April 17, 2013

Don’t Trust the Federal Government

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It’s probably fair to say that I have been one of the bigger proponents of progressive government here at the Sun for the past few years.

I have tried to make the case that an active government has a significant role to play in many aspects of our lives. However, I would also never agree that government intervention is always good. In that sense, the arguments I make can be tested; they are not true by fiat.

For example, I believe the implementation of Obamacare will prove to be beneficial, not because government intervention is always good, but because I believe government intervention in, and regulation of, health care to be the most effective means of ensuring an egalitarian and cost effective health care system. Based on that rationale, we could have an educated debate wherein my claims are tested and either confirmed or debunked.

However, before any evaluation of any specific public policy can happen, the policy itself needs to be implemented and executed. Doing so requires a mobilization of human capital, and as we all know from every group project we’ve ever done, people are really good a disappointing you, especially when you’re counting on them to accomplish something important.

So, when I read about things like important Obamacare previsions being delayed, or how the number of veterans waiting for their benefits has exploded in recent years, my heart sinks.

However, my faith in the correctness of government action remains.

At least it did until last week.

Like many seniors, I’m in the final stages of writing a thesis. In order to add some necessary polish to my writing, my advisor and I deemed it necessary for me to take a trip to the National Archives secondary location in College Park, Maryland.

I did the necessary due diligence before my trip. I searched the archives’ online catalog and obtained the proper location for the records I was looking for. I even emailed the archivists a few weeks before my trip to try to get any more information. I wasn’t particularly concerned at their lack of a response, after all, their online catalog told me everything I needed to know. I made the necessary arrangements for a four-day trip, got in my car and drove down.

After arriving bright and early at the archives, passing through security, and getting the appropriate credentials I was ready to begin my research. I found the archivist in charge of the records I was looking for and provided him with the information he would need to pull said documents for me.

He looked up at me and offhandedly replied, “I’m sorry, we don’t have those.”

I was stunned, “Are you sure?” I spluttered, “It says online they’re here.”

“No, we moved them about a year ago…. to Missouri. Why didn’t you email us before you came down?”

“I did email you! Three weeks ago!”

“Oh sir, you need to email us months in advance.”

“Well then, why haven’t you at least changed the information on your website?”

“Well, that’s not my job.”

It took me a second to comprehend what he was telling me. Not only did they move the records I was looking for, they expect anyone interested in them to email them months in advance.


When was the last time anybody had to do anything months in advance? Surely not since the 19th century.

I quickly found out that the National Archives are perpetually bogged down by a byzantine bureaucratic structure, which prevents the archivists from ensuring that those in charge of maintaining the online databases acknowledge their actions.

Now, I know that my inconvenience pales in comparison to those suffered at the hands of other government agencies, but it did give me a glimpse into the frustration that results from governmental failures. (It is worth noting that I have had plenty of experiences with private enterprises whose ineptitude made me want to pull my hair out as well.)

While my frustrations were palpable, the experience did not change the way I feel about the fundamental necessity of progressive government. However, those of us who believe in the prudence of government will have a tough time making a case for government intervention and regulation if bureaucracy and a lack of human capital continue on a far-too-regular basis.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin