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The Federal Octopus
Federal agencies now exist not for the public good but for their employees’ benefit and Obama’s agenda.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, before Congress on June 23, 2014 (Win McNamee/Getty)

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Victor Davis Hanson

When IRS Commissioner John Koskinen arrogantly told Congress that he had no apologies for an agency that has targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, had a top-ranking bureaucrat take the Fifth Amendment, and destroyed its own correspondence, he meant it. Nor did Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA, offer any apologies for concocting a fake persona, replete with false e-mail identity (“Richard Windsor”), to hide her own communications. Kathleen Sebelius was likewise unapologetic after presiding over the ruined initial implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Nor did she pay any consequence for campaigning for Democratic candidates while a cabinet secretary, in violation of the Hatch Act.

Government always grows, sometimes even more rapidly under Republican than under Democratic presidents. But under President Obama we are seeing something a little different — the creation of a partisan, semi-autonomous government that seems to exist for the benefit of its employees and the larger ideological agenda of the present administration.

The common theme of many of the Obama scandals is that expansion of government is a good thing (e.g., more employed constituents, more redistributive regulations on individuals, higher taxes to pay for it all), that government employees should be partisans of those politicians who favor more government, and that what a government agency was constituted to do is not necessarily what it will do.

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Take the Veterans Affairs scandal. Delays in providing care were covered up by false record keeping. This criminal fraud contributed to the death of several veterans. The falsification of records also meant both that the scandal would not quickly come to light and that veterans would continue not to receive needed care. No matter: 65 percent of VA executives nevertheless received merit bonuses, among them those at the dysfunctional Phoenix VA Health Care System, where the largest number of veterans died. Overall, 80 percent of VA executives received very high performance rankings for overseeing a scandal-plagued agency. An outsider might conclude that the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy existed not so much for its client veterans as for the fossilized bureaucracy that so poorly runs the hospitals.

That would not be an unreasonable deduction. The General Services Administration, which provides supplies, office space, and so on for federal agencies, supposedly to ensure that they conduct operations efficiently, is likewise out of control. In 2012, videos emerged of lavish GSA junkets to Las Vegas and bizarre government-funded amateur skits and movies. It appeared that federal employees were not only exempt from the law, but sneering about their immunity from accountability.

Under Obama, bureaucracies also freelance far beyond their missions to further the president’s multicultural agenda. One would think that NASA, our agency for exploration of outer space, should have nothing to do with the president’s plans for Muslim outreach, which he thought was going to end the war on terror, remake the Middle East, and ease global tensions. But in 2010, NASA administrator Charles Bolden informed us that, “perhaps foremost, [Obama] wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering — science, math and engineering.” Would that Bolden had ignored that “foremost” distortion of his agency and instead sought to wean the United States off its dependence on Russian rocketry for manned entry into space, in the present age of failed reset with Russia.

In pre-Obama times, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had a necessary and narrowly defined mission: to protect individual achievement from improper infringement. But under Obama it too is now not a disinterested government agency but an arm of the White House, which can be enlisted in the furtherance of a larger social agenda. Most recently it waded into the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins by rescinding the football franchise’s trademark rights to its name — on the basis, apparently, that the president finds that name hurtful to Native Americans. There is no evident feeling among the general public that the team should drop its name, but it has become a cause célèbre among progressives, and thus apparently any government agency must now detour to do what it can to help. Message: We are watching you for incorrect behavior and will seek to destroy any that we deem illiberal.



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