BUREAUCRATS KNOW BEST

UPI’s James Bennett opines,

We perennially decry the stupidity of bureaucrats, and ponder how citizens and their representatives can hope to impose some control on the bureaucracy. However, this past week we have seen the opposite problem present itself: how can we protect smart bureaucrats from stupid politicians? The cancellation of the idea-futures program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a project that promised a substantial improvement in our ability to forecast events in the Middle East, was, simply put, a victory for Osama bin Laden.

More frightening than the demise of the program, however, was the manner of its demise. Not only have we been deprived of the information the program would have given us, but we have sent a powerful message to those on the front lines of defense against terror. That message is “Don’t think. Don’t Innovate. Don’t take risks.” It’s not as if these characteristics have been so predominant in the civil service that we can afford to suppress them gratuitously.

This is an interesting and longstanding debate in US politics: Do we trust the “experts” in the bureaucracy or the vox populi in the form of elected politicians? We’ve had a perennial war between State Department bureaucrats and presidents for decades. Ditto the conflict between military bureaucrats and reformers in the Congress, White House, or even DOD secretariat.

The remainder of Bennett’s essay is also worth reading, as it traces the origins of bureaucratic intransigence and inertia.

(Hat tip: Kathy Kinsley)

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Lemon says:

    You provided the answer to the debate by the mere fact of pointing out it is a debate. Debate is a great check on power. At any particular moment a bureaucratic expert or politician can screw up, but put before public scrutiny and the checks and balances of our governing system it seems to work out in the long run.

    Despite all our grousing about the problems of our government, I am hard pressed to find one that is better overall.