Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Rudderless Government

When Barack Obama takes the helm of the national ship in January, he is going to have to bring in some cheerleaders for federal employees who have held on through the Bush Administration. According to the Washington Post, these people are seriously demoralized under the current administration:

In numerous agencies, federal civil servants complain that they have been thwarted for months or even years from doing the government jobs they were hired to do. Federal workers have told presidential transition leaders they feel rudderless, their morale impacted by the Bush administration's opposition to industry regulation, steep budget cuts or the departures many months ago of Bush political appointees. Though they fear publicly identifying themselves, numerous federal workers said in interviews that they are down, but also excited about new leadership.

"Many we talk to are weary, but cautiously optimistic that with this change in administrations they will get to do their job again," said Jeff Ruch, of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "In the environmental agencies we deal with, they weren't allowed to do their jobs because the Bush White House operated on a very centralized basis. The rule was, that which the White House doesn't want to hear shall not be said."

It is interesting to hear that the departments that suffered the most under the Bush regime were the regulatory agencies such as the Department of the Interior, the Department of Labor, the EPA, the FDA and the Consumer Protection and Safety Agency. We have definitely suffered from their lack of effectiveness as well.

Due to the Bush Administration's opposition to any regulation of corporate (greed,) hundreds of federally-employed scientists, researchers and lawyers created and studied regulations that sat collecting dust for 8 years. Meanwhile our food (and our pets' food) was contaminated, our toys are now full of lead, and our air and water protections have regressed back to levels not seen since the 1970s.

We need these federal agencies back. And it appears they need to be needed.

Although generally federal workers can expect to do their jobs without excessive presidential interference, the Bush Administration was different.

At EPA, a regional staffer who works on wetlands protection said the agency's political appointees have stalled and erected roadblocks on work to clean air, water and soil. Headquarters waited a year to advise staff on how to handle a Supreme Court decision that threw wetlands rules into doubt, then issued vague, "useless" guidance, he said.

"There's been an inability for people to do their jobs and do it well, " said the staffer, who asked to remain anonymous. "The administration's purpose has been to do nothing."

At Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), career scientists were told in 2001 by arriving Bush appointees to stop work on nearly completed regulations to reduce exposure to four well-documented workplace poisons. The new leadership explained that it wanted the office to focus on regulating other workplace hazards, but even then, little progress was made.

"It was discouraging for many employees to sit for so long," said Charles Gordon, a Labor Department career attorney who recently retired after 33 years overseeing OSHA matters. "They felt they weren't fully utilized." One veteran OSHA staffer who asked not to be named said her agency has now worked for 15 years on the same draft regulation, most recently on management-ordered revisions, without completion.

"Even though we can show bodies on the floor from this danger, nothing gets out the door," said the OSHA veteran, who ticked off a list of Ph.D.-carrying colleagues who retired to be more productive elsewhere. Some agencies are also suffering from double-digit percentage cuts in staff and resources, and the strain on federal workers has been noted in several independent reports. The staff of the Small Business Administration, for example, dropped from 2,975 to 2,166 since Bush took office. The volume of federal contracting has nearly doubled during that same period, from $207 billion in 2000 to $400 billion last year, while the number of staff monitoring contracts has declined.

President Elect Obama is going to inherit one hell of a mess January 20th. Fortunately he is already gearing up to tackle many fronts at once:

Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

Change is on the way at last. Maybe one of these days I can make true on my 'About me' description and simply write about Lincoln... at ease in the knowledge that our government is finally in the hands of a sane and responsible leader!

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