Warren Meyer writes a blog I enjoy reading, and he recently got the dream promotion of a column for Forbes!
Here, he gives some insight into why government inaction is inevitable in the face of disaster:
Over the last several weeks, Americans have been presented with a mind-boggling series of bureaucratic decisions by various Federal agencies that seem to belie the urgency of the Gulf oil spill: Barges sent to remove oil are delayed until the Coast Guard can inspect them for fire extinguishers; offers of foreign help are turned away because foreign ships would violate Jones Act protectionism of American shipping firms and unions; skimmer ships are rejected because the mostly oil-free water they return to the oceans does not meet EPA discharge standards; and states attempting to build artificial barrier islands to protect their wetlands have met resistance from multiple Federal agencies.
The problem in a government discussion, particularly a multi-agency discussion, is that everyone can say “no,” and worse, since their incentives are loaded toward risk avoidance (they get punished for violating procedure, but never punished for missing an opportunity), they have a tendency to say “no” a lot, in fact to say “no” by default. In the Gulf we have a thousand federal employees from 20 agencies whose entire incentive system–whose entire career–whose every lesson from every bureaucratic battle in a sort of long-term aversion therapy, prompts them to say “no” by reflex. And the unwritten rule in multi-agency meetings and task forces is that any other agency’s “no” must be treated with respect.
Of course, all these federal agencies are unconstitutional, and should be ignored and disbanded. Hasten the day!