Yesterday, I wrote about the continuing problem of special funds, and how the bureaucracy has used them basically as a slush fund. The scandal surrounding the Department of Parks and Recreation is only the tip of the iceberg. Those funds now constitute close to $50 billion in state spending, and they, by and large, escape legislative scrutiny, because legislators are told these funds pay the “cost” of providing direct government service to people taking advantage of those services. They don’t, but legislators don’t look.
We now find out that, through the Parks scandal, that there are funds that are hidden and manipulated. Two political appointees resign “in disgrace,” and everyone announces how upset they are about these deceptive practices. But the question is, who did it? These funds have accumulated over the years. Did two recent appointees of Governor Brown really cause this problem?
Of course not. What goes unreported, and what the real problem in state government is the permanent bureaucracy. The folks who year after year occupy the various positions in government, and act to expand government, regardless of which party actually controls the Legislature or the Governor’s office. Acting through a series of quasi-political appointments called “career executive assignments” (CEAs), this bureaucracy is the ghost behind the continuing budget crises that plague our state year after year. These CEAs are the real culprits, controlling the information flow to the politically appointed Secretaries and Directors of the various departments, putting them out in front of the various legislative committees when the budgets are presented. However, the CEAs write the budget, tell the political appointees what to say, and, ultimately, are the protectors of the programs and bureaucrats throughout the government. They are the guardians of the status quo, and they become experts at manipulating the decision makers, the elected legislators or appointed department heads, to make sure their programs get protected.
I will tell you one story that I experienced as a legislator on the Health and Human Services Budget subcommittee. My first year on the committee, Governor Wilson proposed a reform to Medi-Cal that the Democrats vehemently opposed. I supported that welfare reform. However, the Democrat chairman of the committee proposed cutting what appeared to be an excessive number of new employees for the Department of Health Services (DHS), a cut I thought was a good idea. The CEA at DHS told me these personnel were necessary to implement the reform, and the cut was a move by Democrats to undermine the reform, which simply made no sense to me. If we were going to be reducing the number of people receiving free medical care, why would we need more people to review medical bills sent in from Medi-Cal doctors? To control costs, I was told. I voted for the cut in personnel. I had Republicans in the Assembly (who were then in the majority) tell me I was undermining the reform, and hurting Governor Wilson, parroting this CEA’s comments. I knew I was right in cutting government, but at the time, did not know exactly how right I was.
Three years later, when Gray Davis was Governor, and this same CEA appeared in front of the same committee, again asking for more of the exact same type of employees, he told the Democrats that the Republicans demands to eliminate these positions was simply an effort to deprive poor people of access to medical care. In both cases, he got his extra employees, one by appealing to the soft heart of Democrats, the other by appealing to the fiscal sensibilities of Republicans. In both cases, he was able to expand his bureaucracy. That’s when I saw the true nature of the problem we faced.
Every single elected official, at every level of government, makes a decision the day they are elected. They will either become a representative of the people to fight the bureaucracy, or they will be an apologist for the bureaucracy to the people. The bureaucrats will either use them to hide their abuses, or, if the politician or political appointee decides to fight them, they will do all they can to fight back, or isolate the official who fights them. When Curt Pringle was heading the High Speed Rail Commission, and was fighting the bureaucracy, how do you think the press got its story? It was an effort by the bureaucracy to use the press to back him off, so they could implement their program without his interference. They wanted to control things, and make him their public relations tool.
It happens every day, to any number of elected and appointed officials. These CEAs are familiar with the rules of bureaucracy, and skilled politicians in their own right, with an agenda to expand their personal power. They are aided in their effort by legislative staff, who develop a relationship with these career bureaucrats over the years, by government union leaders, who have an interest in more dues paying government employees, and by the press, who get “inside” stories from these bureaucrats, allegedly exposing wrongdoing. In the end, it is simply these bureaucrats maintaining their control of the political process.
And it really doesn’t matter which party is in control. I have seen good, conservative department heads and Secretaries, appointed by Republican governors, get co-opted by these wily operatives. When Democrats are in control of the levers of government, they run rampant. When Republicans are in charge, their job is more difficult, but not impossible. Many Republicans fall into line and become apologists for the agenda of big government.
Why is the agenda of small government and less regulation the right thing? Simply because this whole process is natural, and can only be eliminated, it cannot be controlled. Until elected officials of all stripes recognize that these bureaucrats do not help people, but simply feather their own nests, the problem will continue, at the federal, state and local levels.