Runaway Trains of Bureaucracy

The General Accounting Office is preparing to drop a devastating financial report on Congress, identifying hundreds of billions in government waste due to “duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.”   Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is not surprised.  “Go study that report,” he advised Trish Turner of Fox News.  “It will show why we’re $14 trillion in debt.  Anybody that says we don’t look like fools up here hasn’t read the report.  We don’t know what we’re doing.

More precisely, every aspect of a gigantic bureaucracy does only what it knows, unto eternity.  I read about this report right after I watched the movie Unstoppable, in which Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try to halt a runaway locomotive that so huge and powerful it simply obliterates everything in its path.  Government bureaucracies are all runaway trains.

Big private companies have ridiculous administrative nightmares, to be sure, but they tend to fly off the rails before they reach the pure, thundering power of billion-dollar government machinery.  A corporation which becomes as blind and hidebound as the government tends to be overtaken by quicker, more agile competitors, or crushed beneath the weight of its overhead.  Fueled by an inexhaustible supply of tax dollars, the locomotives of Washington rattle down their tracks forever.

Government programs succeed through failure.  A program that actually “solved” whatever problem prompted its creation would be wiped out.  A bureaucrat who runs a tight ship, and brings his operation in under budget, will be “rewarded” with a smaller budget.  Every single organ of our federal government is working tirelessly to solve a problem that is much worse than originally anticipated, and therefore requires increased funding.  When was the last time you heard of a big federal program that was shut down ahead of schedule and under budget, because it completed its mission?

Bureaucracies also discover new problems requiring their attention and funding along the way.  That’s one reason there is so much duplication in the federal budget.  For example, according to the GAO report, 18 different programs across three federal agencies work to “ensure the needy have access to food,” producing an estimated $62.5 billion in overlap.  Every one of these eighteen programs found an ample supply of needy mouths to feed, and set about requesting an ever-larger cornucopia from Congress.  None of the bureaucrats involved was going to spend his valuable time searching the massive federal flowchart to see if any other agency might already be working to assist prospective clients.  There was no incentive for them to make their agencies less useful, and less worthy of a funding increase in the next budget.

Likewise, the legislators who create these programs are not interested in discovering if someone else already thought of their great idea to spend billions Helping The Downtrodden.  The GAO report states that 44 out of 47 federal job training and employment programs “overlap with at least one other program”… but you can rest assured someone in Congress was already dreaming up the 48th employment program, trembling with excitement at the prospect of spending billions to “create jobs” and “put Americans back to work.”

ObamaCare will spawn hundreds of new bureaucracies, and every one of them will begin chugging down the tracks, picking up steam and finding new challenges that require broader powers and increased funding.  Each one will produce a billowing cloud of paperwork to justify its existence, and acquire Congressional engineers who believe its acceleration is a moral imperative.  Demanding restraint from any bureaucracy is considered an act of heartless cruelty to its intended beneficiaries. 

The only force that could conceivably halt the runaway trains of bureaucracy is the debt ceiling, and it will soon be obliterated by the unstoppable force of engines which even most of the “fiscally responsible” Republicans are terrified to derail.  Who knows what will happen if those monster trains crash?  Better to let them rumble a few trillion dollars further down the tracks, until a sensible plan for slowing them down can be devised by some future Congress. 

No engine of Big Government will ever slow down on its own, much less stop or go into reverse.  “Progress” means moving forward, after all.