civil service

Scott Stantis - Chicago Tribune

Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions

Civil Service rules insulated government employees from political demands, but also made firing the incompetent more difficult. The final barrier to accountability was the addition of another layer of employee empowerment, the public employee union. Private-sector unions are not the enormous political force they once were, but public-sector unions have continued to grow until they now control one of the two US political parties and have driven many state and local governments to near-bankruptcy, with underfunded pension and medical coverage for retirees taking a larger and larger share of local government revenues.

How did we get here? The advent of industrialization and large workplaces encouraged formation of worker associations. Facing a powerful employer, workers that joined in a union could send a message about compensation or working conditions with less fear of individual reprisal. In the United States, the union movement coalesced in the late 1880s, about the same time Wilson and the Progressives were formulating their program to mold the citizenry through government directives and regulation.

Since unions threatened the interests of powerful industrialists and employers, conflict was inevitable. Violence broke out between management and labor forces, with contract security agents (“company men”) from Pinkerton infiltrating and fighting union members during extralegal labor actions. Unions were illegal in some places, and union tactics like picket lines enforced by union violence were met by violence from company goons.

In one incident, the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, steelworkers union members fought Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead Steel company managed by Henry Clay Frick. Frick intended to break the strike and had hired an army of three hundred Pinkertons to help get strikebreakers into the Pittsburgh-area riverside plant, bypassing the strikers’ picket lines by boat. With both sides armed with guns and thousands of workers and local citizens joining the battle, fighting went on for days, killing nine strikers and seven Pinkertons. Martial law was declared and public opinion turned against the union, resulting in deunionization of most US steel plants.[1]

Union activity was seen as a threat to the social order and unions themselves were feared as introducing “socialist” ideas. Conspiracy to join together to raise pay had been illegal under English law, and US law had followed suit. Many typical union tactics — picket lines and harassment of workers and suppliers trying to get into plants, secondary boycotts, and sabotage of equipment — were illegal. Yet unions could perform a valuable function in communicating worker views to management, and many thoughtful employers were able to work with unions as an outlet for worker grievances.

The Depression and FDR’s New Deal administration brought much more government recognition and support for union activities. The new administration believed overproduction and low prices were the key reason for economic weakness, and so favored controls on agricultural and industrial production to reduce quantities and raise prices — so the administration also supported union activity restricting the entry of low-priced labor and increasing wages for union members. Much New Deal legislation protected and encouraged labor unions, and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the “Wagner Act”) guaranteed the right of workers to form unions and bargain collectively in the private sector. Nonunion industries were organized, strikes increased, and wages rose in those sectors. For those left out of unions, notably black men, prospects of employment were diminished, and the economic recovery as a whole is thought to have been delayed by the New Deal’s legalized cartels and restraints on competition.

Clarified rules and legalization of a constrained right to strike under the law defused most of the violence and disorder associated with union activity. Private-sector unions became another accepted part of the American scene, and the big labor union coalitions like the AFL-CIO joined in disavowing Communism to rid themselves of “un-American” associations.

The simplistic narrative of the noble union is usually set in a one-company town, say a coal mine, where workers have little choice of employer, while management is free to take advantage of their monopoly on local employment to gouge and mistreat workers. In a modern urbanized area, these conditions rarely occur, and workers have a choice of employers vying to hire them, which provides a competitive environment that tends to improve compensation and working conditions as productivity increases.

In reality, unions grew powerful where a choke point existed — where a large and expensive plant, fixed rails, or docks prevented re-routing the business activity elsewhere during a strike. Unions did best where workers were low-skilled and interchangeable, and where the workplace could not be moved and had a lot invested in it, or where a government monopoly existed, as in transit and garbage in many cities. Unions could raise worker compensation and write work rules tailored to union preferences in such situations, making the union job preferable to any competitive nonunionized work, with the union as a barrier to entry of new workers — those already in the union got more money and protection from competition who might be willing to take the job for less.

Unions in private industry with free trade and low barriers to entry tend to harm their hosts and eliminate themselves over time as their hosts are crippled by high costs and loss of flexibility. As a result, entire union-dominated US industries were either offshored or automated, and private-sector union employment as a percentage of total private employment has fallen from a peak of around 35% in the mid-1950s to 7% today.[2] Unions are no longer a significant drag on the private sector, and remaining private-sector unions are much more aware of their need to cooperate with company management to produce high-quality, competitive products in a globalized world.

But the dynamics of public sector unions are quite different, and their enormous growth from the mid-1960s until today means the majority of union members now work for government — 35% of government employees are now unionized,[3] and public employee unions are important members of the political coalitions that keep governments in power at all levels. While private-sector unions decline in influence, public-sector unions have never been more powerful. Federal Election Commission statistics show public employee union campaign and PAC contributions grew from $17 million in 1998 to $54 million in 2014, with the vast majority going to Democrats.[4] Public employee unions now dominate election spending for local issues like school board races, city councils, and state-level ballot initiatives affecting their interests. There’s no good source for data on total state and local campaign contributions, but the Federal election numbers show how unions distribute their contributions:

Table 1: Public Sector Unions: Top Contributors to Federal Candidates, Parties, and Outside Groups, 2014 Election Cycle. Source: Open Secrets.org Center for Responsive Politics

 

 

 

To Candidates and Parties

To Outside Spending Groups

Rank

Contributor

Total Contribs

Total

Dem%

Repub%

Total

1

National Education Assn

$24,961,199

$2,183,752

91.1%

8.8%

$22,787,447

2

American Fedn of St/Cnty/Munic Employees

$10,002,495

$2,288,816

99.2%

0.3%

$7,717,155

3

American Federation of Teachers

$4,797,032

$2,484,870

98.8%

0.8%

$2,312,162

4

American Federation of Govt Employees

$4,072,005

$1,019,250

94.3%

5.6%

$3,052,755

5

International Assn of Fire Fighters

$2,184,303

$1,948,946

84.4%

15.6%

$235,357

6

National Assn of Letter Carriers

$2,113,796

$1,688,360

94.9%

4.9%

$425,436

7

American Postal Workers Union

$1,007,341

$988,950

98.8%

1.2%

$18,391

8

National Rural Letter Carriers Assn

$735,500

$735,500

76.8%

23.0%

$0

9

National Treasury Employees Union

$681,550

$631,550

96.1%

3.9%

$50,000

10

National Active & Retired Federal Employees Assn

$441,000

$441,000

75.7%

24.3%

$0

When a private-sector union overplays its hand with a private industry, that industry declines and the goods or services it provides are either imported or are replaced by alternatives. Unfortunately government services are usually monopolies, so there’s no competitor or foreign supplier waiting to provide what they cannot. Public employee union power continues to grow as governments become more dysfunctional as a result.

Civil service employment almost never declines, and monopoly services like public schools, police, and transit are ideal for giving unions more negotiating power via strikes and slowdowns since no alternative service is available in the short term. Wages and benefits can go up consistently without harming the host government, at least up to the point where tax burdens are so high citizens start moving away to less taxed locales.

Public employee unions were not legal in most jurisdictions until the 1960s. Politicians recognized that many public services were too critical to the orderly functioning of cities to allow unions to strike. The Boston Police Strike of 1919 and the resulting outbreaks of looting and violence had turned the public against the idea:

In the Boston Police Strike, Boston police officers went on strike on September 9, 1919. They sought recognition for their trade union and improvements in wages and working conditions. Police Commissioner Edwin Upton Curtis denied that police officers had any right to form a union, much less one affiliated with a larger organization like the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Attempts at reconciliation between the Commissioner and the police officers, particularly on the part of Boston’s Mayor Andrew James Peters, failed.

During the strike, Boston experienced several nights of lawlessness, although property damage was not extensive. Several thousand members of the State Guard, supported by volunteers, restored order. Press reaction both locally and nationally described the strike as Bolshevik-inspired and directed at the destruction of civil society. The strikers were called “deserters” and “agents of Lenin.”

Samuel Gompers of the AFL recognized that the strike was damaging the cause of labor in the public mind and advised the strikers to return to work. Commissioner Curtis refused to re-hire the striking policemen. He was supported by Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, whose rebuke of Gompers earned him a national reputation. The strike proved a setback for labor unions, and the AFL discontinued its attempts to organize police officers for another two decades. Coolidge won the Republican nomination for vice-president of the U.S. in the 1920 presidential election.[5]

During the New Deal era, FDR famously rejected public employee collective bargaining and strikes while his administration paved the way for further unionization of private industry:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters. Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.[6]

Both the public and politicians remained opposed to public employee unions for decades after. In 1943, a New York Supreme Court judge held:

To tolerate or recognize any combination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy, but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded. Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen. To admit as true that government employees have power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, is to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power. Nothing would be more ridiculous[7].

The conflicts of interest inherent in giving public employee unions the legal power to organize, collect dues, and wield typical union strategies of withholding labor and attacking the employer (the government, and ultimately the citizenry) are obvious:

The very nature of many public services — such as policing the streets and putting out fires — gives government a monopoly or near monopoly; striking public employees could therefore hold the public hostage. As long-time New York Times labor reporter A. H. Raskin wrote in 1968: “The community cannot tolerate the notion that it is defenseless at the hands of organized workers to whom it has entrusted responsibility for essential services.”

A core problem with public sector unionism is that it creates a uniquely powerful interest group. In theory, bureaucrats are supposed to work for and be accountable to the elected representatives of the people. But suppose those bureaucrats organize into large, well-funded, powerful unions that can tip election results. With very few and very unique exceptions, no workplace in which the employees elect the supervisors functions well for long. [8]

Constitutionally, states were free to allow public employee unions, and the dam of opposition began to burst in the 1950s. In 1958, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. issued an executive order authorizing unions and allowing exclusive representation, a concept borrowed from Federal law where employees could vote to authorize a single union to bargain collectively for the employees, even those who chose not to join — and those objectors still had to pay union dues, enshrining the system of enforced contributions that has served to grow public employee unions into political donation powerhouses. Unions had already become powerful enough in New York City politics to win this enforced monopoly, which further entrenched their power.[9] This also was roughly the peak of New York City’s postwar prosperity, and shortly thereafter it began to decline into the crime-infested, decaying New York City of the late 1970s as crime rose and government services faltered, driving prosperous residents to the suburbs.

In 1962, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988,[10] permitting collective bargaining for federal employees. This order authorized Federal employees to form unions but continued to disallow strikes; the order was intended to forestall imminent passage of a bill in Congress which would have gone further and allowed exclusive representation, so-called union shops. Military and intelligence agencies were wisely exempted.

Later orders and legislation legalized other typical features of private-sector unions like closed shops, paycheck withholding of dues for all non-management employees, and union work done on time paid for by taxpayers, called “official time”:

Unionized federal employees spent 2.48 million hours working for their labor unions while getting paid by taxpayers during 2013, and more than 360 workers who are on the federal payroll spent 100 percent of their time working for their union.

Under federal rules, employees who are members of a labor union are entitled to so-called “official time,” where they are dismissed from their duties as a government employee to engage in labor union organizing activities. A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows the use of official time has increased over the past several years as the size of the federal workforce has grown.

And it’s costing taxpayers plenty. According to the Office of Personnel Management, which tracks federal employees’ time, federal employees were paid more than $157 million during 2012 while doing work for labor unions.

The GAO says the price tag may be even higher, since some federal agencies are not adequately tracking their employees’ official time.

“Since agencies are most often managing the use of official time using an approach that has no specified number of hours, they could be at greater risk for abuse,” auditors warned in the report, released last week.[11]

Efforts to contract out services currently provided by public employees are effectively blocked by union power, with lawsuits and work actions typical when outsourcing is attempted. When AFSCME workers struck University of California campuses recently, one of their objectives was a contract preventing outsourcing of functions like janitorial and food services. The AFSCME spokesman commented, “We need to deal also with these staffing issues, because what good is a raise if you are permanently injured on the job or if you are out of a job because the UC decided to outsource it to some low-wage, inexperienced contractor?”[12]

Minimum wage laws (first implemented as Federal law in 1938) went well with union efforts to outlaw low-priced competitive labor, especially from newly-arrived Southern black men in Northern cities. (In this, unions played the Bootleggers in a Bootleggers and Baptists coalition to pass minimum wage laws.) By outlawing low-end, low-wage work, minimum wage laws help unionized businesses stay competitive. In the current Democratic push for much higher “living wage” minimum wages of $15/hour, both private and public-sector unions have actively campaigned for the increases since even though most of their members make much more than minimum wage, their wages will tend to be bumped up to some margin above the minimum wage, either by contract or future negotiation, and nonunion firms become less competitive when they are forced to use only higher-priced labor.

The rent-seeking nature of union demands for higher minimum wages was exposed when the same unions also sought carveouts that would allow businesses to pay below minimum wages to union workers under a negotiated contract.[13] This demonstrated that the wages of union members were not as important to union bosses as hobbling their nonunion competition; by offering employers a special deal, unions could organize even more workplaces and thereby obtain more members and more dues, allowing them to donate even more to the local politicians who had passed the minimum wage increase.

Attempts to streamline Federal agencies by contracting out some noncritical services have also been blocked by union actions:

Last May, nearly 250 workers [at the U.S. Department of Labor] received word that their jobs had been eliminated and would be outsourced through the Administrative Support Services Competition, a departmental bidding process, without an absolute guarantee that another job could be found for them within the department. Their union, American Federation of Government Employees Local 12, protested the decision, holding a rally by the Capitol Reflecting Pool in June and pointing out that most of these “non-inherently governmental” jobs (as the department’s human resources staff called them) were held by minorities and women.[14]

Of course the jobs that would have been sent out under contract might well have been filled by minorities and women also, but at much lower cost to taxpayers. Those minorities outside the union walls are just out of luck, since without the protection and sponsorship of the union and its contributions to political campaigns, they will remain jobless. The plantation system lives on, with dues collected by largely white Democratic power brokers.

Education researcher Terry Moe has written about the capture of elected local school boards by teacher’s unions, and the resulting inability of school boards to act in the best interests of students and their parents:

Since A Nation at Risk warned in 1983 of a “rising tide of mediocrity” in America’s schools, the nation has invested heavily in reform efforts to bring about significant improvement—generating countless changes to the laws, programs, structures, and curricula of public education, and spending untold billions of extra dollars.

All this activity might seem to be the sign of a wellfunctioning democracy. But pull away the curtain and the picture is not nearly so pretty: the reforms of the last few decades, despite all the fanfare, have been incremental and weak in practice. The nation is constantly busy with education reforms not because it is responsibly addressing social problems, but because it never actually solves them and they never go away— leading to continuing demands for more reforms. This is what keeps the “education reform era” alive and kicking: not democracy, not responsibility, but failure….

The teachers unions have been masters of the politics of blocking for the past quarter century. Major reform is threatening to their vested interests in the existing system, and they have used their formidable power — leveraged by checks and balances — to repel and weaken the efforts of reformers to bring real change. This is not the whole story of the modern reform era, needless to say. But it is at the heart of it….

The public school system emerged in roughly its present form about 100 years ago, and for most of its history was a union-free zone. Many teachers belonged to the NEA, which, even in the early 1900s, was the vanguard of the education establishment. But the NEA was a professional association controlled by administrators, and it was opposed to unions.

All this changed during the 1960s and 1970s, when most of the states (outside the South) adopted public-sector labor laws. These new legal frameworks fueled dramatic increases in public-sector union membership and collective bargaining. They also triggered a transformation of the NEA, which, in competing with the AFT to represent the nation’s teachers, turned itself into a union—and soon grew to be the biggest union of any type in the country. The portion of teachers covered by collective bargaining soared from near zero in 1960 to 65% in 1978, and the system then settled into a new steady state. Bargaining coverage has remained virtually unchanged among teachers ever since. Membership levels have consistently been much higher, at about 79% and stable.

By the early 1980s, the teachers unions reigned supreme as the most powerful force in American education: with millions of members, armies of political activists, enormous wealth for campaign contributions and lobbying, and more. The rise of union power transformed the world of American public education, creating what amounted to a new education system, one that has been in equilibrium now for roughly thirty years—and protected from change by the very union power that created it….

Collective bargaining is also profoundly important for another reason: it has enabled the unions to impose ineffective forms of organization on the schools, thus exacerbating the very problems the reform movement has been trying to correct. Among other things, local contract provisions tend to include: salary rules that pay teachers based on seniority and formal credits with no attention to performance; seniority rules for transfers and layoffs that allow senior teachers to lay claim to available jobs; onerous rules for evaluation and dismissal that virtually assure that all teachers will get satisfactory evaluations and no one will be dismissed for poor performance; and more.

These and countless other contract rules are designed to promote the job-related interests of teachers, but from the standpoint of effective organization they are simply perverse. Yet this is how America’s schools are actually organized. There is a disconnect between what the public schools are supposed to do and how they are organized to do it—and this disconnect is a built-in feature of the modern American school system, a reflection of its underlying structure of power. Why have the districts “agreed” to ineffective organization? Partly it’s because no district wants a fight, because most work rules don’t cost them anything; and because as monopolies they have had little incentive historically to insist on effective organization anyway. But there is also a crucial political reason: school board members are elected, and the teachers unions are typically the most powerful forces in those local elections. As a result, many board members are union allies, others are reliably sympathetic to collective bargaining, and the rest have reason to fear that, if they cross the unions, their jobs are at stake.[15]

The Wall Street Journal review of Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences by Daniel DiSalvo (who is quoted above as well) had this to say:

Pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. …Mr. DiSalvo [argues] that “unionization and collective bargaining in state and local government impose significant costs on society while providing few broadly shared benefits.” Still, the value in “Government Against Itself” lies not in the conclusion but in the lucid fashion in which his primer lays out facts and busts myths.

The facts: Public-sector unions are not underdogs. Since 2009, membership in unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Education Association has totaled more than the membership in traditional private-sector unions. The United Mine Workers, the union that resulted from the Harlan County conflict, counts under 50,000 active members, while the NEA boasts 2.5 million.

As Mr. DiSalvo shows, public-sector unions are also rich. Taken together, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually lobbying governments on behalf of their members. Our courts have ensured that funding for political activity will flow in the future by upholding rules that require payments from workers. Opponents of public-sector unions must content themselves with minor victories such as the recent Supreme Court opinion in Harris v. Quinn, which grants home-care workers, a narrow group, the right not to pay union dues….

The very timing of local elections, as Mr. DiSalvo demonstrates, has worked to the unions’ advantage. Towns hold elections in off years as well as presidential-election years. Turnout in off-year municipal elections runs about 36% lower. Unions, which can get out the vote, thus enjoy a disproportionate say in off years and schedule their referendums accordingly. But presidential years can yield results as well. When public-sector unions “pull out all the stops,” Mr. DiSalvo writes, “they almost always win.” By voting for Prop 98—powerfully pushed by the teachers’ union—Californians in 1988 guaranteed that four in 10 dollars of California’s general fund would henceforth be spent on K-12 education. This pattern of victory replicates itself across the states.

The trend is a shame and a drag on the economy. For the costs of public-sector unions are great. “The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste,” the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city’s$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations.[16]

While public employees are still forbidden to strike in 39 states[17] and many cities, strikes and illegal job actions still occur, and even where strikes are illegal, threats to monopoly public services are powerful inducements for governments to kick the can down the road and give in to labor demands:

When the government entity bargaining with government employees cannot afford the cost of the union demands, the government increases the fringe benefits, i.e. pensions, and pushes the costs off to the future. The heavily unionized government worker states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, have the largest unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities. In Wisconsin, public employers from 2000 to 2009 contributed $12.6 billion to public employee pensions while the employees contributed only $55.4 million.

State Budget Solutions examined the Bureau of Labor Statistics Databases and found dramatic evidence of the increases in fringe benefits by state and local governments. The revelation that public employees receive pension and retirement benefits that were worth 337% more than private sector employees is shocking, and illustrates the lengths to which governments will go in bargaining.

Overall, state and local government employees receive total benefits worth 171% more than what public sector employees earn. On an hourly basis, state and local government employees earn an average of $40.28 per hour in total compensation, whereas private sector employees average only $27.75 per hour.

In Milwaukee the average teacher will earn this year $59,500 in salary and $41,591 in benefit for $101,091 in total compensation. The average Milwaukee teacher has a $23,820 health insurance plan with no premium. Contrast that with a private sector employee in Wisconsin, who has a $14,656 insurance plan with a 20% premium. Despite this, last July the teachers union sued when the Milwaukee Public Schools stopped giving free Viagra because it cost the district nearly $800,000 per year and district was facing a deficit. The union just dropped this lawsuit on March 7, 2011.

Just as public sector unions are not concerned with the bottom line, performance is also not valued as it would be in the private sector. For example, Milwaukee School teacher Megan Sampson was laid off less than one week after being named Outstanding First Year Teacher by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers. She was laid off because the collective bargaining agreement requires layoffs to be made based on seniority rather than merit.

Government unions don’t bargain with the taxpayers who pay the bills. When teachers go on strike, they pay no penalty when their absence forces schools to close. Adding insult to injury to taxpayers, their actions force parents to either take time off work or quickly find someone else to care for their children. Also, unlike private sector unions, a government union has a natural monopoly over government services. This monopoly gives government union leaders extraordinary power over elected officials.

Most government unions would not exist without forced union dues. One of the first things government union leaders bargain for is a “union security” clause, which forces all government employees in the unit to pay for union services as a condition of employment. If a government employee works in a state with a “union security” clause, the individual must pay tribute to the union or they will be fired.

The money the government unions collect in dues helps to elect politicians who support the unions’ objectives. Government unions play a major role in electing their management team! In essence, government unions have a seat on both sides of the bargaining table. The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that there is no “right” to collective bargaining. Collective bargaining for government employees makes them “super citizens” and the rest of the taxpayers are relegated to second-class status.

Today, the number of unionized government workers surpasses the number of unionized private sector workers. As a result, national unions have become advocates for higher taxes and government expansion, despite the fact that many of their private sector members oppose these efforts.

In the last election at the national level, government unions spent more than $200 million to defeat Republican candidates. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees — the main union of state government employees — spent over $90 million during the campaign, and it was the top donor to the Democrats’ efforts to win gubernatorial and state legislative races.

As a result, the Democratic Party is now heavily reliant on unions and forced political contributions from their members. Unions help elect Democrats who repay the unions with more pay and benefits, many of which are unfunded. In effect, government unions elect their “management,” who in turn can forcibly extract more money from taxpayers to increase wages and benefits. Government officials can promise pensions and retiree health care benefits that future taxpayers will have to fund. This, in turn, sucks jobs from the private sector by forcing businesses to pay higher taxes….[18]

Local and State government employee compensation

Local and State government employee compensation

Public vs Private-Sector compensation costs

Public vs Private-Sector compensation costs

The high direct costs of unionization hurt, but the inability of governments to implement changes to improve service quality hurts more. Incompetent or even criminal employees are protected (as we have seen in the VA and IRS scandals) and attempts to put services online are either absurdly expensive, complete failures, or both (as millions who waited for the Healthcare.gov web site to sign up for ACA health insurance can testify.)

At every level, government grows less competent and more expensive as a result of the rigidities imposed by Civil Service and union rules. As public-sector unions came to dominate the Democratic party, Republicans have made gains in state and local elections partly due to the public’s perception of corruption and special interests:

This leaves us with a superficially ironic situation. The Republican Party emerges as the organised champion of everyone who stands to lose in the fight over the fisc when public-sector unions win. The GOP’s base electoral incentive to hobble their rival’s main source of campaign cash and voter mobilisation leads it to function as a countervailing force against overpowered public-sector unions to the benefit of rich people, yes, but also to the benefit of less powerful and more needy constituencies within the Democratic coalition. A bit of public-employee union busting at the state and municipal level wouldn’t leave government workers vulnerable. There’s every reason to believe they’d continue to function as a powerful, pampered political faction. Pushback against public-sector unions would simply make the always-unfair fight over the fiscal commons slightly less unfair, and make fiscally prudent policy slightly less unlikely.[19]

Looming unfunded liabilities and fiscal issues are creating crisis conditions in several local US governments, notably in the bankruptcy of Detroit and problems in Illinois and its major city, Chicago. Puerto Rico has run out of time, and other states and cities have only a few years before they reach the same dead end. Efforts to reform pensions have largely been blocked by union lawsuits, and the downward spiral of higher taxes, fleeing taxpayers, and bankrupt governments is coming to more and more of the US.

Reform of the system is difficult — it is always easier to patch problems temporarily than to address the underlying structure of incentives that have caused them. But it will now be necessary to either reform public employee labor rules or let whole regions, and even the Federal government, slip into default and shut down some services entirely. The recent water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a harbinger of the type of regression to incompetence that is coming unless something is done.

The goal should be a single system that both protects employees from direct political retribution and allows managers to hire, fire, and rearrange workers as needed. Public-sector workers should lose their jobs at about the same rate as private-sector workers, and sinecures must be eliminated. And public-sector unions should not have their dues withheld from paychecks, or be allowed to contribute to election campaigns or lobbying efforts. Plato saw the corruption inherent in government employees dealing in property and business, and having tenured public servants is an invitation for them to act against the public interest to choose their own managers — which is how school boards became vehicles for protecting bad teachers and shutting out the interests of students and parents. “A tenure system increases [a] bureaucrat’s incentive to implement bad policies to replace a politician who does not share their preferences. Thus, tenure tends to make bureaucrat’s performance worse, and this tends to lower [total] welfare.”[20]

No one directly selling to a government body should be making campaign contributions to the politicians that run it, and retiring from public service to a high-salaried lobbying job should also be seen as the shameful double-dealing it is. Glenn Reynolds’ proposal of a Revolving Door Tax is one idea for shutting down this scam. The money that needs to be taken out of politics comes from public employees and corporate contractors to government, not contributions from private individuals and unregulated corporate sources.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead_Strike
[2] “Union Membership in U.S. Fell to a 70-Year Low Last Year,” by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, Jan 21, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/22/business/22union.html
[3] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm
[4] https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.php?cycle=2016&ind=P04
[5] “Boston Police Strike,” Wikipedia accessed 4-21-2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Police_Strike
[6] “112 – Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service,” Franklin D. Roosevelt, August 16, 1937. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15445
[7] “The Trouble with Public Sector Unions.” Daniel DiSalvo, National Affairs No. 5, Fall 2010.
http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-trouble-with-public-sector-unions
[8] “The Trouble with Public Sector Unions.” Daniel DiSalvo, National Affairs No. 5, Fall 2010.
http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-trouble-with-public-sector-unions
[9] “Management’s View of the New York City Experience,” Anthony C. Russo, Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, Vol. 30, No. 2, Unionization of Municipal Employees (Dec., 1970), pp. 81-93
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1173366?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
[10] “Executive Order 10988 – Employee-Management Cooperation in the Federal Service,” January 17, 1962.
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=58926
[11] “Labor union work by federal employees on ‘official time’ costs taxpayers millions,” by Eric Boehm, Watchdog.org, November 24, 2014

Labor union work by federal employees on ‘official time’ costs taxpayers millions

[12] “UC Workers Union Plans to Strike Again,” AFSCME Local 3299 web site, February 19, 2014

UC Workers Union Plans to Strike Again

[13] “L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers,” LA Times, May 27, 2015
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-los-angeles-minimum-wage-unions-20150526-story.html
[14] “Pushing Back Against Privatization,” The American Prospect, August 1, 2007
http://prospect.org/article/pushing-back-against-privatization
[15] “Teachers Unions, Vested Interests, and America’s Schools,” Terry M. Moe

Acing an Interview: A Quick Guide


[16] “Public Unions vs. the Public,” Amity Shlaes. Wall Street Journal, Jan. 15, 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-goverment-against-itself-by-daniel-disalvo-1421366405
[17] “Why Public-Sector Strikes Are So Rare,” Governing, by Heather Corrington, Oct. 10, 2012
http://www.governing.com/topics/public-workforce/col-why-public-sector-strikes-are-rare.html
[18] “Differences between private sector unions and government unions,” State Budget Solutions, March 23, 2011
http://www.statebudgetsolutions.org/publications/detail/differences-between-private-sector-unions-and-government-unions
[19] “Budgets and bargaining power: Government workers don’t need unions,” The Economist,
Feb 7, 2011
http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/02/budgets_and_bargaining_power
[20] “Civil Service Reform,” Gergely Ujhelyi, Dept. of Economics, U Houston. Nov. 26, 2012
ftp://ftp.repec.org/opt/ReDIF/RePEc/hou/wpaper/201303216.pdf


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service

Civil Service Exams prep book

Civil Service Exams prep book

People are taught that the Civil Service is a corps of competent public servants, screened by examinations and insulated from political interference to act in the best interest of the people. There never was too much truth in that children’s story, but over the past few decades, that public-spirited image has become dangerously misleading.

The Chinese Imperial examination system screened for literacy, but not directly for competence in a particular position. The best person for a job may not be the one who tests highest for general measures of intelligence or subject knowledge; many job skills aren’t easy to test for, and so it would be a mistake to rely entirely on written exams to fill positions. And since there are thousands of different jobs requiring different skill sets, it would be impractical to come up with exams tailored to every job.

The wave of affirmative action programs starting in the 1970s weakened civil service exam requirements. Courts found many exams discriminated against minorities, especially when it was clear the exams covered material largely unrelated to job skills. Some affirmative action programs race-normed the passing grades, which allowed more minorities to qualify with scores that would otherwise have failed. Many positions were entirely removed from examination requirements. Where the qualifying standard had been “top 3” or “best,” it became “good enough” or “adequate.”

The needs of a bureaucracy may not always favor hiring the most intelligent or skilled candidate. As in private industry, some managers would prefer to hire people who are bright enough and skilled enough, but not too much more than that, lest they be unhappy in the job or liable to be hired away by others — the brilliant scientist who wants to work as a police officer while writing papers on theoretical physics in her spare time is out of luck. In Connecticut, a Federal judge ruled the state was not discriminating unlawfully when it denied an applicant the opportunity to interview for the police force because his intelligence test score was too high.[1] Not rocking the boat is valued over ability in many hierarchies.

But these are just entry-level positions. What happens when promotion from within is favored, while entry-level employees are screened to ensure the very bright or overqualified are kept out? Entry-level positions in organizations are often open to all in theory, while in practice networks and connections of family, ethnicity, neighborhood, and religion can assist in placing people at the bottom rungs. If higher-level positions are filled from within this can result in entire organizations dominated by a single affiliate group, for example the Irish police forces of early 19th century cities and on a smaller scale, the Filipino-dominated air passenger screening agents at San Francisco International Airport in 2002 who were in danger of losing their jobs when the TSA was formed and citizenship was to have been required.[2]

Veterans were recently outraged to discover that the preference for veterans in VA hiring supposedly enshrined in the Veteran’s Preference Act of 1944 is largely ignored, with all but the most menial jobs at the VA filled by nonveteran union members.[3] Very few veterans are actually employed by the VA, because the true rulers of the agency are unions and upper-level bureaucrats who aren’t that interested in what Congress or veterans want or require — and why should they be, when Congress does nothing to change the underlying civil service and union control over VA staffing?

Current Federal civil service rules require only the minimum qualifications suggesting an applicant will be capable of competence in a particular job, which is a long way from aiming for the best candidate. Merit has been replaced by “good enough,” with even that low bar lowered further to allow affirmative action targets to be met. Since almost no one is fired for incompetence, affirmative action candidates are almost guaranteed to be hired and promoted to above their level of actual competence. Which means a large percentage of Federal civil service employees are now unable to efficiently and competently perform their duties; all they need to do to succeed is show up, write some reports, and collect their paychecks. And there are many cases where even failing at those minimal efforts did not result in termination, as in this egregious EPA case:

A former high-level official at the Environmental Protection Agency admitted Friday that he stole nearly $900,000 from the government by pretending to work for the CIA in a plea agreement that raised questions about how top agency managers failed to detect the scheme since it began in 1994. John C. Beale duped a series of supervisors, including top officials of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, disappearing from the office and explaining his absences by telling his bosses that he was doing top-secret work for the CIA and its “directorate of operations.”

He lied about contracting malaria (he didn’t) while he served in Vietnam (all his military service was in the United States) to obtain a parking space reserved for the disabled that cost the EPA $8,000 over three years. He took personal trips to Los Angeles for which he charged the government more than $57,000, according to new court filings.

In all, Beale was paid for 2.5 years of work he did not perform since early 2000 and received about $500,000 in “retention bonuses” he did not deserve for nearly two decades, according to court papers and interviews.

“To our knowledge, prior to [current EPA Administrator] Gina McCarthy expressing her concerns, no one at EPA ever checked to see if Mr. Beale worked for the CIA,” said Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan, who led the investigation that included interviews of 40 people. Only one, an executive assistant, suspected Beale’s story of working for the clandestine service. Nor did EPA personnel compare Beale’s travel vouchers, which said he was in places such as Boston and Seattle, with hotel receipts for the same dates that showed him in Bakersfield, Calif., where he has family. Even during the probe, which began in March, Beale continued to insist that he could not be interviewed because of his work for the CIA, Sullivan said. Only when investigators offered to question him in a secure room at the agency’s Langley headquarters did he admit he had no connection to the CIA, Sullivan said.[4]

Many local government special services like police and firefighting now have certification requirements, with courses and testing designed to assure that candidates have the abilities to succeed in their jobs. Women and minorities continued to struggle with these, and the pioneers were often harassed and held back by those running the certification courses; many lawsuits later, in some locales even those standards — which allow special coaching and assistance for those having trouble meeting them — have been waived.[5]

But most positions in the bureaucracy involve administering the regulations of the administrative state, essentially office jobs involving reading, writing, and paralegal work. Specialized technical knowledge is required in some parts of some federal agencies, like the EPA, while in others like the Social Security Administration only simple accounting and managerial skills are needed.

College degrees and certifications are no guarantee of skill or common sense in regulation. The EPA, for example, is notoriously unscientific in its estimation of risks, setting low standards in some areas and unreasonably high standards in others, with stacked cost-benefit calculations that ignore outside expertise and economist’s studies to reach politically-desirable goals, like the umpteenth announcement of tightening in pollution standards, or the finding that carbon dioxide qualifies as a pollutant which the EPA claims the legal authority to control.[6]

Wilson’s ideal of a dedicated corps of technically competent staff, in contact with the needs and wishes of the citizenry and able to wisely decide regulatory issues, has been betrayed by the decline of competence as the highest value in these agencies. Staff who refuse to compromise science and economic sense to give their masters what they want are harassed and isolated, and the remainders share a progressive mindset that tends to undervalue the vitality of the business and industry that citizens depend on for their livelihoods. Seeing a host of theoretical dangers, but protected from the consequences of their edicts to those trapped in the wasteland of flyover country, a bureaucrat goes along to get along and finds what justification is needed to provide another press release for the politicians running the agency.

Civil service exams aimed at finding the best candidates were outlawed some time ago when courts determined the exams were excluding minority candidates disproportionately. For example, the PACE exam for mid-level (GS-5 and GS-7) positions was abandoned by court decree in 1981, during the Reagan administration:

On November 19, 1981, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia resolved a class-action suit that was filed in 1979 (http://archive.opm.gov/luevano_archive/luevano-archive.asp). The suit alleged that the Professional and Administrative Career Exam (PACE), which the Government used to fill approximately 110 occupations at the GS-5 and GS-7 grade levels, had an adverse impact on the selection of African Americans and Hispanics.

The resolution of the suit (known as the “Luevano consent decree”) ended the PACE examination and required the use of alternative assessments for those occupations at the GS-5 and GS-7 grade levels that were once subject to the PACE exam.[7]

Today, Federal Civil Service regulations are a complex maze of assessments, requirements, pay grades, and rules governing everything about employment, more convoluted than even the largest corporation’s system. Internal management efforts to recruit the most effective employees are often blocked, and the level of effort required to remove an incompetent employee of any class, but especially of an EEOC-protected class, is enormous. More commonly, deadwood is transferred away or allowed to accumulate in forgotten departments not critical to the agency’s mission. We call upper-level federal bureaucrats “mandarins,” but the original Mandarins of Chinese Imperial service would not recognize some of the uncultured and incompetent people now elevated to high management positions by a system that rewards conformity, mediocrity, and racial and sexual minority status.

Here are the current OPM guidelines on use of testing:

D. Written and performance tests — Occupational series/positions with written and/or performance test requirements are identified in the section entitled test requirements. Written and performance tests are to be used as follows:

Initial appointments — Tests are required for some occupational series, either for all applicants or for those applicants who do not meet specific requirements indicated in the standard. If a test is required, applicants who are subject to that test must pass or have previously passed it to be eligible for initial appointment. This includes competitive appointments, and appointments under most noncompetitive appointing authorities.

Inservice placement —

(1) Tests required by OPM. There are a few occupational series for which a test is required by OPM for inservice placement. For such series, agencies must use and applicants must pass the appropriate OPM test. Occupational series with such requirements are also identified in the Test Requirements section.

(2) Tests required by agencies. For positions for which OPM does not require a test, agencies may develop and use tests without OPM approval, as long as the test is part of a comprehensive set of assessment procedures used in ranking employees. The use and appropriateness of such tests are the responsibility of the agency. Agencies cannot, however, use existing OPM tests for such positions, unless specific approval has been received from OPM.

(3) How inservice applicants can be examined. In occupations other than those where OPM requires a test for inservice placement, if an agency prefers to use alternatives to testing (e.g., evaluation of training and experience, interview, performance appraisal) to measure qualifications, it can do so, or it may use a test as one of several tools in evaluating applicants. Tests can be used to determine basic eligibility (i.e., on a pass-fail basis) or as the sole basis for ranking inservice placement applicants, only when specific approval has been received from OPM.

(4) Performance tests. As a general guide, performance tests (e.g., typing proficiency tests) can be used to evaluate inservice placement applicants when, within the past 3 years, they have not performed successfully in a position that required proficiency in the skills needed for the position to be filled.[8]

Penetrating the bureaucratese, testing, while it is still used in qualifying some hires, is minimally important in advancement past entry level. Management promotions depend on politicized and subjective evaluations of communications skills and management ability, and office politics are as important as competence. In a private company, upper management will strive for efficiency and try to employ the most productive workers, and if management does a poor job, the company will suffer and eventually fold, releasing the resources it uses to other firms which may use them better. In government, agencies tend toward the eternal, with the occasional scandal resulting in minimal change in management and almost no change in the rest of the staff. Monopoly government agencies cannot die or be superseded by other firms, and when there is a threat from private business, the agency will fight back — as when the Postal Service tried to enforce its monopoly on the mail, set up by the Private Express Statutes[9] in 1792:

Over the last three years the United States Postal Service has collected more than $500,000 in fines from companies that sent “nonurgent” mail by private couriers like Federal Express or DHL… The Postal Service has fined 21 companies for violating the 1872 law that established the Postal Service monopoly on mail delivery. A 1979 amendment to the law broke the monopoly on urgent mail, establishing as the definition of urgent, mail that must arrive by noon the next day or lose its value. The Postal Service has the right to decide what is urgent and what is not.[10]

US states have their own civil service systems modelled on the federal system, but some retain more of the original merit selection and testing features; for example, California has over a hundred different exams for various special skills and technical jobs.[11] But in general, states and cities have similarly politicized employment systems and affirmative action programs, and suffer similarly by having more than a few incompetent employees and the public employee unions that prevent their removal. And since there is limited reward for competence and little downside for incompetence, morale of high-achieving employees suffers and many of the best leave for private industry.


[1] “METRO NEWS BRIEFS: CONNECTICUT; Judge Rules That Police Can Bar High I.Q. Scores,” New York Times, Sept. 9, 1999

[2] “Airport job insecurity / When feds take over, many Filipino screeners will be unemployed,” Annie Nakao, San Francisco Chronicle, 3-18-2002
http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Airport-job-insecurity-When-feds-take-over-2863780.php
[3] “VA Manager Says ‘Thank God’ They Don’t Have To Hire Veterans,” Daily Caller, Luke Rosiak, 04/13/2016

VA Manager Says ‘Thank God’ They Don’t Have To Hire Veterans

[4] “Ex-EPA official pleads guilty to theft, pretended to work for the CIA.” By Ann E. Marimow and Lenny Bernstein, Washington Post, September 27, 2013 https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/ex-epa-official-expected-to-plead-guilty-of-theft/2013/09/26/2c95166e-2708-11e3-ad0d-b7c8d2a594b9_story.html
[5] “Woman to become NY firefighter despite failing crucial fitness test.” New York Post. Susan Edelman. May 3, 2015
http://nypost.com/2015/05/03/woman-to-become-ny-firefighter-despite-failing-crucial-fitness-test/
[6] “How Carbon Dioxide Became a ‘Pollutant’.”
By Keith Johnson, Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2009
http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124001537515830975
[7] OPM “FAQ: Assessment Policy”
https://www.opm.gov/FAQs/QA.aspx?fid=a6da6c2e-e1cb-4841-b72d-53eb4adf1ab1&pid=796dd1e8-3069-4aaf-860e-2710cbb32360
[8] OPM: “Classification and Qualifications: general Schedule Qualification Policies.” Viewed 4-15-2016. https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/classification-qualifications/general-schedule-qualification-policies/
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_Express_Statutes
[10] “Private Couriers and Postal Service Slug It Out,”
New York Times, February 14, 1994. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/02/14/business/private-couriers-and-postal-service-slug-it-out.html
[11] California Dept. of Human Resources: “Take or Schedule an Exam,” accessed 3-15-2016. https://exams.spb.ca.gov/exams/exam_start_submit.cfm


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream

President Woodrow Wilson - Campaign Button

President Woodrow Wilson – Campaign Button

Until the victory of Andrew Jackson and his hoard of uncouth Democrats in the presidential election of 1828, the relatively tiny Federal government and its agencies were staffed largely by genteel men connected with the Eastern establishment. The Jacksonians came out of the expanding Western and Southern states, which resented the high tariffs imposed by the Eastern establishment to benefit manufacturers, and the new Democratic Party practiced the spoils system of patronage appointments — government jobs were filled by political supporters, and the promise of a government job was often the motivation for campaign workers. While today many see election contributions as corrupting, it was far more wasteful and corrupt to have government jobs turned over to barely competent campaign workers. This turnover on the election of a new administration did remove staff who might not implement the new administration’s policies, but it also broke continuity and allowed for more corruption. This was not terribly harmful to the newish country since federal agencies had limited scope and power over commerce — after Jackson’s inauguration, 10% of government officers were replaced by new appointees, but that was 919 replaced out of less than ten thousand employees total.[1] For comparison, if postal workers are included, there are now around 2.8 million Federal employees.[2]

Corruption scandals were frequent, and the reform movement to bring in a professionalized meritocratic civil service at the Federal level succeeded with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to fill positions by merit and protect current employees from political interference. The number of jobs so protected expanded with each administration as they moved to shield their own political appointees from removal at the end of their terms, until all but the most senior policymaking positions were covered. Today, political appointees have to deal with a permanent bureaucracy under them, which can successfully resist needed reforms as well as corruption.

The idea of a civil service originally came from China, where for a thousand years positions in Imperial service were filled through difficult examinations covering Confucian doctrines, poetry, and calligraphy, which while not directly relevant to most bureaucratic work, at least selected for competence in writing and thought. While in theory such exam systems would allow anyone of any class to demonstrate merit and move into a powerful position, in practice only the children of the landed gentry had the time and resources to study for the exams, but at least their system kept out those whose only qualification was a powerful patron.

As an interesting side-note, the Chinese idea of meritocracy goes back at least 2300 years. The recent discoveries of writings on bamboo from that era revealed considerable philosophical ferment, with the idea of rulers abdicating their power to successors selected by merit as the proper action of a wise ruler:

The manuscripts’ importance stems from their particular antiquity. Carbon dating places their burial at about 300 BCE. This was the height of the Warring States Period, an era of turmoil that ran from the fifth to the third centuries BCE. During this time, the Hundred Schools of Thought arose, including Confucianism, which concerns hierarchical relationships and obligations in society; Daoism (or Taoism), and its search to unify with the primordial force called Dao (or Tao); Legalism, which advocated strict adherence to laws; and Mohism, and its egalitarian ideas of impartiality. These ideas underpinned Chinese society and politics for two thousand years, and even now are touted by the government of Xi Jinping as pillars of the one-party state.

The newly discovered texts challenge long-held certainties about this era. Chinese political thought as exemplified by Confucius allowed for meritocracy among officials, eventually leading to the famous examination system on which China’s imperial bureaucracy was founded. But the texts show that some philosophers believed that rulers should also be chosen on merit, not birth—radically different from the hereditary dynasties that came to dominate Chinese history.[4]

The Chinese Imperial civil service was widely admired by Europeans and was the inspiration for civil service reforms in the British Empire, where posts had previously been handed out by patronage or directly sold. The British East India Company College was founded in 1806 to train bureaucrats for their Indian civil service, and the idea of merit and examinations to select the best employees for government service spread through Europe and to the US.

Before he was elected president, the Progressive academic Woodrow Wilson wrote “The Study of Administration,” an essay setting forth his ideas on how public agencies should be organized. In 1886, his ideals of eternal, professional bureaucracies expanding enlightened government control over every service may have sounded achievable:

There is scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; it now has scores of masters. Majorities formerly only underwent government; they now conduct government. Where government once might follow the whims of a court, it must now follow the views of a nation.

And those views are steadily widening to new conceptions of state duty; so that, at the same time that the functions of government are every day becoming more complex and difficult, they are also vastly multiplying in number. Administration is everywhere putting its hands to new undertakings. The utility, cheapness, and success of the government’s postal service, for instance, point towards the early establishment of governmental control of the telegraph system. Or, even if our government is not to follow the lead of the governments of Europe in buying or building both telegraph and railroad lines, no one can doubt that in some way it must make itself master of masterful corporations. The creation of national commissioners of railroads, in addition to the older state commissions, involves a very important and delicate extension of administrative functions. Whatever hold of authority state or federal governments are to take upon corporations, there must follow cares and responsibilities which will require not a little wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Such things must be studied in order to be well done. And these, as I have said, are only a few of the doors which are being opened to offices of government. The idea of the state and the consequent ideal of its duty are undergoing noteworthy change; and “the idea of the state is the conscience of administration.” Seeing every day new things which the state ought to do, the next thing is to see clearly how it ought to do them.

This is why there should be a science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less unbusinesslike, to strengthen and purify its organization, and to crown its duties with dutifulness. This is one reason why there is such a science.

