home > archive > 2002 > this article
Worried about airport safety? Call the office of national hysteria
By Brad Keena
After only six months on the job, the head of the new Transportation Security Administration, John Magaw, is gone.
McGaw became a favorite target of critics who rightly complain his department is responsible for all those odd changes we've seen at the airport lately. [At the Phoenix airport the other day, I saw guards checking an eight-year-old boy for guns and knives. My mother keeps asking why little old ladies are the only ones that seem to get frisked at the gate.]
It was Magaw who made the decision that pilots would not be allowed to carry firearms. Word is, Magaw was ousted by the same man who ordered him to prohibit guns in the cockpit in the first place, none other than Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. "We all owe him a debt for his role in the start-up phase of TSA (Transportation Security Agency)," Mineta said with a straight face, announcing Magaw's departure. So now Mineta has me worried -- what do you suppose he has in mind for the next phase of TSA?
Actually, Magaw was not the problem. Bureaucracy is the problem.Think of it this way: Congress wants to solve a problem to impress the voters. It passes legislation ordering the problem to be solved by a certain date, authorizing billions of dollars for a new agency to get it done. At a high-profile news conference, a director of the agency is introduced and a bureaucracy is created. The deadlines pass with nothing accomplished and the sucker who served as the agency's head is canned. More money is requested. Congress grants more money. In a much lower-profile announcement, a replacement director is tapped.
Don't believe me? Then you explain how we got bureaucracies such as the "Troubled Agency Recovery" bureau and the "U.S. Office of Government Ethics." I'm not joking, there is actually such a thing as the "Office of Size Standards." I'll bet you never knew there was federal "Office of Diversion Control" -- to control diversions, of course.
And then if you're feeling oppressed by men, there's the "Violence Against Women Office," where men who get beat up need not apply. Just when you were beginning to feel better about big government, here comes the "Office of Human Radiation Experiments" (where men perspire and girls glow).
For all you Southern Baptists, there's something called the "National Gambling Impact Study Commission." [The Nevada delegation lobbied hard to call it the "Gaming" study commission, I'm told, but it was voted down by those pesky Yucca Mountain supporters.]
If nature is your friend, you might want to consult the "Migratory Bird Conservation Commission." And, for you trade lovers, you'll be glad to learn there's a "United States International Trade Commission," an "International Trade Administration," and a "Trade and Development Agency," not to be confused with the office of the "United States Trade Representative."
Of course, I've only touched on a few authentic examples. There are many more randomly-named, who-knows-or-cares-why-they-exist agencies within our vast federal government. And since it's appropriation season on Capitol Hill, I've taken the liberty of creating a few new ones for Congress to mull over -- each with billion-dollar price tags for the hiring of more federal employees who can't be fired.
Start with the "Office of National Hysteria." Why not? Hysteria is a serious condition that could get out of hand. We'll need to plan ahead and begin the process of countering this potential threat should we be attacked by aliens, swarms of "super" spiders, or a giant reptile. If PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) lobbies hard enough, perhaps Congress will authorize the "Small Animal Act," creating the new "Small Animal Administration."
Since Congress has already weighed in on limiting the amount of water facilities we can use during each "flush," I figure we might need a "Toilet Regulatory Commission." And there's my personal favorite -- the Bureau of Bottles, Boxes, and Bags. I'm tired of being asked whether I want "paper or plastic." We need a government agency to regulate those kind of questions.
Of course, Congress can always pass resolutions to condemn or praise things the public hates or loves. But why not go further and create agencies to outlaw things the public doesn't like? Let's start with the "Agency for Tornado Control." Follow that up with the "Bureau of Common Cold Enforcement." If that formula works, we could add offices to enforce newly-created laws against cancer, mosquitoes, hemorrhoids, and silliness.
Bureaucracies are like hungry, cash-eating weeds. Once they're planted, they take permanent root and must be maintained at great cost. All the while they do nothing for the landscape, other than to keep a hundred varieties of pests alive. Each weed comes with its own set of constituents who complain if the weed is cut. Each comes with its own set of champions who manage to stay elected by keeping the weed fed. Keep that in mind next time some elected official complains about tax cuts.
Brad Keena can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2021, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.