The U.S. Constitution gives the President the power to appoint individuals to government positions including personal advisers some with and some without congressional approval (the so-called czars). The system is called patronage and it was intended so the newly elected officials can have the power to implement changes they promised to the people. Every election at the beginning of America meant a sweep in the Washington DC bureaucracy. Elections were often and many servants had to clean up their desks and go back to their life beyond the federal government.
It all changed when in 1883 the Civil Service Commission was established. The Pendleton Act created a different class of federal bureaucrats – those who were supposed to be neutral politically, passed an examination and were welcomed to stay behind their desks until needed. And America knows those career bureaucrats made everything possible to make sure they are needed forever. Until then every election gave the voters a chance to kick out the ruling party (from the President and Congress to the last staffer) out of office.
After the creation of the career bureaucracy the game changed. The Pendleton Act gave the President a power to convert many positions into “civil service” one. That was a popular tool to lock in appointees and embed them into the federal bureaucracy long after the President left office himself.
The career bureaucrats were not supposed to be associated with a political agenda. They had their own agenda: to keep their positions important, so the next party that comes to power cannot get rid of them. Career bureaucrats thrive when they come up with a problem that needs fixing. First they form a task-force, and then they turn it into a government program. When the new baby bureaucracy grows big enough to start walking independently it turns into an agency. The agencies that survive few election changes turn into full- blown Departments that focus on new problems and create the new task forces of the future federal programs, agencies and departments.
Let’s take the Department of education for example. It started with the idea of better education. Who doesn’t want good education? It is a perfect cover for bureaucracy to start and exist forever. Despite the fact that education was run by the States and private institutions the federal bureaucracy was able to fit a little budget of their own in the frame of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Since nobody had the guts to stand up against them (nobody wants to look so cruel) the federal education gang thrived and was rewarded by Jimmy Carter with a separate cabinet seat. Ronald Reagan tried to close the Department of Education, but was deemed a monster and the bureaucracy won. Every president since then was a hostage of the career bureaucrats of the Department of Education and rewarded it with more and more tax-payer funds. President Obama gave them 100 billion dollars from the Recovery Act and 7 billion in new government programs in the 2011 budget.
The USA did not have Federal Department of education when computer was created or when the Write brothers went into flight. Yet nobody in Washington DC has a spine to close the Department of Education overblown and unnecessary bureaucracy. So the Civil Servants win.
We did not have Federal Department of Education when the American astronauts walked on the Moon. Today we have Department of Education, but we don’t have money to go to the Moon.
Like every bureaucracy the Civil Service Commission multiplied itself into 3 new institutions : U.S. Office of Personnel Management , the Federal Labor Relations Authority (federal employee unions) and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (hears the appeals of federal employees who had to endure to be removed from their positions). It is really hard to fire a federal bureaucrat – they took every precaution to secure their future in Washington DC.
It was disappointing for the folks on the left when they elected Barack Obama for hope and change and got more of the same. It is equally disappointing for the folks on the right who elected Scott Brown in hope for change and got instead another Stimulus package.
It doesn’t matter if you elect democrat or republican anymore. Washington DC is 98% the same. The elected officials are just the tip of the iceberg. They have power but it looks like the iceberg is attached to an Antarctica of career bureaucracy and it has become impossible to move it.
You can’t make a new brothel with the same whores according to the old saying.
On the picture is 1883 Puck political cartoon that represents two political paths. One is for the folks that are dry (Democrats at the time) and ask for the creation of the Civil Service Commission that will establish a carrier bureaucracy that is politically neutral. The other path is for those corrupt supporters of the patronage (Republicans at the time) that are sinking in destruction. It is an interesting dilemma even today. Do you want to play by the rules of the same old big fat bureaucracy or are you ready to get wet and enforce some change that the people voted for?
There will be no change in Washington DC until somebody gets wet and kicks the big and rusty bureaucracy’s behind.