Unaccountable bureaucrats

AFGE Local 1812The union representing Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal employees posted a commentary on the agency’s unaccountable bureacracy.

Most of BBG’s top bureaucrats work at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which has been led for the last several years by IBB Director Richard Lobo and his deputy Jeff Trimble. They are responsible for running the agency which has been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) federal employee viewpoint surveys as being one of the worst-managed in the entire federal government, as well as having the lowest employee morale.

Unaccountable Bureaucrats — a Danger to America

by American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812

In the May 24, 2013 edition of The Washington Post, Jonathan Turley wrote an insightful piece titled “The rise of the fourth branch of government”. In it Turley describes a problem with which employees at this Agency have become very familiar.

Turley warns of the rise of an unaccountable administrative state. This state consists of all the Federal agencies whose career officials are insulated from almost any controls.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court gave agency bureaucrats a lot of leeway in interpreting laws for themselves. In our case, we have seen Agency officials taking the Congressional stipulation that the hiring of non-US citizens could only be done in the absence of suitably qualified US citizens — to mean that US citizens would have to be equally or better qualified than a non-US citizen in order to ensure the possibility of their selection for any position for which they applied. The Agency’s defense – that they can interpret the law for themselves against the grievance we filed on this issue — is based on that Supreme Court decision.

Because of the increasing size of this ever-expanding administrative state, Federal agencies have become increasingly impossible to manage.

As Turley points out, although Congress technically has oversight of Federal agencies, “Capitol Hill’s relatively small staff is incapable of exerting oversight on more than a small percentage of agency actions.” Even when a congressional office does become involved, “it often finds officials walled off by claims of expanding executive privilege” about which more than one congressional office has complained to AFGE Local 1812 officials. It is not only Congress that finds Federal agencies unaccountable. It seems that even the White House has limited control over agency bureaucrats.

“Some agencies have gone so far as to refuse to comply with presidential orders.” We witnessed this when President Clinton issued an Executive Order that Federal agencies were to bargain over 5 USC 7106 (b)(1) subjects with Federal unions. This Agency simply refused to obey the Order and the White House either ignored our complaints or Agency officials ignored any White House attempts to get them to comply with the Executive Order. Also, agencies have been allowed the discretion to determine for themselves how much information they will share with Federal unions and what will be discussed in the Labor/Management Forums, created by an Executive Order by President Obama.

Federal agencies have been given the ability to craft rules and regulations that have the force of law with the ability to interpret and enforce them. “The rulemaking comes with little accountability”, notes Turley, and “it’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical.” Even if you are able to determine who is responsible, agency officials are almost entirely shielded from being held to account for abuses.

Agency officials are also responsible for establishing forums to provide due process to agency employees and even, in the case of an agency like the IRS, for citizens who violate the agency regulations. Turley writes, “These agency proceedings are often mockeries of due process, with one-sided presumptions and procedural rules favoring the agency.”

One of the founding principles of our country was and remains the idea of checks and balances. Having a system in which bureaucrats wield this kind of power and are increasingly autonomous, making decisions that lack transparency, in essence, creates a bureaucracy that cannot be held accountable. This is decidedly un-American and to some it approaches the definition of tyranny.

As Turley concludes, “We cannot long protect liberty if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government.” Someone needs to find a way to rein these bureaucrats in.

For those of us in this Agency who work for probably some of the worst managers in the Federal government, we have witnessed where the failure for having adequate checks and balances can lead.

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