Term limits for bureaucrats?

Term limits for bureaucrats? What kinda garbage is that!?!

When we speak of term limits, we always think of politicians who are elected to office: governors, representatives, State constitutional officers, and of course, Massa of these un-tied States. When we think of terms of office or duty, we might think of military personnel and terms of enlistment, a practice dating back at least to the Roman Republic.

When it comes to bureaucrats? Indefinite periods of appointment or employment. Political appointees (heads of State or federal agencies, for example) are thought of as serving at will (of the politicians appointing them) and therefore limited to the length of the political regime or even official’s term.

But for the sake of ending the corruption of the spoils system which developed from the War of Independence for a century, the “civil service” system was created. (Much like Frankenstein created his monster.) States and local governments followed that lead. Today, the wrongly-named civil servants above all have security of employment. They have so much security that they literally cannot be fired except under the most dire of conditions. Even axe murders require considerable effort to terminate them. (“Well it really was in the line of duty and the inspector was facing a very high level of resistance and perhaps he went a bit too far. But the guy had refused to mow his lawn on time all summer, your honor. See that photo of the tape measure? The grass is 6.8 inches tall and the code specifies 6.0 inches.”)

Sorry for the aside!

The problem is, that entrenched bureaucrats create an entrenched bureaucracy. A powerful and highly-influential bureaucracy that is able to dominate its erstwhile masters: the public and their representatives. People rise slowly through the ranks accumulating knowledge, experience, and power, and in particular expertise in gaming the system and manipulating others.

And that, we have seen, is a major problem today in the Fifty States – at all levels of government. Like politicians, many bureaucrats desire power and wealth – more than their security and their generous pay. And even fame and prestige. Consider Faucet (Fauci). He has it all: security, power, wealth (including the highest pay of any US government employee ever), and fame and prestige.

So what if? What if civil service workers were given specific terms – not just probationary periods at the start of their employment? And they were limited to two or three terms? What impacts would that have?

Would we see less power, less control, exercised by them? Would we see less influence? Less going beyond the written decisions of their political masters? Less abuse, of riding roughshod over American businesses and people? Lower level governments?

Or would we see lower levels of efficiency, competence, work actually getting done? (I know, bureaucratic efficiency is generally considered ultra-low. But it does (sadly) have room to get more inefficient.)

It might be possible that bureaucratic power would grow, because of the need to ensure operations continue even with much higher turnover. It might offer opportunities for organized cabels to manipulate the hiring system and the workers.

Or it could not just reduce the power of an entrenched bureaucracy, but actually improve the ability of government to do the things (like serve the needs of the public) that it theoretically exists to carry out.

Limiting a person’s service as a “civil servant” to no more than, say two periods of four years each (theoretically 8 years of a 40-year productive life) might make for some interesting things like improvements in our daily lives.

Think it is worth a try? Let us know!

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
This entry was posted in Ideas for liberty, Nathan's Rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Term limits for bureaucrats?

  1. Alberto J Hamworth Jr says:

    “…since you have stolen our thunder! (Grin) .”

    Sorry about that. I think there’s more ore to be mined here, though; for example, a combination of “how to downsize the government” and “how to change the culture” coupled with “when the feds downsize how to prevent that function from being absorbed by the states/counties/cities.

    And, yes, nothing productive in this area will happen until we experience a supremely massive cataclysm that places “survival” much higher on Maslo’s pyramid than “bullshit.” Until then it’s just the usual “deck chairs & Titanic play acting” accompanied by standard media hype and hysteria.



  2. Alberto J Hamworth Jr. says:

    I would offer that the entire system needs radical restructuring.

    College & University – it’s now 4 years; why? Run it year-round, do it in 3 years; 2-2 1/2 if the student wants “just the meat” (no fluffy electives).

    Government employees – it will take a national solution. Here’s why: Texas (or Florida or California or Maryland) changes to a “public employee contract work arrangement” with, say, 7-year initial contracts and limitiing contract renewals to one 5-year contract so Joe or Jane hooks to the state gummint trough for a maximum of 12 years. The contract also stipulates “no government employment in (name of state) beyond 12 years” (this is needed because a lot of the ex-state employees will just shift to counties and cities and vice-versa). Theoretically, Joe/Jane does their 12 then is forced to return to the private sector for gainful non-government employment.

    Sounds good, right? Wrong. Having established themselves as “trained government employees” with their 7 or 12 years of service Joe/Jane moves to a different state and repeats the process because state #2 gets an already bureaucrat-trained workforce that way. All this does is create a geographically cyclic workforce.

    Until government is severely limited in what activities it may engage in and thereby limited in how many employees it needs there are few ways to term limit government employees. Not to mention if State X is banned from, say, performing vehicle inspections then vehicle inspections will be contracted out to “Fred & larry’s Excellent Vehicle Inspection Company, LLC” for the same amount of money.

    This isn’t something that can be fixed with legislation – it requires a substantial culture change (good luck with that). Did anyone in 1795 or 1875 expect government to provide bureaucratic oversight of everything government’s involved in today? Nope – they took care of it them selves. Trick question: What was the national minimum wage in 1835, and who administered it? What was the standard monthly EBT card benefit in 1915?

    Different cultures, “independent and self-supporting” versus “dependent and requiring external support.”


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Exactly. You make many excellent points – and may keep TPOL from following up the commentary with another one, since you have stolen our thunder! (Grin) Eliminating the long-term bureaucrats is easy to work around, and a top-down approach will not work. We already see the ‘rats hopping from one State to another, or from State to Fed (and even back again) to further their careers.
      A cultural change is needed – and may come as part of a general collapse, as TPOL has pointed out a few times here and there.


  3. VietVet says:

    Downsize 95% and eliminate the problem entirely.


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Even with just 5%, unlimited time, seniority, and great power will still empower bureaucrats to lord it over the citizens, won’t it? Still, I think most of us would think getting rid of 95% would be a good start!


  4. Darkwing says:

    Ever since the 50’s, I have read and heard and told people we need term limits for ALL elected people. Problem is that are you going to limit yourself, NO. I told people what I ran for public office, I will try to get some stuff done in one or two terms but If I cannot I quit


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Some successful candidates have promised that AND lived up to their promise, but it is a pitiful few. And the power of incumbents is so great that counting on the electorate to throw the mugs out is a pretty poor way.


  5. Mr. Slave Larry says:

    Isn’t that what “Drain the Swamp” was all about. Not just limiting the time they “serve” but getting rid of them and the bureaucracy altogether.


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Absolutely. Call it cultural change or revolution or collapse. But half-measures are unlikely to work, as several of us have discussed.
      Personally, I’ve always thought that either Jim Bell’s assassination politics or perhaps what H Beam Piper proposed in a Planet for Texans – elected officials wore an explosive collar and people could stop by a convenient kiosk and vote them down – enough votes and “bang!”


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