One of the few reasons to not mourn the death of Elvis Presley is that the General Services Administration's event planners would probably have hired him to sing at their October 2010 "conference" at the ritzy-glitzy M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas. Instead, they had to settle for a song celebrating government waste by one of their own.
According to the April 2 report by the GSA's Inspector General, the "conference" cost $822,751. So, for a mere $2,742 per person in taxpayers' money, the GSA event featured essential government functions such as a $75,000 team-building session in which attendees were challenged to build a bicycle, a session with an entertainer-mind reader ($3,200), almost $150,000 in food expenses as well as paying for clothing and tuxedo rentals for GSA employees,
GSA's Public Building Service responsible, as its name implies, for managing federal buildings held the meeting. As the IG report says, "The PBS Region 9 Commissioner/Acting Administrator [Jeffrey Neely] instructed those planning the conference to make it 'over the top' and to make it bigger and better than previous conferences." His orders were followed and it was Neely who approved the expenses.
The IG report resulted in the resignation of the GSA administrator, the firing of a couple of lower-ranking people who had been in the chain of command. But not Neely. He received a $9,000 bonus, apparently for good performance over the year. He has been removed from his job but not fired. More disciplinary action, we are promised, will be forthcoming.
Much more importantly, the IG report opened the lid on the civil service sewer that has been coddled, cuddled, and embraced by the Obama administration like no administration before it. The Obama-enhanced culture of the federal civil service -- not just GSA -- is that federal agencies have become used to do in their role as our governing class.
According to a January Congressional Budget Office report, federal civil servants are paid better than their counterparts in the private sector. CBO found that because the bureaucrats are given huge benefits (generous retirement and healthcare among them) their total compensation averages 36 percent higher than in the private sector for those with no more than a high school education, 15 percent higher for those with a college degree, and 18 percent lower for those with post-graduate degrees.
As of September 2011, there were about 1.8 million civilians on the federal payroll. Of those, about 420,000 earn a base salary of over $100,000 and can be granted bonuses in addition to their base salaries. According to an ABC report, a federal employee is more likely to die than be fired. Eliot Ness's "Untouchables" were more vulnerable than the average federal civil servant.
It's not only that most of these people are overpaid and underworked. It's that their culture of arrogant exercise of their powers has been turned loose by Obama's agenda and the Obama administration's leaders at the top of the bureaucracy who are directing and controlling those under them.
How else to explain "Fast and Furious," the infamous gun-walking operation that cost the life of Border Patrolman Brian Terry? Or EPA's decision that it had the power -- not granted by law -- to regulate carbon dioxide? Or the FCC's incursions into controlling the Internet? Or rushing a loan to now-bankrupt Solyndra in pursuit of Obama's "renewable energy" policy while permits for offshore oil and gas drilling are arbitrarily delayed and denied?
Or, for that matter, TSA's continued abuse of travelers and their expansion of random search operations to trains and buses? Our personal freedom shrinks as they expand.
The federal bureaucracy has been turned loose, and like any group having the power to abuse its power, it does so encouraged directly and indirectly by the Obama administration.
President Obama has promised to go around Congress to govern as he sees fit throughout his term. All the good that congressional investigators such as House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darryl Issa (R-Cal) is pursuing will have little or no effect. On matters such as "Fast and Furious" subpoenas, Attorney General Holder is simply stonewalling. Issa can expect more of that, and not just on "Fast and Furious."
Obama will protect the bureaucracy that is his willing instrument of governance, and those who infest the federal agencies as permanent employees will be carrying out his will even if a Republican replaces Obama in November.
Why? Because the bureaucrats have become used to it, and it pleases them. The more power they are granted, the more they will use and abuse it until someone stops them. Which is inordinately hard to do for one very big reason.
Every corner of the bureaucracy has a constituency on Capitol Hill with which it communicates directly regardless of the wishes of its political bosses. I saw it twenty years ago when I served in the Pentagon. A direct order to a military person begins action. One to a bureaucrat is the beginning of a debate and frequently the answer to a question comes in the form of more questions in a letter from congressional staffers asking for a justification of the question.
The solution isn't simple and requires a dedication to action for which most political appointees do not think they have the time. The bureaucracy will do its best to keep them so busy they don't have the time to even think about it. I learned early on that meetings should not be attended unless I, my boss, or his boss called them. If I hadn't done that, I'd have been trapped in pointless meetings from the morning moment I arrived in the building to the minute I dragged myself out in the evening.
But there's more, and something just as important. If I had it to do over, I'd have revamped my staff to dispense with all but four of my staff: my indispensable secretary and three who I might have called my Bronx people. They would have been my "implementers." Their sole job would be to ride herd on the bureaucrats, identifying and blasting roadblocks instantly with all the power of my office behind them. Three retired special operations men I know come to mind. They have the brains, tenacity, loyalty, and the ability to get things done that I admire, and that every political appointee needs.
For all of those who hope to serve in a Republican administration next year, please take heed. It's not the president's policies you'll have to worry about so much as the people under you who are comprehensively committed to delay and obfuscation. Don't try to change the bureaucrats' minds or attitudes because you can't. They know they will be there long after you're gone.
Think instead about who your arm-twisters will be, and if you hire them -- no matter what agency you may end up in -- you will not only serve your president well. You may actually get something done.