One of the Bush administration’s trademarks is its absolute determination to run government like a business. Economic efficiency is job number one, and government is being ruthlessly pared down — and shopped out — in the pursuit of that goal.
It’s increasingly obvious
that the strategy has gotten us into deep trouble in Iraq, where
the administration’s attempt to fight a war on the cheap now
has no end in sight. And as HCN Editor Greg Hanscom details in this
issue’s feature story, the strategy is taking its toll on the
land-management agencies as well.
The story focuses on
the U.S. Forest Service’s so-called Content Analysis Team,
whose painfully unsexy mission was to analyze the waves of public
comment on proposed federal rules and present its findings to
agency decision makers. The team was the best in the business, but
last year it was disbanded and its work put out to bid.
Big deal, right? It is. It’s a critically important story
about how we’re trading in our public servants for government
contractors — and cutting out the heart of a public-trust
ethic that often goes unappreciated.
biographer Char Miller, the Forest Service’s first chief,
Gifford Pinchot, was constantly worried "about how to instill a
sense of professional integrity" in his newly created agency,
particularly in the face of a boom in large-scale, "corporate"
The Forest Service has changed a lot since
Pinchot’s time; he probably could not have dreamed that his
agency would ever include anything even remotely like the
comment-crunching CAT team. But the sense of integrity in the
Forest Service, and in agencies such as the Bureau of Land
Management and the National Park Service, has remained strong. It
has actually gotten stronger, as the emergence of groups like
Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics and Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility testifies. And at the
end of the day, after all the cost-benefit analyses of government
privatization have been bandied about, that integrity — and
the health of the land — should be the bottom line.
In a February 2002 interview, Mark Rey, the undersecretary of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture who oversees the Forest Service,
told me that the agency was beset with "analysis paralysis"; the
Forest Service was besieged with so much public comment, appeals
and lawsuits that it was simply melting down. It was exactly the
kind of world that the CAT team was created to make sense of.
At the time, Rey decried the rise of "a breed of critics
that have become skilled in simply the demolition of institutions."
It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that there’s
no faster way to demolish an institution than by parting it out to
the lowest bidder.