The Corner

How Not to Do It

Peter: Good observations about both the Energy and the Education departments, two dreadful Carter-era excretions that remain as stillborn monuments to the power of alleged good intentions and the metastasizing inertia of an entrenched bureaucracy. Obama’s ludicrous notion of a Department of Jobs — a transparently political trial balloon meant to show that this president understands that Jobs are Job One for the American People — has even less chance of being effective. Besides, we already have a Dept. of Jobs: Federal and state governments themselves, which have become employers of last resort, especially for those inclined to favor Democrats.

When discussing rearranging bureaucracies, though, perhaps an even better analogy would be George W. Bush’s Dept. of Homeland Security, which has given us the Transportation Security Administration, and the creation of the office of director of national intelligence during the reorganizing of the intelligence community. Among its proudest achievements to date have been the appointments of various new deputy directors of national intelligence for this and that, and the formation of an executive committee.

It might all be funny were it not so serious. From Chapter Ten of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens:

The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.

This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving–HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which it invariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always acted on it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the public departments; and the public condition had risen to be–what it was.

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