The Imperial Bureaucracy Has No Use For Accountability

AP Thumbnail Image
The Associated Press

A crucial instrument in the growth of the State has been the offloading of immense power to unelected bureaucrats. This places power safely beyond the reach of public response, especially since agencies have grown so rich and powerful that they’re effectively immune to reform. Laws passed by representatives you vote for blossom into a thousand times as many regulations, devised and enforced by people who will never be tested at the ballot box. Major laws are often written in such a vague way that the regulators have all the real power, as in the case of ObamaCare, which wasn’t even fully written on the day Democrats forced it through Congress.

Statist politicians love the imperial bureaucracy, because it allows them to manipulate the public, punish their enemies, and reward their constituents without getting their hands dirty. Rarely are the incumbent candidates you get to vote against held accountable for the actions of the bureaucrats they empower.

The imperial bureaucracy has grown so powerful and arrogant that it doesn’t even feel like answering questions from the public any more. True accountability would interfere with the power of the State, so accountability is routinely evaded. The Obama Administration has become legendary for its refusal to cooperate with everything from Freedom of Information Act requests to congressional subpoenas. The legislature is no longer a co-equal branch of government. It’s not even able to demand straight answers to its questions any more.

This lack of transparency is an important part of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, which is a big story (despite the efforts of friendly journalists to minimize it) because it’s damaging her presidential aspirations but also concerns actions she took while an official of the Obama Administration.

Clinton asserts that neither Congress nor the American people have any right to ask questions about her activities as Secretary of State, except those questions she feels like discussing. She asserts the right to set up a private email server to evade congressional oversight and public inquiry – and nothing that happens now can change the fact that she did evade such oversight, because even if she actually had given us full disclosure and handed over her 100 percent intact mail server in 2015, it wouldn’t change the way she was able to hide subpoena- and FOIA-responsive data from 2009 to 2013.

Clinton is just a high-profile example of bureaucratic arrogance, and the State Department isn’t the primary culprit when it comes to micro-managing American life, although anyone who lost potential employment due to State’s role in blocking the Keystone XL pipeline can testify that every appendage of the federal monstrosity is capable of pushing us around.

Who can forget Attorney General Eric Holder and his subordinates stonewalling their way through Operation Fast and Furious hearings, offering ridiculous excuses for why nobody knew anything about a huge and deadly gun-running program that involved numerous federal agencies? Holder was an early pioneer of the Incompetence Defense, the now-ubiquitous excuse offered by nearly every Obama Administration official who comes under fire, including the President himself: I’m not a very good manager and I don’t know what’s going on in my agency, so you can’t hold me accountable for anything.

The Incompetence Defense only works because ineptitude isn’t a problem for imperial bureaucrats – they know they can’t really get in trouble for wasting money or professing ignorance of what their immense departments are doing. “I don’t know” has become an impervious shield against congressional inquiry, not a career-ending admission of incompetence. Remember IRS officials, right up to the commissioner, saying that over and over again, to deflect questions about the Tea Party targeting scandal? The unspoken second half of those statements is, I don’t know, and the elected representatives of the American people have no power to judge me or my agency for not knowing.

The recent hearings on “Operation Choke Point,” a controversial program the government is using to kill off legal businesses our Ruling Class don’t like, was a festival of evasions and outright refusal to answer questions. The bureaucrats involved were visibly annoyed that they had to waste time telling Congress to get bent. At one point, an exasperated Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) told FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg that if he really doesn’t know anything about the activities of his agency, he ought to step down as chairman. We’re only a couple of generations removed from a time when that would have been the public’s near-universal expectation to professed ignorance and confusion from high officials, but now the loyal soldiers of the all-powerful executive can protect its interests without actually falling on their swords, or even pretending that they have swords to fall on.

Another recent outrage was Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray airily informing Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) that she, and the American people, have no business asking how much money his agency blew on its majestic headquarters – $125 million, in case you’re wondering. His exact words were, “Why does that matter to you?”

So much for the “power of the purse!” We’ve descended to the point where princelings of the Beltway power elite feel free to tell the people nominally in charge of budgeting the government to buzz off, because they have no control over how much money our parasitic aristocrats decide to spend on their palaces. Rarely has it been more clearly stated that America exists to service its bureaucracy, not the other way around. You can vote for anyone you like, but none of them will get past the jewel-encrusted portcullis gates of the strongholds where real, eternal power dwells along the Potomac. Cordray already views his fiefdom as immortal, even though it’s only a couple of years old.

If the CFPB is already a regal entity floating beyond the reach of our elected representatives, you can forget about doing anything to reform the IRS. Commissioner John Koskinen – the guy who said he didn’t know nuthin’ about no Lois Lerner emails a hundred times – told the National Press Club exactly that on Tuesday, laughing off the notion that his agency could ever be abolished. In fairness, he made a legitimate point that somebody has to collect revenue under even the simplest, flattest, fairest tax-returns-on-a-postcard system, but the balance of his remarks indicate he doesn’t think the IRS will change much from the immense and unaccountable agency it has become.

And then he topped it off with more of his “I don’t know” routine, addressing Hillary Clinton-style evasions of accountability at his agency by shrugging, “We have 87,000 people. Does that mean no one is doing it? I can’t guarantee you that. But I can guarantee we’re keeping a close watch on it.”

Well, no, you aren’t, Commissioner. You just admitted that what most of us would consider a “close watch” is impossible due to the size and power of your operation. We got a bellyful of what you think a “close watch” means during the targeting scandal hearings.

Take Koskinen at his word, and he’s making an excellent case that transparency and accountability are mere illusions when the government grows to its current size. President Obama himself has excused his own inept management by arguing that the government is too big for any one person to take responsibility for its actions… and he offered that as a defense of himself, not an indictment of the system. Beltway culture offers us soothing illusions of responsible government limited by our electoral power, but in truth, it’s too big to monitor, too powerful to restrain, and it has more power to change us than we have to change it.

The current system is inherently corrupt and uncontrollable because of its size – there are no big, honest, transparent governments. Evidence accumulates by the day that our rulers no longer feel even a vestigial sense of responsibility to voters, especially bureaucrats who will never have to face our wrath at the ballot box.

The really dangerous development is that they no longer fear the wrath of our elected representatives, many of whom are so interested in making the State bigger and richer that they’ll no longer countenance even token attempts at holding it responsible for its actions, because that would empower the people who want to make it smaller. We are told to trust, and obey, and comfort ourselves with absurd fantasies about how we could “fire” the whole crew in Washington if they severely displeased us.