Wilson looked to European models (as Progressives still do):

But where has this science grown up? Surely not on this side [of] the sea. Not much impartial scientific method is to be discerned in our administrative practices. The poisonous atmosphere of city government, the crooked secrets of state administration, the confusion, sinecurism, and corruption ever and again discovered in the bureaux at Washington forbid us to believe that any clear conceptions of what constitutes good administration are as yet very widely current in the United States. No; American writers have hitherto taken no very important part in the advancement of this science. It has found its doctors in Europe. It is not of our making; it is a foreign science, speaking very little of the language of English or American principle. It employs only foreign tongues; it utters none but what are to our minds alien ideas. Its aims, its examples, its conditions, are almost exclusively grounded in the histories of foreign races, in the precedents of foreign systems, in the lessons of foreign revolutions. It has been developed by French and German professors, and is consequently in all parts adapted to the needs of a compact state, and made to fit highly centralized forms of government; whereas, to answer our purposes, it must be adapted, not to a simple and compact, but to a complex and multiform state, and made to fit highly decentralized forms of government. If we would employ it, we must Americanize it, and that not formally, in language merely, but radically, in thought, principle, and aim as well. It must learn our constitutions by heart; must get the bureaucratic fever out of its veins; must inhale much free American air…

…in spite of our vast advantages in point of political liberty, and above all in point of practical political skill and sagacity, so many nations are ahead of us in administrative organization and administrative skill. Why, for instance, have we but just begun purifying a civil service which was rotten full fifty years ago? To say that slavery diverted us is but to repeat what I have said — that flaws in our constitution delayed us.

Of course all reasonable preference would declare for this English and American course of politics rather than for that of any European country. We should not like to have had Prussia’s history for the sake of having Prussia’s administrative skill; and Prussia’s particular system of administration would quite suffocate us. It is better to be untrained and free than to be servile and systematic. Still there is no denying that it would be better yet to be both free in spirit and proficient in practice. It is this even more reasonable preference which impels us to discover what there may be to hinder or delay us in naturalizing this much-to-be-desired science of administration.

We may find his technocratic idealism tragic and misguided, since we know his efforts did not result in that decentralized, responsive American-style civil service he had envisioned. Wilson admired the Prussian social welfare state, and the implementation of many of its features — government healthcare, government pension schemes, and centralized public schools to train good workers amenable to state guidance — became the Progressive program for the succeeding decades, with today’s Progressives continuing to promote universal pre-K and government-run healthcare as central goals over a hundred years later. Wilson blamed that stodgy old Constitution for holding back progress, which he thought could be achieved through “scientific administration” of government which would leave citizens “free in spirit and proficient in practice.” Where, in practice, implementation of his ideas created an underclass of citizens so unproficient as to lose their freedom to dependency and addiction.

Wilson responded to critics who argued civil servants would be unaccountable:

And let me say that large powers and unhampered discretion seem to me the indispensable conditions of responsibility. Public attention must be easily directed, in each case of good or bad administration, to just the man deserving of praise or blame. There is no danger in power, if only it be not irresponsible. If it be divided, dealt out in shares to many, it is obscured; and if it be obscured, it is made irresponsible. But if it be centred in heads of the service and in heads of branches of the service, it is easily watched and brought to book.

I know that a corps of civil servants prepared by a special schooling and drilled, after appointment, into a perfected organization, with appropriate hierarchy and characteristic discipline, seems to a great many very thoughtful persons to contain elements which might combine to make an offensive official class, — a distinct, semi-corporate body with sympathies divorced from those of a progressive, free-spirited people, and with hearts narrowed to the meanness of a bigoted officialism. Certainly such a class would be altogether hateful and harmful in the United States. Any measure calculated to produce it would for us be measures of reaction and of folly….

But to fear the creation of a domineering, illiberal officialism as a result of the studies I am here proposing is to miss altogether the principle upon which I wish most to insist. That principle is, that administration in the United States must be at all points sensitive to public opinion. A body of thoroughly trained officials serving during good behavior we must have in any case: that is a plain business necessity. But the apprehension that such a body will be anything un-American clears away the moment it is asked, What is to constitute good behavior? For that question obviously carries its own answer on its face. Steady, hearty allegiance to the policy of the government they serve will constitute good behavior. That policy will have no taint of officialism about it. It will not be the creation of permanent officials, but of statesmen whose responsibility to public opinion will be direct and inevitable.

Bureaucracy can exist only where the whole service of the state is removed from the common political life of the people, its chiefs as well as its rank and file. Its motives, its objects, its policy, its standards, must be bureaucratic. It would be difficult to point out any examples of impudent exclusiveness and arbitrariness on the part of officials doing service under a chief of department who really served the people, as all our chiefs of departments must be made to do. It would be easy, on the other hand, to adduce other instances like that of the influence of Stein in Prussia, where the leadership of one statesman imbued with true public spirit transformed arrogant and perfunctory bureaux into public-spirited instruments of just government….

The ideal for us is a civil service cultured and self-sufficient enough to act with sense and vigor, and yet so intimately connected with the popular thought, by means of elections and constant public counsel, as to find arbitrariness of class spirit quite out of the question.

In hindsight, we know that accountability has been almost completely lost, with the recent failures at Federal agencies resulting in nothing more punishing than transfers or brief suspensions. We’ll go over how this came to be in the later chapter on public employee unions, which have made punishment of negligent or criminal employees, merely difficult under civil service rules, near-impossible. And as a result, there is close to zero response to efforts from above to make bureaucracies function efficiently and responsively. Public anger over scandals at the VA and the IRS have resulted in little or no reform and bureaucracies have grown larger and less responsive as their functions have multiplied until no one — not even Congress — can control them. Similarly, already heavily-regulated banks and mortgage agencies were nationalized (in the case of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) or heavily fined after the financial crisis of 2008, but only one banker spent time in jail. Bankers as a class had become as immune from prosecution as civil servants.

And our politics are now dominated by a government Leviathan supported and supporting “a distinct, semi-corporate body with sympathies divorced from those of a progressive, free-spirited people, and with hearts narrowed to the meanness of a bigoted officialism” — unaccountable regulators, civil servants, unionized public employees, and regulated big businesses protected from upstart competition.

Progressives had good intentions — directed by Science and molding flawed human beings into more virtuous citizens by edict and government training, the enlightened Administration would shepherd the flock to a brighter, healthier future. The Progressive causes — Prohibition, eugenics, antitrust, the Federal Reserve system, centralized public schooling, Social Security and Medicare — have all been implemented, and while the most flawed (Prohibition, eugenics) were quickly abandoned and renounced, many remain with us, rooted so deeply in our society that major change seems impossible. Too many vested interests and public employees depend on them, and voters are more and more likely to be dependent as well, and so unwilling to risk voting for any reforms. But as Herb Stein said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,” and the current worldwide debt crisis will forcibly dismantle these systems as the money to support them in their current form evaporates. This seems to be the inevitable result of universal laws of bureaucratic growth in democratic systems, the kind of systemic corruption the Founding Fathers warned against when they set up what they hoped would remain a limited republican government.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoils_system
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_civil_service
[4] “A Revolutionary Discovery in China,”
Ian Johnson, April 21, 2016. The New York Review of Books.

A Revolutionary Discovery in China


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

VA Waiting - Rick McKee - The Augusta Chronicle

VA Waiting – Rick McKee – The Augusta Chronicle

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The problems with Britain’s NHS are echoed in the Veterans Administration (VA) scandals. What is supposedly free ends up costing lives and health for those who have already paid through their military service, because a civil service and union-protected bureaucracy can’t be held accountable for gross incompetence or even negligent homicide.

The medical benefits for veterans started out as military hospitals and care for those who had been wounded or disabled while in service, but over time (the ratchet effect at work) benefits broadened and were extended to cover most veterans for general healthcare needs, even those unrelated to their service. “The VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930, to include 152 hospitals, 800 community-based outpatient clinics, 126 nursing home care units and 35 domiciliaries.”[1] The number of living veterans has declined somewhat but aged in the last decades, and with rising medical costs generally, as of 2015, the VA has nearly 300,000 employees in its medical care area, spending about $75 billion a year for veteran medical care and rehab. There are about 22 million eligible veterans, so the VA is spending about $3,500 per year on each[2]. Since many eligible veterans get their care under other insurance, per person spending on those who primarily rely on the VA is much higher.

Customer satisfaction surveys show most VA clients are reasonably satisfied with the care they receive, and VA staff and doctors appear to care as much about their patients as private-care doctors and staff. So it’s not the quality of doctors or care that are in question — when it is scheduled promptly and part of an ongoing treatment process, VA care is good. Problems appear to be related to the bureaucratic scheduling and other access issues, and again the NHS is similar — patients tend to be happy with the doctors and nurses they see, but getting to see them in a timely manner is hit-or-miss, with delays and mismanagement of facilities prominent.

Like the NHS, staff at VA facilities and offices are civil service and union-protected. Even a motivated manager has trouble firing or removing negligent workers, and management priorities are often enforced by numeric targets which can be gamed by “losing” applications or forging timestamps to make delays in individual cases disappear from performance review and bonus-setting numbers. Managers who might want to implement reforms leading to more responsive systems for patients find themselves blocked or subjected to retaliation for “troublemaking.” Patients caught in bureaucratic snafus have little recourse, since they can’t take their business elsewhere. VA facilities that would be fined or subject to license removal for falling beneath state medical care standards if they were private are exempt and can’t be fined or replaced by better-managed facilities.

