Guitars, Cadillac salaries and waste in federal government

Earlier this year, game wardens, armed in black like the SWAT team members they were, burst into the plant of the venerated Gibson Guitar Co. in Tennessee.

What did they expect? Heavy resistance from guitar neck-wielding moms trying to make ends meet by working the night shift?

They seized documents, computers and, what they were really after, evil rosewood and ebony from India, the tonewoods that give Gibsons and other high-end guitars the sound so coveted by guitarists around the world.

Gibson’s crime? Nothing, really. The Indian government had signed off on shipping the rare wood to the U.S., even though it hadn’t been finished in India as Indian law requires. Indian officials didn’t care. No United States laws were broken. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was trying to enforce an Indian regulation that India said it didn’t care about enforcing itself.

And, oh yes, dozens of Gibson employees, those aforementioned struggling moms among them, are now out of work. Then there’s my personal pet peeve. Around my house are several guitars. None of them is a Gibson. My chances of someday owning a Gibson are now diminished, since, thanks to the federal government, Gibsons are now more rare and thus more pricey.

That’s your federal government at work.

Meanwhile in Colorado’s Third Congressional District, staff members of freshman Rep. Scott Tipton are enjoying the highest salaries of any staff of any freshman representative in Congress. It’s a good gig if you can get it. Just ask any of Tipton’s well-paid staff. The first three months of this year, his 21 staffers made $243,431. That’s nearly 40 percent more than the average of $176,158 paid to the staff of the other freshman.

That, too, is your federal government at work.

And just what does the Fish and Wildlife Service’s raid on Gibson and Tipton’s staff salaries have to do with anything? Stay with me, please.

It seems every time the conversation turns to the dysfunctional state of the federal government, which is just about every time there is a conversation, at some point it comes to a discussion of fraud, abuse and waste. If we could just get rid of fraud, abuse and waste, wouldn’t that go a long way toward solving our sovereign debt problem?

It probably wouldn’t, given the size of the problem. But that’s a difficult question to answer. Easy numbers aren’t out there. Just what is fraud, abuse and waste? Is it earmarks? One guy’s pork, as they say, is another guy’s bacon? Is the federal government just so darn big that nobody knows? Maybe.

Whatever the number, it’s big. A Gallup Poll earlier this year found most Americans think the government wastes more than 50 percent of every dollar it collects. Let’s hope it’s not really that much.

But back to the Gibson raid and Tipton’s staff.

Nothing will happen to the heavily armed Fish and Wildlife Service officers. Wouldn’t it be cathartic, though, for all of the rest of us who every day have to watch a dysfunctional government that no longer works in our best interest, if someone finally said enough is enough. There is right and there is wrong. The raid on the Gibson plant was wrong and those responsible for it will have to pay the price for what they did.

That someone would be Colorado’s own Ken Salazar. He’s is the secretary of the Department of the Interior, which oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a congressman, in this case our own Scott Tipton, stand up and say, “You know, when I set the salaries for my staff I didn’t realize they were so far out of the ball park. They are a good, hard-working talented bunch of creative people who want to do nothing more than serve the people of the Third Congressional District of Colorado. But at a time when everyone is being asked to sacrifice it’s only fair that they be compensated in the same manner as other congressional staffs.”

Neither of those actions would solve the problems of the federal government. Both would show us there are people in Washington who really do care about doing the right thing.

That would be a start.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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