Speaking at a town hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota, President Barack Obama defended, sort of, government employes who have been embroiled in a series of scandals and shenanigans—not all of them, by any means, the fault of his administration. Basically, he said that government workers may "do bone-headed things," but that doesn't mean "government is the enemy or the problem."
What's interesting is that the president felt compelled to argue that the federal behemoth's minions are stupid rather than malicious, when all he'd been asked is if they could expect regular paychecks.
His comments came in response to Katie Peterson, a 29-year employee of the Defense Contract Management Agency, who noted, "there's been a few rough patches with three years of pay freeze and sequestration and furloughs. And we're just kind of wondering what you foresee for the next fiscal year for government workers."
Obama then went into an extended and slightly off-subject riff on the merits of government and its staff.
Well, let me make a couple of points. First of all, folks in the federal government, the overwhelming majority, they work really hard doing really important stuff. And I don't know why it is that—(applause)—I don't know when it was that somehow working for government—whether the state or local or federal level—somehow became not a real job. When you listen to some of the Republican rhetoric sometimes you think, well, this is really important work that we depend on.
OK. We've all heard the president's "government is good" schtick before, even to the point of denigrating private initiative ("you didn't build that"). But soon the response gets a bit…defensive?
historically, it's been the private sector that drove the economy, but it was also a whole bunch of really great work done by agricultural extension workers and engineers at NASA and researchers at our labs that helped to create the platform and the wealth that we enjoy. And so this whole idea that somehow government is the enemy or the problem is just not true.
Now, are there programs that the government does that are a waste of money or aren't working as well as they should be? Of course. But I tell you, if you work in any company in America, big company, you'll find some things that they're doing that aren't all that efficient either. Are there some federal workers who do bone-headed things? Absolutely. I remember the first week I was on the job I talked to my Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, who's older and had been there a long time. I said, do you have advice for me, Bob? He says, one thing you should know, Mr. President, is that at any given moment, on any given day, somebody in the federal government is screwing up. (Laughter.) Which is true, because there are 2 million employees. Somebody out there—if 99 percent of the folks are doing the right thing and only 1 percent aren't, that's still a lot of people.
Yeah, but companies "that aren't all that efficient" can't make their customers keep paying them so their doors stay open. And "federal workers who do bone-headed things" have the means to turn lots of people's days to shit, awfully fast—and they've done so with astonishing frequency.
That's sometimes literally true, as with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees who crap in the hallways of their own buildings. Yeah that's who you want raiding your business because you're supposedly befouling the environment.
And shitty days a-plenty, generally in a less literal sense, resulted from Veterans Health Administration officials cooking the books on waiting lists for care, denying treatment to vets even as they guaranteed themselves glowing performance reviews.
Even if we suspend all rational judgment for the moment and accept that it was mishap and incompetence, not malice, that caused the loss of potentially sensitive emails sought in the investigation of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official for politically motivated targeting of non-profit groups, how is that supposed to be reassuring? Is the IRS now going to accept dog-ate-my-homework excuses from records-shy taxpayers at audit time?
Is bone-headedness contagious? Because EPA officials apparently contracted the same strain, with similar consequences for their electronic storage of potentially awkward communications.
When all is said and done, it doesn't matter whether government officials intentionally choose to be your enemy, or just fuck things up through bone-headed stupidity. If you're on the receiving end, you're screwed.