Addicted to power
It’s welcome news that the National Park Service has agreed to take a second look at cost-prohibitive new liability insurance requirements it sought to place on commercial river rafters operating in Dinosaur National Monument. But it’s troubling it required a letter signed by five U.S. senators and others to prompt a second look.
In the same vein, we were pleased last year when the U.S. Forest Service agreed to re-examine its plan to require ski companies operating on national forest lands to relinquish a portion of their state water rights in order to have their Forest Service permits renewed. In that case, however, it took a federal judge’s ruling to force the federal agency to reconsider.
The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, has ballooned in size nearly 45 percent since it was created a dozen years ago, and it has unilaterally enlarged its mission. Meanwhile, complaints against its employees continue to grow.
Then there is the National Security Agency, officials of which have repeatedly lied to both Congress and to federal judges about the extent of their spying on U.S. citizens (see column on facing page).
Both the NSA and President Barack Obama vow to change past practices and operate more cautiously when it comes to citizens’ rights. But this newfound concern for the Fourth Amendment arrived only after Edward Snowden’s leaks about the spying became public.
All of these incidents point to a common affliction among federal agencies — and too many other entities at both the state and local level. There is a predilection to consolidate and expand the power of the agency and to put those interests ahead of the people the agencies are supposed to serve.
We have never subscribed to the Sagebrush Rebellion-cum-Tea Party argument that all federal agencies and employees are bad, and we should eliminate virtually every agency but the military and perhaps the Border Patrol.
Protecting our national security and administering our public lands are important federal responsibilities that are both necessary and constitutional. And most of the federal employees engaged in those activities sincerely want to do the best job for the American public they serve.
But it seems there are a number of people in too many agencies who believe what they are doing is so important — and they know so much better than those poor, ignorant U.S. citizens — that it is not important for them to follow the law or keep the public, Congress or federal judges informed.
“We know what’s best. Move along and let us do our job,” too often seems to be the attitude.
So we get high-handed edicts handed down by mid-level federal bureaucrats or court-bypassing security sweeps, with little concern about how those actions affect the public at large or the Constitution. It is exactly that attitude and those actions that foster public mistrust and resentment of government.
No federal agency can satisfy everyone, especially on controversial issues. But eliminating arbitrary, power-grabbing actions would go a long way toward re-establishing some of that public trust.