Ken Newton FB image

No creative person can conceive a more put-upon soul than the lowly bureaucrat.

Bureaucrats make ideal antagonists in the workings of good government, faceless, gender-less, raging in anonymity and adrift in a sea of cubicles inside the U.S. Department of This and That.

When blame needs to be assigned for wasted public funds or a failing of administrative enterprise, the bureaucrat sits there, convenient and without much voice to argue the point.

Never mind that most workers for the United States are earnest types who give their best efforts in a congressionally shifting landscape and, if you get a problem solved in the bureaucracy, they probably did the solving.

Politicians find it good politics to talk about shrinking the number of bureaucrats. Common sense adds that the federal workforce should be not one person larger than necessary to carry out federal work.

The last 18 years have found countless calls for reductions in the federal workforce. Republicans, especially, but also Democrats, rail against regulations because they hamstring the ingenuity of Americans and because they take even larger armies of bureaucrats to enforce.

However, from January 2001 to May 2019, with 10 years of Republican presidents and eight years with a Democrat in the White House, the federal workforce has grown from 2.75 million employees to 2.81 million.

(The numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and do not include postal workers or members of the military.)

Of course, the argument can be made, a valid one, that while the federal workforce increased by more than 9 percent during those years, the American population grew by 16 percent. In that sense, the bureaucracy has been spread thinner per resident, but the actual numbers remain what they are.

A libertarian’s dream would be to swing a wide scythe in the direction of multiple bureaucracies, cutting deeply into personnel rosters. A slimmer organization, this dream holds, would intrude less and cost less.

Another way to approach this would be to do what Peter Kinder did last year.

Kinder served as Missouri’s lieutenant governor for three terms and, before that, he served three terms in the state Senate, including as a stint as president pro tem.

Full disclosure, I’ve known Peter for more than 30 years, having worked at the same company part of that time. In addition, his father had been the pediatrician for my wife and, in a generational leap, for all three of my children.

In August 2017, President Trump appointed Kinder, a Republican, to be the alternate co-chairperson of the Delta Regional Authority, an eight-state partnership meant to encourage economic opportunity in the Mississippi River delta region.

Ten months later, he resigned. The reason? The agency didn’t need the position.

The Delta Authority, established by Congress in 2000, had a top-heavy administration, Kinder said. The staff brought him $400,000 in cuts from the administration budget line, and he stewarded the reductions and more through the agency’s board.

Staffing fell from 18 workers to 13. Subsequently, Kinder believed the idea of co-chairs superfluous. In June 2018, he stepped down, suggesting to the board that his own position go unfilled.

He hoped the money, the cuts and his salary, would go to economically strapped counties in the region, the principal reason for the authority. He believed in the mission but not the bloat.

Sadly for those watchdogging public money, this story has a Yeti-like feel. You won’t hear many like it.

Ken Newton’s column runs on Tuesdays and Sundays.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.