Federal Bureaucracies: Incompetent, Corrupt, Or Both?

The saga of Barack Obama’s Internal Revenue Service is almost unbelievable. After “joking” years ago that he would audit his enemies, it turned out that Obama’s minions were in fact delaying or blocking routine applications for 501(c) status by conservative organizations, in order to help the Democratic Party. When Congress tried to investigate, the Obama administration stonewalled at every turn. Evidence mysteriously disappeared and the key player in the scheme, Lois Lerner, pled the Fifth rather than answer Congress’s questions.

Obama’s stonewall strategy has generally worked well. Scandals fade from the front pages when there are no new developments, and if information finally emerges, Democratic Party reporters treat it as old news. So the IRS scandal has pretty much disappeared from public awareness. Nevertheless, via InstaPundit, we learn that yet another IRS computer hard drive has been destroyed. How many is that now? I’ve lost track.

IRS officials are being lambasted today for erasing yet another computer hard-drive, this time one that a federal judge had previously ordered to be preserved. House Oversight and Government Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen erasing hard-drives has been a continuing problem….

“It is stunning to see that the IRS does not take reasonable care to preserve documents that it is legally required to protect,” said Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, and Jordan, an Ohio Republican, in a letter to Koskinen made public late Thursday. The hard-drive is involved in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Microsoft. A federal judge hearing the FOIA lawsuit told IRS to preserve the hard-drive. Then it was erased.

Most people probably don’t realize how astonishing this is. I practiced law for 41 years before retiring at the end of last year, all of it doing litigation. Preserving evidence is a routine obligation in lawsuits; it doesn’t depend on a court order. But if a federal judge has ordered a party to preserve a hard drive, as happened here, you can be assured that the hard drive will be protected like the crown jewels. Every company in America understands this: if a court has ordered you to preserve evidence, you guard it with your lawyers’ lives.

And yet, time after time, the IRS has either inadvertently or intentionally destroyed hard drives that courts have ordered them to preserve. In the private sector, this is unthinkable. Private companies obey court orders. They know that if they don’t, millions of dollars in sanctions are likely to result, and executives will lose their jobs. Only in government agencies do we see this kind of irresponsible scofflaw behavior. This is because most bureaucrats have a deep loyalty to the left-wing cause, and there is no accountability.

Many similar instances could be cited, but for now, let’s just remember the Colorado river that the Environmental Protection Agency turned orange with toxic chemicals. This kind of thing happens a lot with federal agencies.

Is this because federal agencies are corrupt, or because they are unusually inept? The familiar adage is that one should never presume malice when incompetence is a sufficient explanation. But here, I think we are going beyond ineptitude. Are federal agencies the only employers who can’t hire people who know how to follow court orders? No. Incompetence may play a part, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that federal agencies led by left-wing bureaucrats, including but not limited to the IRS, view themselves as above the law and protected by the scofflaw Obama administration, and therefore entitled to thumb their noses at the federal courts.

This is a new development in our democracy. Until now, we have never experienced an extra-legal administration like that of Barack Obama. Will the rule of law survive the 2016 presidential election? I don’t know. That wheel is still spinning.

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