The Bureaucrats of the Year

If you were to give out an award for Bureaucrat of the Year, how would you pick the winner?

For example, 2020 had a lot of contenders. If you chose incompetence as the main criteria for picking a winner, you might choose the bureaucrats at the Centers for Disease Control. These are the highly educated and trained federal government employees who botched the rollout of their coronavirus test kits. Because they did, their failure allowed the coronavirus to spread undetected in the U.S. for months after it arrived.

If you set mindless abuse of power as the standard, it would be hard to beat the Food and Drug Administration. For the latest example, the FDA has been holding up the approval of an inexpensive COVID-19 vaccine to satisfy its bureaucrats’ whims. It is as if they don’t care that case counts among Americans are soaring by millions per day, with tens of thousands hospitalized and thousands dying with COVID-19 daily. Their attitude seems to be that if it’s not business as usual, on their terms, they’re not doing it.

What could be worse than that?

What if we set pure stupidity as the metric for picking the bureaucrats of the year? Here, the best example we might choose are the bureaucrats of the Department of Natural Resources in the state of Wisconsin. In July 2020, the bureaucratic genius who runs the department ordered their employees to wear face masks while participating in video Zoom meetings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even if they were working from home. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered the story, which I’m quoting because if I didn’t, you might think I was making it up.

Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole reminded employees in a July 31 email that Gov. Tony Evers’ mask order was going into effect the next day. That means every DNR employee must wear a mask while in a DNR facility, noted Cole, an appointee of the Democratic governor.

“Also, wear your mask, even if you are home, to participate in a virtual meeting that involves being seen — such as on Zoom or another video-conferencing platform — by non-DNR staff,” Cole told his employees. “Set the safety example which shows you as a DNR public service employee care about the safety and health of others.”

The governor’s mask order requires people to wear masks when they are indoors — other than in private residences.

From a medical perspective, masks need to be worn at home only in limited situations, such as to protect people if someone living with them has COVID-19, said Nasia Safdar, the medical director of infection control at UW Health.

“Beyond that, there is not a reason to routinely wear a mask in your home if that risk isn’t there,” she said.

For the worst bureaucrats, it’s all about putting on a show or going through the motions of their jobs. Regardless of whether any of what they do provides any benefit to ordinary Americans.

Who would you nominate for Bureaucrat of the Year and what criteria would you use to pick a winner?

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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