Boston University

The Danger of Bureaucratic Resistance by Rachel Bennetts @ Boston University

It is easy for many to say, because he is so popular, that bureaucratic resistance against the Administration of President Trump is warranted. In the interview conducted by Dave Kestenbaum for Chicago Public Media, a DOE employee in explains how easy and common it is to impede the actions and goals of an administration. Methods for resistance include referring documents for review, “losing” documents, and even hiding projects, programs, and reports from the new administration. While some ay argue that these civil servants may be experts because they have been in the job for a long time, and the civil servants themselves may even believe they are protecting democratic principles, there is an inherent danger of allowing bureaucrats to define and apply the law and procedures piecemeal.

While to many Americans it may not seem like much, the power that an individual (or a small group of) bureaucrats can be very damaging and corrupting. This can be seen in the 2010-2012 IRS targeting scandal, and the four year subsequent investigation. The scandal involved a number of partisan employees stalling the Tax-Exemption Status applications of conservative groups, especially those affiliated with the Tea Party, and to a lesser extent, the progressive far left. The scandal involved employees, inspired by their personal beliefs, purposefully using their bureaucratic power to slow down their applications through delaying processing and asking for unnecessary forms and documents. A report made by the Office of the Treasury Inspector General for the Tax Administration (part of the investigation) showed that 1/3 of cases flagged for specialist review, a tactic used to delay application processing, were cases associated with the Tea Party. During the same period, there were a number of moderate and liberal groups that were approved for tax-exempt status without disproportionate scrutiny.

This is an illustration of how non-cooperative actions by partisan bureaucrats can damage democratic values. While I do not personally agree with the Tea Party’s platform, nor did those bureaucrats who slowed their applications, it not is up to them any more than it is to me, how and when to apply the law. There is a reason that there are institutionalized criteria and rules to decide their tax exemption status, and other government processes: they ensure the peaceful transfer of power and durability of democratic institutions. The standardized systematic enforcement of laws is as much a cornerstone of democracy, as is political freedom.

While the targeting scandal was resolved following a congressional investigation, the danger of the hidden actions of civil servants still stands. These actions, when conducted on a larger scale, can lead to the formation of a deep state, or shadow government, and the undermine of democracy altogether. If the current crop of civil servants under the administration cannot comply with the application of the law, regardless of partisan views, they should resign in the name of the values they claim to protect.

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