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« Unfair To Hillary? | Main | Good News On The Flea Front »

End It, Don't Mend It

I don't think that there's a single federal agency that wouldn't be improved greatly by simply razing it to the ground and starting over. The CIA should have been disbanded years ago, and replaced with something else.

It should still be. My biggest disappointment (among many) with the Bush administration is that, while it talked tough on the war, it was never willing to refocus the government on fighting and winning it, instead increasing and consolidating bureaucracies, and continuing the war on US citizens (e.g, drugs). That's the problem with having a "compassionate conservative" and a big-government Republican in charge. It's why I pine for a Fred Thompson, who at least talks like a federalist.

Posted by Rand Simberg at December 17, 2007 01:36 PM
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I add to that last specifically the BATF and DEA, which both cover questionable laws that could also be under the FBI jurisdiction. Why TSA was created instead of modifying the role of US Customs is still a mystery to me, other than the complete failures of US Customs in relation to 9-11.

Posted by Leland at December 17, 2007 02:09 PM

The weird thing is how many departments are simultaneously the 'oversight' function of government... and proponents of the same thing as in 'growing the infrastructure'.

FCC, FAA ...

I'll also second Leland's comment above. Too many departments have police powers on the federal level alone. Although I might recognize a fake BATF ID, it would only be because of shoddy workmanship on the forgery.

Posted by Al at December 17, 2007 04:15 PM

My personal favorite Modest Proposal for reforming the federal bureaucracies is a Constitutional amendment mandating that any given bureaucracy shall be shut down, all employees laid off and the buildings and assets sold, at the end of every tenth federal fiscal year. Stagger the shutdowns, 1/10th of the government in any given year, to reduce the disruption. If Congress cares to, they can restart a given organization immediately, but specify in the amendment it takes a 2/3rds majority in both houses to rehire any of the previous staff before 3 years have passed, and that the new version cannot be headquartered closer than 500 miles from the previous HQ site.

It'll mean that at any given moment, 20-30% of the federal bureaucracies are just barely starting to function again. Which is better than they average now. And the other 70-80% will be reasonably competent but with less than ten years of empire-building and ossification under their belts, which will be FAR better than they average now.

As I said, a Modest Proposal. I first came up with it almost twenty years ago. (Purely conicidentally, right around the time I started seriously studying NASA and the DOD space bureaucracies.) I've been pushing it ever since. Most people seem to think I'm joking...


Posted by Henry Vanderbilt at December 18, 2007 12:31 AM

Wouldn't work. Somehow you'd end up with an even larger number of federal employees to handle the start up and shut down of a given agency, and during shut downs they'd tell you you couldn't do anything while they were shutting down, and during start up they'd tell you you couldn't do anything while they were starting up. And they'd come after you if you did.

The problem here is the assumed restart. When a business goes bankrupt, are we assuming it'll start up again any time soon? Sometimes ideas, assets, and people get picked up by a different business, but there's never an assumption that the business was even needed in the first place--or is still needed as it was last year. Profit is what determines whether the business survives or not.

So I guess I posit that we need some way to have creative destruction of federal agencies. How about we limit the number of employees any one agency can have (it would be acceptable for multiple agencies to do the work if it was large), and require that some percent (3%? 1%?) of agencies are eliminated every year, without exception. We'd then at least have to choose some most useless agencies and then get rid of them.

I once proposed a similar idea to a friend in education (it's a tongue-in-cheek idea, but it's interesting to think about). Lets RIF some percentage of the public school teachers in the school district every year. Surely there's at least one or two out of thousands who should be let go each year. We don't even have to be mean about it--just because you didn't make a good teacher doesn't mean you can't do something else much better. It could even be you just don't fit in with this school district.

Posted by Jeff Mauldin at December 18, 2007 02:13 AM

The way I'd attack creeping bureaucratism would be a limit on the paper. A yearly requirement for actual bound books of a determined size.

What a new policy desperately? Great... which one do you want to reword or remove so that it fits into our 1000 page quota?

Sub-department? They get a subsection of the parent department's pages. Safety manuals, expense regulations, everything. People do okay when they are making a decision unguided, even when that same decision has been made before. But the rules and regulations end up being self-contradictory... and then you get lawyers involved just to parse anything.

Posted by Al at December 18, 2007 07:55 AM

Hey guess what - there's actually a Republican Presidential candidate currently running on a platform that includes shutting down the CIA.

Posted by Rahul at December 18, 2007 06:57 PM

Rand: My biggest disappointment (among many) with the Bush administration is that, while it talked tough on the war, it was never willing to refocus the government on fighting and winning it

You're an imposter, we've always been winning the war. Who are you and what have you done with the REAL Simberg?

Posted by at December 18, 2007 07:21 PM

You're an imposter, we've always been winning the war. Who are you and what have you done with the REAL Simberg?

I didn't say that we haven't been. I just said that Bush has been focused on other things.

But then, I don't expect anonymous morons to be very good at reading comprehension.

