There is great value in understanding and engaging federal government.
It’s easy to dwell on government’s ineptitude and effortless to criticize and complain. Insults, jabs, scandals, mistakes, delays, even honest misunderstandings sell airtime.
A Senator’s misstatement or a bureaucrat’s ineptitude ring out amidst the din of day-to-day governing because they are exceptions, easy to pluck, spin, post and Tweet. So what about the din? What about the constant hum of government’s bureaucracy? We can complain there as well, I suppose. It’s not loud enough. It’s too loud. It’s confusing and since we don’t understand it, it must be bad or at least ineffective, right?
Consider the effect of cancelling the din. Turn it off and the silence will be deafening. Our ears will ring almost painfully when we realize the din; the day-to-day efforts of government help collect our trash, help give us clean water, defend us, power us, transport us, feed us, treat us, and educate us.
Yes, it’s easy to complain, but listen to the din and you’ll understand there is much more to appreciate than chastise. Mind you, I am not a Socialist. I’m not even a Democrat! (Perish the thought…!) But I am a pragmatist and after working on Capitol Hill, within quintessential bureaucracies like the Department of Labor, and then as a lobbyist (Yes, I said it, a lobbyist!) for almost 20 years with clients ranging from large aquariums to defense contractors to at-risk youth and disability advocates I can assure you government offers more good and more support and meets more needs than most care to recognize.
And, although it will always be tougher to seek out and leverage those benefits than it will be to complain about slip ups, delays, or red tape, taking the time try, to learn, to actually engage can yield benefits far beyond appreciating government.
Forget for moment government’s basic roles like the Coast Guard’s search and rescue. (Who among us is ready to call them inept)? Consider that those who quietly, day in and day out contribute to the quiet din beneath the raucous, press grabbing, finger pointing and “grid lock” routinely succeed. For example:
The United States Department of Labor administers the National Job Corps. It’s a burdensome and expensive task in large part because the program is residential. Its mission is to help at-risk youth improve the quality and satisfaction of their lives through vocational and academic training. Day-in and day-out Job Corps’ professionals grind through the challenges of teaching the hardest to teach; supporting the most reluctant; and from their classes producing graduates, skilled employees, focused taxpayers who otherwise may have ended up in prison or worse. Sure kids drop out of the program. Some fail. You may find an article or two about them. You’ll have a tough time, however, finding news about the hundreds of thousands of success stories. But for Job Corps, but for the DOL, but for government, they would never be told.
Does that sound too trite? Then how about the United States Department of Agriculture’s recent funding to over 1,000 rural energy projects nationwide? The money went to renewable energy and energy efficient projects that not only provide new rural jobs, but new rural power using fuel that would have become waste. The return on those taxpayer investments will be at least three-fold, even if some of the projects discontinue. On their own, the projects are too small too receive venture capital and too geographically disparate to get traditional funding. What financier besides government, can step up, take the risk, and invest the money?
And there is more – so much more. Federal contracts are a quiet, unsung, and critical part of our economy. They support research and development, minority businesses, and local economies. Government services at all levels assure our safety and our standard of living.
Is there over regulation? Yes, often. Is there waste? Of course, it’s almost inevitable. It is easy to spot and yell about and when it’s fixable, it better be fixed! But as we listen to politicians’ discourse and rhetoric about how they will “change Washington” and “improve government;” as they do their best to sell a new approach to do away with rancor and increase effectiveness, we should do our part too. Stop for a moment, listen to the din, and consider the effects of its absence.
Take a moment to realize that despite the inevitable waste an wrong doing that government by its nature is pragmatic, doing more good for society than bad; more than many Libertarians care to admit or even realize.
And if you want to parse the noise even further, dig into the programs and find the ones that can help your neighborhood or your company even more, call a pragmatic lobbyist. There are one or two of those out there too!
By Aaron Grau
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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.