The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

Knee-Jerk Reactions

July 28, 2002

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 2, Issue 36

This article appeared on on Saturday, July 27, 2002.

When the FBI suffers a major calamity anywhere in the system, agents in the field offices hunker down and await the inevitable scolding from FBI Headquarters. But what really worries field agents are the changes to the rules that are sure to follow any agency misstep.

Washington managers – mostly well seasoned bureaucrats – try to think of ways to prevent errant behavior in the future. But sometimes “things happen,” and human nature plays a role no matter how well-structured an organization is. Layers of rules and layers of management do not guarantee high performance, nor does a rule-laden environment bring out the best performance in people.

In fact, “knee-jerk” reactions only negatively impact employee morale. Every new rule, each one more condescending than the last, sends a message to the group that maybe the leadership thinks they’re too stupid to get out of bed in the morning.

“Open ketchup bottle before attempting to pour.” I’m sure you get the idea, and you probably have plenty of real life examples of your own to cite.

I often wonder why bureaucrats overreact. It seems so counter-productive to the mission and wastes time and resources, manpower and money. I’ve concluded this: bureaucrats respond in a manner guaranteed to please their superiors.

Maybe this then is the true definition of a “bureaucrat.”

We’re at war now, and whenever I get that feeling of pride and confidence about my country, and specifically about my government, it is almost always when I learn of our military accomplishments. The Department of Defense, under the leadership of Donald H. Rumsfeld, is doing a terrific job, and confidence about the outcome of the war on terrorism rises with each report of victory. In contrast, whenever I read news accounts or hear congressional testimony about our progress with “homeland” security efforts, I am dismayed. Too many bureaucrats are trying to please the boss – George W. Bush – and are overreacting in a knee-jerk manner as they scramble to come up with an idea, any idea, that might help us avoid another September 11.

Not all of our knee-jerk bureaucrats work for the executive branch. If congressional staffers and their bosses are not thinking of new ways to avoid political pain by layering on new rules for law abiding citizens to obey, they’re lending their support or turning a blind eye to those who are.

How else could you explain why we continue to allow airport screeners to “randomly select” those passengers and airport employees who are least likely to be terrorists? They systematically avoid the real issue: the hijackers of September 11 were all of a certain age, a certain gender and appeared to be a certain “type.” They do this for political reasons. They do this to be “politically correct.”

And just like the FBI, or any other federal agency riddled with bureaucrats, our federal government is in the process of creating new layers of management, reorganizing, and slathering on new rules in an effort to avoid the harsh truth – if we had obeyed the rules and laws that are already on the books, we might have avoided the horrible attack on our country last year.

There is no better example of this than the boneheaded idea that we should start a new federal government program called TIPS, Terrorism Information and Prevention System, turning certain of us into neighborhood informants. TIPS is what the federal government does when it knows what to do, but cannot do it out of fear of being accused of racial profiling.

The idea is that some of us are in homes or businesses on a daily basis – such as our meter-readers or our cable TV guys – and they may see something suspicious that should be reported to the FBI or perhaps called in to a new emergency telephone number.

Presumably, anybody who carries a TIPS membership card will be considered more credible than Aunt Martha down the street who knows everybody in the neighborhood and everything they’re doing virtually day or night. TIPS members are also more informed and intelligent, I guess, than the millions of “stay-at-home” moms whose #1 responsibility is to be alert to any danger – I repeat, any danger – to their children. Does the government think they are too stupid to call a duck a duck when it walks and quacks?

I suppose if these neighborhood watchers – the people who actually live in the neighborhood – see anything suspicious, they might as well keep quiet about it under this new TIPS program. Can’t they assume that the government “has it covered”?

Citizens used to be able to call a police officer and report suspicious or illegal activity. This simple act was considered a civic duty. Today we have a “911” system, designed by bureaucrats that often means a 20-minute wait for an emergency or police response. See how much we have improved our society by putting a layer of bureaucrats between a victim and the people who can actually help them?

You do? Then I guess you will be a big fan of TIPS.