Reeder: Government bureaucracy and toothpaste not so different
By Scott Reeder firstname.lastname@example.org April 15, 2013 10:31AM
Updated: May 16, 2013 6:24AM
As the Transportation Security Administration agent rummaged through my suitcase, she picked up my tube of toothpaste, shook her head and said “no.”
The tube went sailing into a wastebasket filled with bottles of suntan lotion, cans of shaving cream and other odds and ends that the TSA considers too dangerous to bring aboard a jetliner.
The tube of Colgate was 7.8 ounces rather than the requisite maximum of 3.4 ounces.
I felt like giving the TSA agent a piece of my mind. But it’s not her fault.
She’s just doing her job — enforcing rules generated somewhere within the bowels of the TSA bureaucracy.
We all have those feelings sometimes when confronted by a bureaucracy — and usually it’s not something as minor as a tube of toothpaste.
You could be a small-business owner trying to comply with a labor law, an elderly person confronted with a confusing tax form or just an ordinary citizen trying to understand a complicated regulation.
Whether faced with a silly rule or just a desire to have a question answered, it’s aggravating not knowing where to turn.
And that goes to the heart of a problem within big government, a lack of accountability.
Who do you blame? Where do you bring solutions? How do you ensure greater responsiveness?
It’s a lot more significant than a tube of toothpaste.
Even legislators are frustrated by government officiousness. The multiple layers of government become worse when officials add rules and regulations that don’t mesh with one another.
Just last week, 133 members of the U.S. House wrote the TSA to express concern about it changing its rules to allow passengers to start carrying pocketknives aboard aircraft. That’s right — TSA recently agreed to let travelers take small knives aboard a plane.
John Pistole, the head of TSA, shrugged off those concerns and said passengers can begin carrying knives later this month.
The knife waiver would seem a reasonable concern. After all, airplanes have been hijacked by men with knives — but never by one wielding a toothpaste tube.
Government agencies are replete with examples such as these. For decades, elected officials, political scientists, journalists and others have tried to devise ways to make bureaucracy more navigable and accountable to the taxpayers who finance it — those the government is meant to serve.
On the accountability front, one widely heralded move was to have auditors routinely check into government agencies to root out waste, fraud and abuse.
But the results have been mixed.
For example, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland recently conducted an audit of the state’s publicly funded universities. About half of the findings were also cited in previous audits.
Often the findings aren’t exciting, but they are important.
For example, the auditor general found that Chicago State University had $18.6 million sitting in a bank account without enough federal insurance to cover the deposit.
Holland told CSU officials they needed to make sure the deposit was fully insured.
The goal of auditing a government agency is to make sure it’s being run well.
“In the real world, people would be losing their jobs if they ignored an auditor’s finding,” state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) said. “But once you enter that vortex called state government, it doesn’t work that way.”
“There is absolutely no accountability or consequences for not correcting problems. Nothing aggravates me more. The reason there is no accountability is they know that no one will lose their job if they just it ignore it.”
University trustees, our governor and other leaders within government need to show those within their bureaucracies that accountability is essential. Jobs should be on the line.
Come to think of it, a government bureaucracy is sort of like a tube of toothpaste — it needs to be squeezed hard so nothing goes to waste.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.