Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Theory and Reality of How Government Works

This story from Politico is quite entertaining and really illustrates the difference between the Democratic view of government (that it helps people) and the Republican one (that it is an incompetent hindrance).  Yesterday, during his Magical Misery Tour in his long black shaft bus, Obama had this exchange with a farmer:

Q    I farm north of here.  We enjoy growing corn and soybeans, and we feel we do it as safely and efficiently as we possibly can.  And Mother Nature has really challenged us this growing season -- moisture, drought, whatever.  Please don't challenge us with more rules and regulations from Washington, D.C., that hinder us from doing that.  We would prefer to start our day in a tractor cab or combine cab rather than filling out forms and permits to do what we'd like to do.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we've got the Secretary of Agriculture right now, so is there a particular -- is there a particular rule that you're worried about?

Q    We hear what's coming down about noise pollution, dust pollution, water runoff.  Sometimes the best approach is just common sense, and we are already using that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  Here's what I'd suggest is, the -- if you hear something is happening, but it hasn't happened, don't always believe what you hear.  (Laughter and applause.)  No -- and I'm serious about that.  Because a lot of times, what will happen is the folks in Washington -- there may be some staff person somewhere that wrote some article or said maybe we should look into something.  And I'm being perfectly honest, the lobbyists and the associations in Washington, they'll get all ginned up and they'll start sending out notices to everybody saying, look what's coming down the pike.  And a lot of times we are going to be applying common sense.  And if somebody has an idea -- if we don't think it's a good idea, if we don't think that there's more benefit than cost to it, we're not going to do it.

        And so, I want to make sure that everybody gets accurate information.  If you ever have a question as to whether we're putting something in place that's going to make it harder for you to farm, contact USDA.  Talk to them directly.  Find out what it is that you're concerned about.  My suspicion is a lot of times they're going to be able to answer your questions and it will turn out that some of your fears are unfounded.  

        But nobody is more interested in seeing our agricultural sector successful than I am, partly because I come from a farm state.  And I spent a lot of time thinking about downstate issues as a United States senator.  And I'm very proud of the track record that we've developed.  If you look at what's been happening in terms of agricultural exports -- what's been happening in terms of agricultural income during the time that I've been President of the United States -- I think we've got a great story to tell.  And I want to continue to work with you and other farmers to make sure that we're doing it in the right way that's not inhibiting you from being successful.

So Politico decided to check out what exactly happens when you contact USDA to find out about the regulations the farmer is talking about.  First, he calls the USDA main line and is told to call the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which he does.  He is then told to call the Illinois Farm Bureau, which isn't even a governmental organization.  When he calls them, they really have no idea what the reporter is talking about.  So he called the Illinois Department of Agriculture again and they tell him to call the director of the department as they have "policy people".  The director's office transfers him to the agricultural product inspections department who then transfers him to the environmental programs department.  They tell him that the EPA handles what he is looking for.  He made a few more calls and in the end got this email from the Secretary of Agriculture's office:

"Secretary Vilsack continues to work closely with members of the Cabinet to help them engage with the agricultural community to ensure that we are separating fact from fiction on regulations because the administration is committed to providing greater certainty for farmers and ranchers. Because the question that was posed did not fall within USDA jurisdiction, it does not provide a fair representation of USDA's robust efforts to get the right information to our producers throughout the country."

So if a farmer follows the Chief Executive's advice and "call's USDA" he would actually have to talk to about 7 people just to figure out the right agency to call about regulations that all of them should know something about (I would think the Department of Agriculture would be on top of regulations that ummmm regulate agriculture?).  One wonders that if the Chief Executive and farming regulators don't know what regulations the farmer needs to face (or even who to talk to about them), how exactly is the farmer supposed to be compliant with them?

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