Everyone who has ever bought an older house has probably been shocked at one time or another by the discovery of vermin and rotted wood so well-hidden behind burled paneling, or beneath lacquered flooring. Until that point of discovery – usually following what was anticipated to be routine maintenance – the homeowner lived in a state of blissful ignorance confident that his or her house was in good order.
The other day a disturbed Iraq War veteran hopped the fence surrounding the White House – a place long-believed to be one of the most secure buildings in the world – and managed to run all the way to the East Room one floor below the Presidential residence. The vaunted Secret Service was revealed to be inept stewards of the safety of the Commander in Chief. And once again Americans were stunned witnesses to the wormholes behind the wainscoting. As is often the case with such failures, the Secret Service started out by downplaying the entire event. The intruder was unarmed they said, and quickly apprehended. Neither of these claims was true. Early doubters questioned why attack dogs were not unleashed, given that their presence on the grounds is maintained just for such intrusions. Soon enough the façade had completely fallen down, and the rotting smell of the Secret Service began wafting across Washington, even overpowering the stink that emanates daily from Congress.
As with an old home, evidence of rot might be detected if someone actively looked for it. Remember the Secret Service detail caught servicing prostitutes in Cartagena, Columbia? Or how they took four days to discover that the White House had been hit by seven bullets? Despite the assurances of the Director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, during her Congressional inquisition yesterday, I have to believe any political figure currently receiving SS protection has to be thinking about hiring some personal bodyguards as an extra precaution.
The Secret Service incident reminds us of the myriad failures of once-trusted government agencies that came on suddenly and significantly, calling into question whether there exists a single government agency or department that is competent.
Were it not for Hurricane Katrina, would we yet know how hollow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was? Would it have become common knowledge that the head of FEMA, Michael “Brownie” Brown was a totally unqualified stooge? Clearly, sooner or later FEMA would have been exposed, if not by a hurricane then perhaps by a collapsed dam built in the 1800s and known to be weak, but whose condition had been ignored. Which raises the question: “Who’s gonna fuck up next?”
We already know that the following agencies were hiding structural rot behind a pretty wall:
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – exposed as clueless, lazy and unimaginative in the Bernie Madoff scandal.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – shown to be flat-footed and unprepared on 9/11 as they lost plane after plane, and who just the other day watched Chicago’s two airports go dark because of lightly-supervised contractor sabotage.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) – had to be quarantined after old stocks of pathogens including smallpox and ricin were discovered sitting unsecured in a shoebox in some lab.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – destruction of the Challenger shuttle revealed callousness and decidedly unscientific decision-making. And that’s after they blew it on Apollo 1 which burst into an inferno on the launching pad.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – although GM kept a low-profile on info regarding faulty and deadly ignition switches in some of their vehicles, NHTSA wandered incuriously about in the dark for years.
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) – shown to be more helpful than hurtful to criminals in the ill-fated and stupidly-named “Fast and Furious” sting operation.
Veterans’ Administration (VA) – mired in scandal by failing in their mission to aid sick and injured vets, while falsifying wait-list records.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) – instead of being accountable to taxpayers, this lame-o organization blew hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on boondoggles for their hard-working employees.
National Security Agency (NSA) – Nothing bad here (they’re probably watching).
Federal Election Commission (FEC) – this poorly thought-out regulatory agency is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and does absolutely nothing.
The alphabet-soup of agencies, departments and regulators in the U.S. government overflows with political cronies and deadbeat lifers. Which of these supposedly valuable organizations is actually a scenic lake hiding abandoned cars and junked appliances just below its glassy surface? CDC? CIA? OSHA? FDA? NTSB? CPA?
My guess – all of them. And although I acknowledge that numerous governments around the world suffer from the same disease as the U.S., none spend anywhere near the kind of coin Americans do in return for such rank incompetence.
Who’s to blame? Democrats have a long history of churning out department after department from the acronym factory going back to our first acronym president, FDR. Republicans claim government can’t do anything right, then ensure that outcome by slashing budgets and installing assholes in positions of leadership.
I think we’re doomed. Time to create the DPA – Doomsday Preparation Agency.