The Federal Turf Wars
January 13, 2002
Each night millions of Americans obey the Biblical injunction to pray for their government. In these perilous times, those prayers are needed more than ever. But which government are they praying for?
Over the last 225 years our federal government has grown exponentially, far beyond what the Founding Fathers envisioned. The federal government has its nose in practically every aspect of our lives, and most of its activities are unconstitutional. Some of these activities are merely ridiculous, such as the monument commission that finished its work over fifty years ago, but which still exists with virtually nothing to do. Some are sinister, such as the Department of Education. The Constitution does not even mention education, so it is clear that education is not the purview of the federal government. However, the federal government has unlawfully inserted itself into governing education. It has done so by the simple expedient of "giving" the states money that it took away from their citizens in the first place, but only if the states do as they are told in matters of education.
Some would argue that government had to grow as our country grew. I would agree with that, to a certain extent. Certainly fifty states rather than thirteen, and a vastly increased population, require more federal employees than did our early government. I don’t have any argument with growth of constitutionally authorized government services. I have a very big problem with the federal government usurping authority over dozens of areas over which the Constitution gave the states the authority. Remember, Amendment X of the U.S. Constitution states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
Be that as it may, we have a huge, bloated government monster. And it’s not just the federal government. States, counties, cities, towns and even little villages have followed the example of "Big Brother," largely because of federal grants. State and local governments are given money (our money, taxpayer money) for ridiculous pork-barrel projects. Commissions are formed to spend the money, and then when the project is complete, the new government employees invent new projects to justify their existence and their next budget. To give you an idea of the scope of the problem, half of us support the other half of us. That’s right. About half of Americans are gainfully employed in the private sector. The other half are either employees of some level of government, or they live on one type of public assistance or another.
One of the consequences of this government-oriented society in which we live is the inevitable "turf wars" that result between government agencies. Ironically, with everyday American citizens united as never before since the Attacks on America, the inter-agency conflicts have actually worsened (although they do their best to keep them quiet).
"How can this be?" you ask, reasonably enough. "Don’t we all have the same goal, the destruction of terrorism?" Well, yes and no. The FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service technically all want the same thing. The problem is they each want to reach the goal of eliminating terrorism in a way that meets their conflicting priorities, and which gains them the most prestige.
Let’s look at the differing priorities of the various parts of our government. The FBI’s priority in a terrorism investigation is prosecution. They are lawmen. They want to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute. That’s what lawmen do. But if they apprehend a suspect while Treasury is trying to freeze the suspect’s funds, the suspect’s friends may have time to move the money.
The CIA isn’t interested in prosecution. They want intelligence, and lots of it. They have agents and equipment all over the world collecting information. They often keep vital information from other government agencies for two reasons. First, they don’t trust anyone else to keep a secret (and judging by some of the congressional leaks recently, their mistrust is justified). Second, they fear that sharing information may jeopardize an investigation.
The Pentagon just wants to win wars. "Just let us go in there and do our thing, and we’ll make sure the terrorists aren’t able to fight again." But this "war," like every other conflict since World War II is being micro-managed by politicians who know nothing of what it takes to win an armed conflict. In particular, the State Department has tied the hands of the generals in many ways. Our soldiers have experienced what many of my fellow Marines experienced in Vietnam - they’ve had the enemy in their sights, and had to wait for some pencil-pusher to give them the OK to engage. Hundreds of our soldiers died unnecessarily in Vietnam due to such policies. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened so far in this conflict, but I am afraid it will.
The Treasury Department believes the answer is to cut off the terrorist’s money. Aside from the fact that it is impossible to do that completely, they need to understand that fanatical terrorists will steal more money, or figure out how to kill us without money. Treasury is part of the solution, but only part. Yet they do very little to coordinate their efforts with the other players in the war on terrorism.
The State Department is like Rodney King: "Why can’t we all just get along?" They don’t want to "offend" anyone. Powell didn’t have any problem with us going after the Taliban in Afghanistan. Nobody liked them, and only three governments in the whole world recognized them as legitimate. But there is another country that dwarfs Afghanistan in the area of state-sponsored terrorism - Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden comes from Saudi Arabia, as do many of his followers and almost all of the 9/11 hijackers. Money from Saudi businesses and charities funds most of bin Laden’s activities. Then there’s China, which sells missiles to Iraq and other terrorist states. And don’t forget Russia, which traffics in nuclear material and biological weapons. Who keeps the CIA and our military from playing hard ball with these countries that support terrorists? The State Department.
Finally, there are the priorities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS wants only one thing, and they want it desperately. They want to stop looking like idiots. That may sound harsh; I am well aware that our politicians have hamstrung the Service by under-funding them, and also by refusing to pass the laws the INS needs to keep our borders safe. I am also aware that there has been terrible mismanagement and that the Service has hushed-up the criminal actions of some of its officers. Whatever the combination of circumstances, the result has been that INS has come off looking like it was headed by Tom Daschle. They want the spotlight turned somewhere else, so their priority is to cover up the fact that they allow millions of illegal aliens into our country, and they have lost track of most of the legal aliens. They have no desire to cooperate with other agencies when such cooperation will inevitably show up their incompetence.
With such diametrically opposed priorities, is there any hope that our government’s agencies and departments can ever come together in an effective way? Well, sure. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I believe the president could do something similar to his formation of the Homeland Security Department. The concept was good, but the conclusion was wrong. Bush didn’t need to create another bureaucracy. He needed to put one person in charge of coordinating the various agencies involved in protecting our country. Governor Ridge has been given a lot of responsibility, but little authority. He always answers questions about his lack of real authority by saying that he has access to the president, and that the various agencies cooperate with him. That’s nice, but a clearly-defined chain of command would make me a lot more comfortable.
I’m not talking about another government agency; the Lord knows we don’t need that. I think we need one capable person who has real authority over the bureaucrats who run the FBI, the CIA, State, and the rest. This person needs to be able to set a comprehensive policy, under the direction of the president and the Cabinet, that meets the priorities of the United States of America, not the priorities of the many governments within our government. He or she needs the ability to tell Colin Powell, the directors of the CIA, the FBI, the INS, and anyone else involved to shut up and do their jobs without whining and without regard to whether their department gets credit. Most important, the authority of this person should extend beyond the Homeland to encompass all aspects of the War on Terrorism.
Some would say that the president is already filling that position. Then why did he appoint Tom Ridge? The president has so many responsibilities that he needs a point man in this war. We’ve had one in every other war, always a military man. In World War II, he was called the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. This is not strictly a military war, so I have a different suggestion for President Bush when he reads Conservative Truth on Monday morning. Put Dick Cheney in charge. He has been in charge of Defense, and understands it well. He has managed large corporations, so he knows how to coordinate widely disparate activities. But his best quality is one that is sorely lacking in Washington: He plays well with others.
So, how about it, Mr. President? I know you’re not afraid of the bureaucrats the way most presidents have been. In fact, I think one of your greatest strengths is that you don’t really care that much whether you serve two terms, so you don’t have to worry about them undermining you. Why not remind them that their job is to serve the nation, not their department. Tell them, "You will work together, or you will be replaced."
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