In the first article, The Times reported that a new executive order requires that each agency contain a “regulatory policy office run by a political appointee,” a change that “strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts.” Yesterday, The Times turned to the rapid growth of federal contracting, fed “by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does.”
These are two different pieces of the same story: under the guise of promoting a conservative agenda, the Bush administration has created a supersized version of the 19th-century spoils system.
The blueprint for Bush-era governance was laid out in a January 2001 manifesto from the Heritage Foundation, titled “Taking Charge of Federal Personnel.” The manifesto’s message, in brief, was that the professional civil service should be regarded as the enemy of the new administration’s conservative agenda. And there’s no question that Heritage’s thinking reflected that of many people on the Bush team.
I previously wrote about this same policy of politicizing federal regulatory agencies. I worry about how long it will take to clean up the mess that is currently being made.
The ostensible reason for politicizing and privatizing was to promote the conservative ideal of smaller, more efficient government. But the small-government rhetoric was never sincere: from Day 1, the administration set out to create a vast new patronage machine.
Those political appointees chosen for their loyalty, not their expertise, aren’t very good at doing their proper jobs — as all the world learned after Hurricane Katrina struck. But they have been very good at rewarding campaign contributors, from energy companies that benefit from lax regulation of pollution to pharmaceutical companies that got a Medicare program systematically designed to protect their profits.
And the executive order described by The Times will make it even easier for political appointees to overrule the professionals, tailoring government regulations to suit the interests of companies that support the G.O.P. — or to give lucrative contracts to people with the right connections.
It appears Paul Krugman has the same worry I have:
What’s truly amazing is how far back we’ve slid in such a short time. The modern civil service system dates back more than a century; in just six years the Bush administration has managed to undo many of that system’s achievements. And the administration still has two years to go.