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Eric Carlson
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When civil servants serve only themselves

Here’s a form of graft we don’t usually talk about. It’s when bureaucrats stop being accountable to anyone except themselves. The result, as you’d expect, isn’t good for the rest of us.

The U.S. has a recent example.

The Veterans Administration created phony waiting lists to make itself look better. The agency has now acknowledged that delayed care caused 23 deaths across the country.

(A new report by Sen. Tom Coburn said more than 1,000 veterans may have died in the last decade because of malpractice or lack of care from the VA.)

Despite all the recent headlines, the VA problem isn’t fixed. There are still 177,000 veterans who’ve waited at least two months for medical appointments, and for 43,000 others the wait has been four months or longer.

So it was weird last Friday to hear a VA official tell a Congressional committee that in fiscal 2013, all 470 of the agency’s senior managers received job ratings of “fully successful” or better.

And for ratings of “outstanding” or “exceeds fully successful,” nearly 80% of the VA execs were awarded extra pay or other compensation, he said.

Even the head of the Phoenix VA facility where the wait-list scandal broke collected an $8,500 bonus last year. Her bonus was eventually rescinded and she’s now on administrative leave, but still collecting her salary.

There’s no joy in reporting this type of news. Some of our favorite people — even family members — are public servants. They work hard and serve at a considerable sacrifice to themselves.

But now it’s clear that some parts of the federal bureaucracy need a strong dose of reality.

 In the National Review last week, Jonah Goldberg said:

In 2010, the 168,000 federal workers in Washington, D.C. — who are quite well compensated — had a job-security rate of 99.74 percent. A HUD spokesman told USA Today that “his department’s low dismissal rate — providing a 99.85 percent job security rate for employees — shows a skilled and committed workforce.

Such unnatural retention, Goldberg said, leads to “bureaucratic collectivism” — when civil servants “become their own class bent on protecting their interests at the expense of the public.”

Bureaucratic collectivism used to be associated only with socialist states and despotic regimes run amok. It was part of George Orwell’s spooky vision of 1984. But now it’s here, from sea to shining sea.

An untethered bureaucracy anywhere is a form of corruption. There’s really no other way to explain why $3 million in bonuses last year went to 350 VA execs, with $10 million paid over the past three years to VA bosses and staff in Phoenix alone.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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