The cycle of scandals and bad publicity followed by demands for VA reform and new legislation has occurred several times. The VA was raised to cabinet level in 1988, then underwent drastic reform in 1995-2000, shedding 10,000 employees and keeping costs flat for five years by implementing better management and some of the same numeric performance measures that were gamed in the scandals of 2014.

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.[3]

Management reforms, however well-meaning, will always be gamed by those subject to them. The motivated top-level managers who set reforms in motion soon depart, to be replaced by new political appointees with different priorities and less knowledge of where the bureaucratic bodies are buried than the career civil servants who remain in place.

Federal bureaucracies grow and evolve unnoticed until some scandal is extreme enough to break into the headlines, making it worthwhile for politicians to decry and posture, and occasionally accomplish something. The VA scandals of 2014 started off with at least 40 veterans who died after waiting too long for medical attention at the Phoenix VA hospitals:

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources….

Dr. Sam Foote just retired after spending 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix. The [doctor said] the Phoenix VA works off two lists for patient appointments. There’s an “official” list that’s shared with officials in Washington and shows the VA has been providing timely appointments, which Foote calls a sham list. And then there’s the real list that’s hidden from outsiders, where wait times can last more than a year.

“The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules,” Foot said… the elaborate scheme in Phoenix involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care. Officials at the VA, Foote says, instructed their staff to not actually make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system.

Instead, Foote says, when a veteran comes in seeking an appointment, “they enter information into the computer and do a screen capture hard copy printout. They then do not save what was put into the computer so there’s no record that you were ever here.” [T]he information was gathered on the secret electronic list and then the information that would show when veterans first began waiting for an appointment was actually destroyed. “That hard copy, if you will, that has the patient demographic information is then taken and placed onto a secret electronic waiting list, and then the data that is on that paper is shredded. So the only record that you have ever been there requesting care was on that secret list,” he said. “And they wouldn’t take you off that secret list until you had an appointment time that was less than 14 days so it would give the appearance that they were improving greatly the waiting times, when in fact they were not.”

Foote estimates right now the number of veterans waiting on the “secret list” to see a primary care physician is somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600[4].

The reforms of 2000 had included establishing waiting lists for less urgent care, similar to the rationing-wait lists in most government-provided medical systems like the NHS or Canada’s. For some less urgent operations, a few months of delay smooth demand and hold down the costs of facilities, encouraging those who can afford faster alternatives to seek care elsewhere, a safety valve which many in such systems use — better-off Canadians frequently pay for care in the US to “jump the queue” in their provincial healthcare system, for example. Those who would be most able to cause political problems for the system — well-off and well-connected people — are thus taken out of the complaining group. But VA patients are already self-selected as having no affordable alternatives, and so patients made to wait when there is a significant chance of death or serious worsening of their health have little alternative, and the unfairness of their treatment rankles much more in a society which pretends to honor their military service. A “sacred commitment” dishonored so that managers can get big bonuses while some veterans die unnecessarily is especially potent politically.

The 2014 Phoenix scandal brought out more allegations of secret waiting lists and unnecessary deaths at other VA facilities, including Austin, Texas, Ft. Collins, Colorado, Columbia, South Carolina, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. A VA audit in June 2014 found upwards of 120,000 veterans left waiting or denied care as a result of secret waiting lists intended to disguise actual waiting times[5]. The FBI opened a criminal investigation and Congressional investigators found that all 470 senior managers at the VA received at least “fully successful” performance evaluations and were paid $2.4 million in bonuses for the previous year.[6]

On June 11, 2014, the Senate voted 93–3 to pass the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, the bill written by Senators McCain and Sanders to reform the VA…. Acting VA Secretary Gibson said he plans to fire some VA executives under an expedited process as soon as he is given the authority by Congress to do so.

In late June 2014, VA General Counsel Will Gunn and VA Acting Undersecretary for Health Robert Jesse stepped down from their positions. Other changes in June 2014 included:

• Moving more than $390 million inside the VA budget to fund care for veterans outside the VA system;
• Deploying mobile VA medical units;
• Ending the goal of providing appointments within the 14-day window that Nabors criticized as unrealistic and said may have “incentivized inappropriate actions”;
• Posting twice-monthly public updates of VA wait times;
• Banning performance bonuses;
• Removing some senior managers from the Phoenix VA system;
• Leadership emphasis on protecting whistleblowers from retaliation.[7]

While many politicians decried the scandal and worked for reform, Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT) defended the VA and minimized the scandal as long as he could, since the VA is exactly the sort of government-provided medical insurance he believes would be ideal for everyone in the US:

Sen. Bernie Sanders touted his record on veterans’ issues during Tuesday’s debate, citing his position as the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs when Congress provided billions of extra dollars to boost healthcare for veterans last year.

“We went further in than any time in recent history in improving health care to the men and women of this country who put their lives on the line to defend us,” Sanders said Tuesday, referring to $15 billion given to the Department of Veterans Affairs to decrease wait times and reform the troubled agency.

Yet some veterans groups and others criticize Sanders for what they call a lack of oversight of the VA, and for at times coming to its defense in the midst of the scandal that rocked the agency in 2014.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Sanders largely ignored the appeals of organizations like his during a time when media and government reports exposed how veterans were waiting months for appointments and VA officials were covering up the delays. “For far too long he was apologizing for the VA. He was refusing to acknowledge the severity. He was positioning it as a smaller issue than it was while veterans were dying waiting for care.” [8]

Sanders has supported the Castro regime in Cuba with admiring comments about Cuba’s universal healthcare, which like all such systems in communist states can be good for the well-connected in select showplace facilities while bad for the rest:

The difficulty in gaining access to certain medicines and treatments has led to healthcare playing an increasing role in Cuba’s burgeoning black market economy, sometimes termed “sociolismo”. According to former leading Cuban neurosurgeon and dissident Dr Hilda Molina, “The doctors in the hospitals are charging patients under the table for better or quicker service.” Prices for out-of-surgery X-rays have been quoted at $50 to $60. Such “under-the-table payments” reportedly date back to the 1970s, when Cubans used gifts and tips in order to get health benefits. The harsh economic downturn known as the “Special Period” in the 1990s aggravated these payments. The advent of the “dollar economy”, a temporary legalization of the dollar which led some Cubans to receive dollars from their relatives outside of Cuba, meant that a class of Cubans were able to obtain medications and health services that would not be available to them otherwise.[9]

But in the US, despite the political uproar and some long-delayed firings and resignations of high-level VA managers, the scandal did nothing to make lower-level employees more accountable, and the tales of malfeasance and even criminal employees being reinstated or promoted because of union and civil service rules continued:

The VA is a place where people tend to somehow magically fail upward. By that I simply mean that workers at all levels can be caught up in any sort of malfeasance or incompetence and not only retain their jobs, but apparently profit from their actions. We’ve told you the story of the executive who ran her department into the ground and was punished with a plush gig in the Philippines. Then there was the Albany, New York administrator who was found to have drug addicts on staff who were stealing the medication of the veterans and was fired, but somehow got her job back at full pay. And, of course, who could forget the Arizona VA chiefs who cooked up the scheme to keep veterans on phony waiting lists where some of them literally died without seeing a doctor, but will keep their positions with full pay and benefits for as much as two more years. But today we may finally have the story which tilts the pinball machine once and for all.

This one takes place down in Puerto Rico where one diligent VA worker found herself unable to report to work for an extended period of time. She was held up, you see, by an inconvenient inability to get a pass out of prison to make it into the office.[10]

The VA worker was in jail on an armed robbery charge, and missed work when she could not make bail. When she was finally released from jail, she had been fired, but the union got her reinstated despite her guilty plea because in some previous instances other employees had been allowed to keep their jobs:

[The union argued] that management’s labor relations negotiator is a registered sex offender, and the hospital’s director was once arrested and found with painkiller drugs…

Employees said the union demanded her job back and pointed out that Tito Santiago Martinez, the management-side labor relations specialist in Puerto Rico, who is in charge of dealing with the union and employee discipline, is a convicted sex offender. Martinez reportedly disclosed his conviction to the hospital and VA hired him anyway, reasoning that “there’s no children in [the hospital], so they figure I could not harm anyone here.”[11]

The “safety valve” money appropriated by Congress to allow veterans to seek outside care at the VA’s expense required VA bureaucrats to implement it, and not surprisingly it did not go smoothly, since the VA’s mission and monopoly on veteran healthcare would have been threatened if it had been successful; a working program of vouchers for outside care would have made the possibility of expanded VA-paid private care for more veteran healthcare needs more likely. So it was sabotaged:

A survey of non-VA hospitals in Florida, for example, found VA owed more than $100 million in unpaid claims for services provided to veterans under the Choice Card program. Sixty percent of the hospitals described the problems in getting paid as inexplicable, with their claims mysteriously getting “lost.”

A growing number of doctors across the country are refusing to treat patients using the Choice Card for fear of never being paid.

Now the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents most of VA’s nearly 350,000 workers, is using the failure to process payments to justify ending the program–which it opposed from the start because it said it could reduce the growth of its membership rolls. The union also complains that government workers are being forced to talk to non-VA doctors and hospitals about payments.