Posted by Rand Simberg at December 18, 2007 07:31 PM

President Bush had the perfect moment to reform the CIA and State, the two weakest parts of that segment of our Federal government tasked woth our protection.
Any time before mid-2003 he could have rebuilt, he could have fired- fired hell, he could have EXECUTED, on the Capitol steps- the entire dysfunctional CIA and State establishment and started fresh.
Instead he did nothing- he left the clowns in place, and has been battling a de facto bueraucratic coup d'etat against his administration ever since.
And the real loser is the nation.

Posted by DaveP. at December 18, 2007 07:46 PM

A bureaucracy is what happens when an organization applies rules developed in one circumstance to another circumstance.

And they actually think it is a good idea.

Posted by Don Meaker at December 18, 2007 08:11 PM

BATFE picked up some legitimate explosive laboratory work, but that could be done better by private enterprise.

Before they picked up that little sincure, the BATF was the police department incharge of things that are legal.

Alcohol production, sale, and consumption is legal.
Tobbaco production, sale and consumption is legal.
Firearms production, sale, and posession is legal.
The IRS spun off the ATF back after prohibition was lost. They didn't want to be associated with folks who would keep a working man from having a drink. (The rich never were inconvenienced by prohibition, and are rarely inconvenienced by the DEA now.)

Posted by Don Meaker at December 18, 2007 08:20 PM

Shutting down the CIA and putting all those agents on the streets would be like shutting down the Guantanamo detention camp and letting everyone go free.

Posted by European News Review at December 18, 2007 09:17 PM

Agents? How about doofuses with 'kick me' signs on their back?

Posted by Cris at December 18, 2007 09:23 PM

I guess great minds think alike. I told my husband the other day that they should just scrap the CIA and the State Department and start all over again. What huge bureaucratic nightmares those government agencies have become. And listening to those milquetoast State spokesmen -- what a bunch of wimps. No wonder the US isn't taken seriously. Who wants to even listen to wishy-washy men! Newt Gingrich for State Department spokesman (or Tony Snow!)

Posted by Deborah at December 19, 2007 02:40 AM

If this is about the new NIE - I did read the other day that the CIA dissented from the main opinion. The estimate was supposed to reflect the consenus, not every agencies views.

Mind you. I do think we might be better off if the Central Intelligence Agency was replaced with the Clinton Intelligence Agency as the Clinton operatives seem to be able to attack their opponents without leaving a trace.

Posted by davod at December 19, 2007 02:48 AM

I'll suggest that a more reasonable approach to solving the problem is something like term limits. All positions in management would be time limited to something like 5 years. Technical positions would be unlimited, but all of the decision makers would be continuously rotating in and out. The point is to discourage people from making lifetime careers managing government agencies. I'd rather have more people with experience in the private sector putting in a few years of government service, then going back. The agencies would have a better appreciation of their impact on the private sector, and more of the general population would understand what the agencies do.

Posted by Bruce at December 19, 2007 04:29 AM

DEA first! BILLIONS of dollars that merely increases profits/prices of what are cheap and robust crops. But that means legalizing pot and decriminalizing anti-addictive, non-"NARCOTIC" psychedelics [schedule 4 (= fine) instead of 1 (= MANDATORY minimum sentences worse than rapists)]. The CIA I don't know much about. I read the political blogs, on and off. CIA? Never a peep from or about them. The new Homeland Security spending seems rather useless versus just kicking ass in the middle of the sewer that produced rabbid rats in the first place. Do we still need separate Air Force/Marines/Army/Navy/DARPA/NASA/National Guard/Border Patrol/DEA/BATF/etc.? or just a division between local police and national military? The NSA and Area 51/Skunkworks are still needed, since what's a top Western civilization without secret agencies? But the CIA is about as useful as some kid using a scripting language to recursively search Google for clues to bad intent, which I think, eh hum, the NSA already has it's supercomputers busy with. The IRS could be miniaturized with a relatively high flat tax (so the rich would still pay 80-90% of revenue), but the form would merely have TWO entries: INCOME and DEDUCTIONS. This alone would also end the lingering waste of political energy between Left and Right about income re-distribution, at least as far as taxes are concerned. So just add a balanced budget amendment (don't we already have one from the Reagan era?), and the welfare side of things is solved too, in terms of debate. Another amendment could simply add a footnote to allow any and all gun possession, period. And abortion would require mere cryogenic freezing of the viable embryo instead of tossing their souls in garbage cans with biohazard stickers on them. These suggestions make me sound crazy, but that's why I made them: to point out that really creative thinking has become politically incorrect on all sides of our generation or two of debaters and policy makers, and even voters!

Posted by NikFromNYC at December 19, 2007 10:53 AM

Would that include the FBI? NIST? The Patent Office? The Marine Corps?

Oh, and for those who complain about ATF and DEA: Mr. Simberg suggested that Federal agencies could be improved by "razing to the ground and starting over".

That's a completely different issue from saying that some agency's function should be abolished.

Posted by Rich Rostrom at December 20, 2007 04:28 PM

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