The Republican Party has long been in favor of smaller government, a good stance given the expansion of the federal government and its expenditures. Under the Bush administration, however, a disdain for government has turned into a disdain for governing with embarrassing and dangerous consequences. To undo this, the presidential campaigns must go beyond saying they want to reform Washington to explaining what those reforms would look like.
A danger of believing government is generally not useful is that those who oversee and work for that government don’t take their responsibilities seriously. A glaring example of this came to light last week with headlines about sex, drugs and minerals. Officials with the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees oil and gas leases, routinely accepted sports tickets and ski trips from oil company executives. Worse, they did drugs and had sex with employees of the industry they were supposed to oversee, according to an inspector general’s report released last week. Female employees were dubbed the “MMS chicks.”
According to the Washington Post, many employees identified in the report told investigators that they didn’t think ethics rules applied to them because of their “unique” role in the agency. They justified smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and having sex with industry representatives as necessary to gain “market intelligence.” Another report found that the service neglected to collect billions of dollars in royalty payments from oil and gas companies.
Beyond the salacious details, this is just another example of government appointees not taking their duties to the public — a quaint notion, no doubt — at all seriously.
Another recent example is the revelation that the Department of Justice hired personnel for some offices based on their political affiliations and beliefs, not on their qualifications. In this instance, the department’s inspector general found employees at the department had “violated federal law and department policy” and tried to cover this up.
Another investigation found that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeatedly mishandled classified documents. He sometimes left the documents in his briefcase because he didn’t know the combination to the safe. He also called the Geneva Conventions quaint and pushed for harsh treatment of detainees in the so-called war on terror.
The same kind of thinking led to government wiretapping without warrants and a legally shaky system of military tribunals to hear the cases of the men held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Government is too bloated and too expensive, but it is not going away. Using government jobs to promote an ideology or to fill a social calendar does not begin to address the problem, it only makes a mockery of the situation.
This should not be acceptable to either campaign and that’s why hearing their philosophy of governing — beyond platitudes about reform and rooting out corruption — is so important.