Incredibly, senior VA leaders are also pressuring Congress to repeal the program [claiming that] it – not the wait-time scandal – is why their agency’s image is in tatters.[12]

Payments were delayed when the VA inexplicably refused to pay bills from outside providers unless detailed records of treatment had been received and filed at the VA. Both VA and contractors promised to improve their systems. Meanwhile, the VA argued for increased funds, and outside observers believed the VA intentionally sabotaged the program to drive veterans back to their facilities:

Last year when VA leaders claimed budget shortfalls threatened to force closure of government hospitals and related healthcare facilities, they asked Congress to let them transfer up to $3.3 billion originally authorized for the Choice Card program. Congressional leaders were skeptical but reluctantly went along.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal  of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs committee, said “we’re in this situation, quite frankly, because of gross ineptitude in planning that can only be characterized as malpractice in management.”

Numerous veterans have described being hounded by unpaid doctors and being made to feel like scofflaws and deadbeats, thanks to VA’s failure to cover the costs, as Congress and President Barack Obama promised when they approved the Choice Card program.

“It is now believed by veterans that this is happening by design to force veterans back to VA to justify the existence of VA,” veteran Tony Woody said. “VA administrators fear losing too many veterans to the civilian sector, thus causing them to lose their jobs because they know the civilian sector is far more efficient.”

The situation prompted Woody, a retired U.S. Navy Chief, to ask “since when did a government employee’s job become more important than the lives of the veterans they are supposed to be serving?”[13]

In San Diego, a vet committed suicide in 2014 after waiting for months while his counselling appointments at the VA hospital were repeatedly cancelled at the last minute. The San Diego Union-Tribune editorialized:

The script after each scandal — in 2007, 2014 and now — is predictable: Government officials insist that their only priority is helping veterans to lead healthy, productive lives. But while we have no doubt that the great majority of VA employee are well-meaning and hardworking, actions speak louder than words. It is hard to fathom that all seven of the San Diego VA officials identified as manipulating data to present a false front on the success of local mental care weren’t fired. Instead, after wrongdoing was found, three resigned, two retired and two more still work for the VA.

Meanwhile, on March 15 — nearly two years after Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned from President Obama’s Cabinet largely because of pervasive, lethal problems in the Phoenix VA system — the department finally got around to firing the three executives responsible for those deadly debacles. And that came only under intense pressure from Sen. John McCain after the Arizona Republican learned in January that the VA wanted to reassign — not fire — two of these executives.

Nine years after the Walter Reed expose, the Department of Veterans Affairs still looks awfully quick to go into forgive and forget mode when it comes to deplorable employee behavior

It’s appalling to admit, but we think the next infuriating VA scandal is a question of when, not if.[14]

This cycle of scandal, political posturing, and temporary patches will only continue unless the root cause — the structure of the VA’s medical care arm as a civil service-protected, unionized bureaucracy — is dismantled. No one in politics should be proposing any similar government-run universal healthcare schemes until they can demonstrate the will to overcome union bullshit to cover veterans with the excellence and responsiveness they deserve.

Political decisions and monopoly public service providers will always be less efficient and responsive than private providers — largely because competing private companies live and die on performance, and undergo evolutionary pressure to be more efficient and customer-centered. If they are incompetent and fail to satisfy customers, they eventually are replaced or reformed. But the accountability of government agencies is indirect, through elections, where only the largest failures affecting the largest numbers of citizens can overcome the inertia and vested interests supporting incumbent representatives. Certain key functions of government must be accomplished through political means because they are inherently public goods — since no citizen can be excluded from the benefits, it must be a joint enterprise, jointly paid for and controlled. Defense is one key example, and there are serious efficiency problems with defense department weapons procurement and contracting precisely because it is a political process with all the opportunities for graft and pork-barrel spending that entails. But there is no other alternative — and our military does well compared to other world powers because it is still less corrupt and politicized, although that may be changing.

Healthcare for vets is not inherently a public good — it is a benefit for the individual vet, and so it is very possible to imagine different means of providing it that capture some of the benefits in efficiency and responsiveness of multiple competing providers.

One of the problems with the VA system is that not every vet lives close enough to a VA facility to easily use one. The private service option resisted by the VA helps resolve that, making it possible (for example) for a patient to visit the nearest providers rather than drive for an hour or more to a VA hospital. While there are specialties the VA is likely to be better at providing in its own facilities, like rehab for returned injured vets, more routine coverage could be contracted out to insurance carriers on a regional basis, allowing the VA to bargain for best rates and letting vets use the same facilities their neighbors do for care — like the various Tricare insurance programs, which are generally liked, now covering active-duty military and dependents. Eventually VA hospitals could be opened to other patients, where they are underutilized, and employees could be spun out to independent hospital companies without a huge disruption.

The errors and deaths will continue unless there is some drastic change in the structure of the VA’s healthcare services. Will we elect politicians who are courageous enough to do it?

[Last-minute update: this story just crossed the wire: “Veterans Groups Criticize Secret Proposal to End VA Healthcare,” by Bryant Jordan at Military.com:

Several of the largest veterans’ service organizations in the US are criticizing a proposal drafted in secret to shut down veterans’ hospitals and clinics across the country and turn over veterans health care to the private sector. The proposal was circulated outside the normal process by several members of a congressionally mandated Commission on Care created to study how VA will provide health care over the next couple of decades….

The proposal also calls for an immediate halt to new VA construction and for a “BRAC-like process” to begin shuttering existing hospitals and clinics, referring to the Pentagon’s base realignment and closure process. The department’s future role would essentially be to pay the bills of veterans getting care in the private sector….

Instead, the document simply asserts that “the current VA health care system is seriously broken and … there is no efficient path to repair it” without backing up the assertion, the chiefs wrote.

Stay tuned for a major battle!]

[Second PS: A Facebook friend pointed out this attempt to estimate how many vets died waiting for their eligibility to be determined: “307,000 veterans may have died awaiting Veterans Affairs health care, report says,” Curt Devine, CNN, September 3, 2015]

[Third PS – USA Today 4-7-2016 covers FOIA release with more specific data on wait-time scams:

But VA whistle-blowers say schedulers still are manipulating wait times. Shea Wilkes, co-director of a group of more than 40 whistle-blowers from VA medical facilities in more than a dozen states, said the group continues to hear about it from employees across the country who are scared to come forward.

“Until the VA decides it truly wants to change its corrupt and poor culture, those who work on the front lines and possess the true knowledge relating to the VA’s continued data manipulation will remain quiet and in hiding because of fear of workplace harassment and retaliation,” said Wilkes, a social worker at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La.

This is not the first time the VA has said it would fix problems with scheduling. When the inspector general found in 2005 that VA schedulers were improperly booking appointments — and wait lists were therefore underestimated by as many as 10,000 veterans — the agency initiated a “national education plan” to retrain schedulers and supervisors. In 2010, VA officials discovered schedulers were using “gaming strategies” to falsify wait times to meet agency performance targets, and they required all schedulers to undergo new training, once again.

]

Fourth PS!: CNN is doing some excellent original reporting on the VA. This item just popped up: a scam Vietnam​ Veterans charity (95% of the funds go to fundraising and “expenses”) is run by a high-level VA lawyer who pays himself $65K a year from charity funds. The VA apparently sees no problem with this, since they also don’t mind felons and pedophiles as employees.


[1] From “History – Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)”, VA web site, 4-3-2016.
http://www.va.gov/about_va/vahistory.asp
[2] “Trends in the Geographic Distribution
of VA Expenditures: FY2000 to FY2009,” Prepared by the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, December 2010.
http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/quickfacts/Gdx-trends.pdf
[3] Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor, Sept. 10, 2010.
http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html
[4] “A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital’s secret list,” Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin, CNN Investigations, 4-23-2014.
http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/23/health/veterans-dying-health-care-delays/
[5] Cohen, Tom. June 10, 2014. “Audit: More than 120,000 veterans waiting or never got care”. CNN. Cohen, Tom. June 10, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/09/politics/va-audit/
[6] Oppel, Richard A., Jr. (June 20, 2014). “Every Senior V.A. Executive Was Rated ‘Fully Successful’ or Better Over 4 Years”. The New York Times. RetrievedJune 21, 2014.
[7] “Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014,” Wikipedia accessed 4-4-2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veterans_Health_Administration_scandal_of_2014
[8] “Sanders stretched truth on VA record during debate, some vets say,” Drew Griffin and Curt Devine, CNN, October 14, 2015
http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/14/politics/bernie-sanders-va/
[9] From the Wikipedia entry “Healthcare in Cuba,” footnoted as from “Cuba’s Health in Transition and the Central and Eastern European Countries Experience”. Antonio Maria de Gordon. https://archive.is/gsqCq
[10] “Close call: VA worker reinstated with back pay after missing time due to being in prison for armed robbery,” Jazz Shaw, Hot Air, March 22, 2016
http://hotair.com/archives/2016/03/22/close-call-va-worker-reinstated-with-back-pay-after-missing-time-due-to-being-in-prison-for-armed-robbery/
[11] “VA Worker Gets Job Back Despite Armed Robbery Charge” 3-22-2016, Daily Caller news Foundation, Luke Rosiak.

VA Worker Gets Job Back Despite Armed Robbery Charge

[12] “Veterans’ Health Derailed By VA Skipping Out On Millions In Doctor Bills,” Luke Rosiak
Daily Caller News Foundation, 04/03/2016

Veterans’ Health Derailed By VA Skipping Out On MILLIONS In Doctor Bills

[13] “Veterans’ Health Derailed By VA Skipping Out On Millions In Doctor Bills,” Luke Rosiak
Daily Caller News Foundation, 04/03/2016
[14] “VA scandal hits home in painful fashion,” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 3, 2016. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/apr/03/va-scandal-san-diego-hits-home/


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience