What’s an essential government service?

What does your government provide to you that you can’t possibly live without? And how did you let yourself get into a position where the government is providing it? When push really comes to shove, and the government activates its continuity plans, if you’re counting on that government service, you’re done for.

The federal government’s continuity of government plans date back to the Cold War, when it had plans and facilities to relocate essential people and functions in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack. The program was one of the few government programs ever scrapped, after the Cold War came to a close.

But in 1998 President Clinton brought it back amidst the Y2K panic and the growing threat of terrorism. But he didn’t just bring back continuity of government for absolutely essential emergency functions. Now just about every part of the monstrous federal governemnt is in on the action, even agencies one wouldn’t think of as essential. And he placed the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of the program.

Yes, that FEMA.

The program, which sets up a “shadow government” which will operate from bunkers outside D.C. in the event of a catastrophic event, now requires every government agency to participate. It was actually called into operation on September 11, 2001, with about the results you’d expect: Bush and Cheney were protected, but everybody else was left hanging, all the way from Congress to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the who?).

William Arkin describes the program, and one of its drills, Forward Challenge ’06, coming later this month, in Sunday’s Washington Post.

A year after 9/11, and almost three years after the deadline set in Clinton’s 1998 directive, the Government Accounting Office evaluated 38 agencies and found that not one had addressed all the issues it had been ordered to. A 2004 GAO audit (PDF) of 34 government continuity-of-operations plans found total confusion on the question of essential functions. One unnamed organization listed 399 such functions. A department included providing “speeches and articles for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary” among its essential duties, while neglecting many of its central programs.

The confusion and absurdity have continued, according to documents I’ve collected over the past few years. In June 2004, FEMA told federal agencies that essential services in a catastrophe would include not only such obvious ones as electric power generation and disaster relief but also patent and trademark processing, student aid and passport processing. A month earlier, FEMA had told states and local communities that library services should be counted as essential along with fire protection and law enforcement. . . .

With its new plans and procedures, Washington may think it has thought of everything to save itself. Forward Challenge will no doubt be deemed a success, and officials will pronounce the continuity-of-government project sound. There will be lessons to be learned that will justify more millions of dollars and more work in the infinite effort to guarantee order out of chaos.

But the main defect — a bunker mentality that considers too many people and too many jobs “essential” — will remain unchallenged. — Washington Post

Oh, it’s so comforting to know that FEMA is watching out for the public libraries in the event of a nuclear or terorrist attack. Go read the whole thing and see what else FEMA has in store for when things go south again.

So here’s the question of the day: What exactly is an essential government service? When the excrement hits the ventilation device, what exactly do you think the government can do for you, while it’s not even clear if it can manage to save itself? And why are you still relying on the government for anything?

The fact is, you can’t even rely on the government on a normal day, let alone in extraordinary circumstances. So quit already. Give up your addiction to government.

One thought on “What’s an essential government service?

  • May 29, 2007 at 9:43 am
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    The idea of creating government pensions is absurd except for the few government employees required to work in the offices that provide services for public documents, etc., or secretaries who perform those services.

    Public officials who are elected should not be living from public funds after retirement because it encourages less democracy, and the ability to consider political appointments as careers as if they were jobs in the private sector. The government is, and has never been, the private sector. Converting the private sector into a government employment scheme is as much a dictator-like infrastructure as having a real dictator decide how the nation will work.

    Government is not an entity in democracy; it is a loosely affiliated segment of individuals appointed or elected for oversight purposes, and to facilitate essential services deemed important for the American people. It is not an end in itself, but a means of distributing those services – and a job, not a career. Public service was never meant to be a way to riches. That it has become so is the greatest undoing of democracy as conceived that ever managed to creep into America. It is more and more difficult to be able to distinguish America from any other nation, replete with dictatorships who abuse their privileges of election.

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