In the old Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc satellites, those who administered the country through the vast byzantine bureaucracies that sprang up were referred to by dissidents as the nomenklatura. In Marxist terms they were a privileged class, living off the work of others, ruling them and using their positions for their benefit and to attack those who oppose them. Jay Cost wonders if we have not developed such a system in the US:
More reforms would follow over the years, giving rise to the (supposedly) apolitical bureaucracy that we have today. Indeed, the professionalization and autonomy of the bureaucracy was a prerequisite for the modern liberal state, which claims moral legitimacy through the disinterested application of “scientific” principles of management. It wouldn’t have been possible if the percentage of political appointees had not been scaled drastically downwards between the Civil War and the Great Depression.
That is how America ultimately addressed the principal-agent problem of the bureaucracy: We would hire only qualified people, free them almost entirely from politics, and insist they employ this new “science” of administration.
But is this solution still satisfactory? Today there is one member of Congress for approximately every 5,150 civilian members of the executive branch. How can the people’s representatives possibly keep track of all those bureaucrats? And if they cannot keep track, what is to stop the worst fears of Andrew Jackson from being realized? His “rotation in office” did not turn out to be a salutary alternative, but that does not negate his critique of the status quo. A bureaucracy that is too insulated from the people runs the risk of antirepublican corruption, regardless of whether it is staffed by “gentlemen” or those with master’s degrees in public administration.
The targeting of conservative organizations by the Internal Revenue Service suggests that this risk is not insignificant. Career bureaucrats there—presumed to be above politics—unduly went after Tea Party groups, effectively denying them their constitutional right to equal protection, for years. All the while, Congress did nothing. The agency’s inspector general failed to blow the whistle in a timely fashion. The media overlooked the many transgressions. And now, the bureaucrat in charge of the division, Lois Lerner, has lawyered up, taken the Fifth Amendment, and thus will slow the investigative process to a crawl.
This does not appear to be an isolated incident, either. Last month, National Review reported that a longtime colleague of Lerner has known for decades that she harbored suspicions of conservative groups. The Weekly Standard has reported that while at the Federal Election Commission, she harassed the Christian Coalition in a similar manner. Far from being reprimanded for this, she was promoted—during a Republican administration, no less! Recent reports, moreover, suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency has been making conservative groups pay Freedom of Information Act fees while waiving them for liberal organizations.
The Declaration of Independence vested all sovereign power in the people alone, while the Constitution established a government to manage that power in a republican fashion. While the people still swear fealty to the founding ideals, they have not put much thought recently into the problems the Founders tackled. As society has become more complex, the government has, too; Americans have not reexamined the structure of government, in an age in which it accounts for more than 20 percent of the national economy, to ensure it still reflects the republican spirit. In fact, there has not been a serious public discussion about the organization of the bureaucracy since the 1880s, even as it has doubled in size many times over. And so today, it is a vast enterprise of millions of workers, with precious little oversight from the people’s elected representatives.
Go here to read the rest at The Weekly Standard. The Democrats as the party of an ever more expansive government are the natural allies of career bureaucrats. The legalization of federal public employee unions by the Civil Service “Reform” Act of 1978 effectively transformed the civilian federal bureaucracies into strongholds of organizations controlled by partisan Democrats. The campaign contributions of those who work for civilian federal agencies overwhelmingly tilt to Democrats. Small wonder that the Obama administration found the IRS eager to carry out targeting of conservative groups. Democrat Presidents come and go, but the permanent government ensconced in the federal bureaucracies remains, and it is dedicated to carrying out the agenda of the Democrat party.