Disdain for bureaucrats?

January 17, 2014 

A good friend who works in local government wanted insight into the disdain this newspaper voices on occasion for bureaucrats.

Let us start by saying we think bureaucrats are valuable and essential because they possess expertise their elected bosses do not. A good example is Tim Broome, who was the county’s director of public utilities until he retired. In particular, Mr. Broome’s knowledge of water and sewer matters was unmatched, certainly in Johnston County and perhaps beyond, and his expertise proved invaluable to a county looking to provide adequate water and sewer service to a growing population.

Mr. Broome, who came to local government from the private sector, gave bureaucrats a good name. Many of his bureaucrat brethren do not.

The worst are those bureaucrats who have no regard for the source of the money they spend or take home in salary. You might recall the federal government’s General Services Administration, which, in the most egregious example, spent $800,000 of taxpayer money on a lavish Las Vegas conference that featured clowns, a mind reader and a red-carpet party. But one doesn’t have to look to the federal government for examples of bureaucrats being poor stewards of the money entrusted to them by the people they supposedly serve. In Smithfield, bureaucrats behaving badly rewarded themselves with double-digit pay raises with taxpayer money. It’s a crime no one has been charged with a crime in that scandal.

Just as bad are the bureaucrats who feel entitled to generous benefits that most taxpayers do not enjoy. In many governments, employees and retirees pay nothing for health insurance, and their pension payment is guaranteed, not subject to the ups and downs of the stock market. These benefits are bankrupting cities – just ask Detroit – and yet when Wisconsin asked state employees to contribute modestly to their pensions and health insurance, those employees tried, unsuccessfully, to recall the governor.

Bureaucrats can be arrogant too, certain they know what’s best for the people they serve. We read recently about the Canadian mother who was fined $10 because she sent her two children to school with leftover roast beef, carrots, potatoes, an orange and milk. Her sin, apparently, was that she did not include a grain with the meal. Fortunately, the day care was there with Ritz crackers.

Not all bureaucrats are selfish, arrogant spendthrifts. But if all were like Mr. Broome, we would never have reason to look at bureaucrats with disdain. We hope that answers our friend’s question.

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