It’s getting hard to keep track of all the wrongdoing going on in the federal government right now.
From military officers covering up sexual assaults to IRS agents specifically attacking people based on their political views to whatever the DOJ and NSA are doing, our government seems to be out of control.
The response from most agencies on their specific wrongdoings has been tone deaf at best. Whether it is the military talking about the value of the chain of command, even as that chain has been used to cover up serious crimes, the EPA and IRS leaking private information to political activists in order to target harassment or the egregious spending that has characterized some departments, the government’s response has been to defend its actions, call for more training, or assume a simple apology will cut it.
Agencies have resisted firings, but even that isn’t enough. Honestly, sending the worst violators to prison isn’t enough.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., recently ended up on a viral Youtube video for dressing down the IRS in a hearing. His conclusion hits the nail on the head for what we really need to do to solve these problems.
“With all due respect, this is not a training issue. This cannot be solved with another webinar,” Gowdy said. “It strikes as a cultural, systemic, character, moral issue. … When your fellow citizens, the ones who pay you, are struggling, that is a character issue. Training cannot fix that.”
That is the heart of the problem: many of our government’s employees, from the military to the IRS to the EPA and everywhere in between, appear to think they’re above the rest of society and its laws.
You can understand why they feel this way.
Government workers have employment protections, courtesy of their unions, that make it obscenely hard to fire a government employee. Want proof? Lois Lerner, the IRS agent we know ordered at least some of the egregious targeting, is still on the government’s payroll on “administrative leave.”
For those of you whose paychecks are signed by someone other than Uncle Sam, that’s government-speak for paid vacation.
Government employees also make more, on average, than the private citizens who pay their salaries. Absent a Ph.D. or professional degree (J.D, M.D., MBA), federal workers earn substantially more than their private-sector peers.
So we pay government workers more and make it virtually impossible to fire them. Add to that liability protections that often prevent civil or criminal liability for acts government employees take as part of their jobs, and it seems like they are above the law.
In Europe, they have a word that describes this arrangement: aristocracy.
Unfortunately for government employees, this nation was founded to avoid aristocracy. The point was that everyone was free and had the opportunity to rise or fall based upon merit, rather than success, at getting into the government bureaucracy.
As evident as it is that this is a problem, the solution is even easier. Gowdy explained it clearly in the case of the IRS.
“It just strikes me that we just need one single recommendation: start over.”
Starting over with the way we hire, train, evaluate, promote and pay our civil servants is the obvious solution.
Such reforms should include a few key principles:
- Federal employees, on average, should earn less than the average private sector worker. Capping federal pay at 90 percent of the average private sector worker for the education level of the employee makes a lot of sense.
- Employees who engage in any sort of wrongdoing should face lengthy prison sentences, as well as civil liability for their actions.
- Termination procedures need to be sped up and realistic.
- In their contracts, all federal employees should waive the right to exercise the Fifth Amendment in Congressional hearings related to their job performance.
These commonsense reforms would emphasize that all employees of the government are public servants, not overlords. They are accountable to the public, whom they serve, through their elected representatives and the judicial system.
That sacred trust — doing the people’s business — has been grossly violated in so many ways I can’t list them all in this column.
But we can fix it.
Doing so starts by saying unequivocally that we don’t do aristocrats in America.