked), procedures are ignored, excuses are given, and long before the President's first term is up his choice has come and gone to just fire the entire beauracracy enmasse or go with the flow. And, it obvious that they have gone with the flow.

The exception is if the President is a leftist, then he gets a greater degree of cooperation and his policies recieve more attention and devotion.

Now, if you disagree with me, tell me are you over 50? Give yourself and honest intellectual think about what you have seen. Our resident lefties will deny this, but intellectually the Gilducks et. al. don't count.

But, lets continue.

Here is the way I personally see the USA at our current point.

(Analogy) The USA is like a burn victim with 3rd degree burns covering virtually all of his body. We are burned by socialist idiocy deeply and thoroughly. Now with the burn victim and his 3rd degree burns, a doctor, no matter how skilled and caring, can do nothing for that burn victim to help him back to life and function that will not hurt him in excrutiating pain. You got that? To heal the burn victim the doctor will have to hurt him, there is no other way. The USA is the same. To heal the USA and regain the freedom our founding fathers fought for and we lost shortly thereafter we will have to hurt and in some cases it will be excrutiating. Socialist and socialism will not go quitely into the night of history without a bloody fight and any aware person over 50 should have recoginized that long ago.

Why is our beauracracy what it is?

Being a government employee means that one is not exposed to the free markets where value returned in performance is expected for every dollar spent. Therefore, not being exposed to the market place socialism appeals more to the government employee than does capitalism. That is obvious because being socialist and believing in socialism means a rejection of the free market, especially of labor.

Government employment and socialism go hand in hand. That is borne out by the fact that far and away the civil servant votes Democrat and is terrified by the ideas of conservatism. The exception is the military where leadership and conservative principles are what keep them alive and make completion of their mission possible. No intelligent person wants to go into dangerous situations knowing that he has to depend upon the undependable, the unworthy, the unwilling, the unreliable, the weak, and the characterless to watch his back or cover the blind side. Military life tends to weed out those socialist early on. You will find a rare few socialist in the military

Now, if one just goes to a government installation or office and asks questions about political alignment or affiliations you might get numbers of government employees telling you that they are against socialism etc.; but, come time to vote or make decisions they will always go with what protects their job and income. I never knew a single one to vote for a pay, benefits, or cost-of-living decrease.

Further proof is evident in the way a civil servant approaches spending the public money. It is a fact that only a rare one will even consider that he spending some one's work and effort when he uses a government credit card to purchase his mistress a Diamond right or a vacation in Hawaii. They litterally do not give a shit, and frequently think it is funny……hey it's only government money.

Not being part of the market, and in many cases never having been part of the market, civil servants have no idea of the truth that the government has no money of its own. It is all ours. The waste in civil service will blow your mind if it isn't already blown.

Asch is obvously a fool. In general people do not choose government service for anything other than purely self interest. they know that they will get a job from which they virtually can't be fired; and, if the stay with it they will have a steady paycheck that will increase if they move up the ladder of GS gradings. Their government job may not make them rich but it will make them secure, and security is a big thing with most people.

The most terrible thing about civil service is how the advancement system works out in reality and what it does to create the massive intellectualless sludge I write of.

Here is how it works on the practical level.

Why do incompetents seem to rise in civil service while radicals seem to leave and join the free market place?

Sally gets a job at the Tooele Army Depot as a secretary. The job comes courtesy of nepotism, she has an Uncle that is a supervisor in a shop at the TAD. She is a graduate of the Utah school system, which means she is most likely clueless. She is 19. Like most ignorant youngsters, her first act upon getting notified that she has the job, she runs down and buys herself a new car on credit guaranteed by her salary at the TAD. Soon her income doesn't match her wants and her work soon shows that she will never find that last sandwich to make a full picnic in her brain. She screws up constantly, back talks the boss, flirts with the men, and in general is borderline on firing. But, she never crosses that line so her supervisor can't fire her no matter how much he wants to get rid of her.

What does he do people?

He encourages her to look at job postings that will equate to a upgrade in position and responsibility. He talks to her about gaining a raise in pay and authority. Soon he has her applying for positions that will take her out of his department. To make sure this happens he gives her glowing reports on her performance and personal character. Soon the inevitable happens, some fool in the system accepts her and she gets her raise in pay and a new more authoritative position; but, most importantly the old supervisor no longer has to put up with her bullshit.

Guess what happens again in about a year? Yes, same thing over again because the new supervisor learns he has been had. What does he do? He can't fire her, her personel file contains glowing reports. Collecting evidence of her incompetence could take years because now she is gaining in some knowlege of the scamming system works and she isn't going to do anything overt that would get her fired. So the new supervisor helps her find a new position with more pay and authority.

Now we hit the interesting part. Our heroine is now in a supervisory position of her own and she has got there as a total idiot and incompetent; but, she has to lead and direct. How does she do it when she has not ability? Plus now she has incomepetents under her that she wants to get rid of. She has no personal air of authority, she can't lead, she can only beg and plead to those under her and hope they will do their job. And, to get rid of her incompetents she does the same thing that was done for her.

Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is your civil service, and it deserves our belittlement and contempt at all levels.

This churning action of incompetents rising to positions of leadership and authority with absolutely no ability or skill has been going on far longer than any of us have been alive.

To erase the notion that my diatribe against civil service comes solely from experience at TAD, not so. I had the misfortune to experience and observe that at military installations, state department consulate after consulate in country after country, etc etc.

There are things that could improve our civil service and its affect on our public life.
1. Civil servants should not have the privilege of the vote in elections affecting their employment. I.E. Federal Civil servants not to be allowed to vote, contribute to, or campaign in any national election, nor for Senators or Congressmen from their own state of residence. State civil servants should not be allowed to vote, contribute to, or campaign for any candidate in any state election. etc. etc. that would take their socialist influence out of the politics. Give potential recruits the choice, give up the privileges of political participation or stay in the private sector. The trade-off is obvious, job security. If you want that, give up the privileges, or stay in the private secotr and earn your security. Don't ask the public to provide you security and then try to participate in the process that provides that security.

2. Make firing of poorly performing employees an easier process less subject to the idiotic rules of the EPO agency.

That's it for now. I am sure that others can think of further ways to improve the civil service; but, the main thing is stop the churning promotion of incompetents up to higher positions of authority by permitting their firing instead of promotion.

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