Thursday, May 01, 2014

The ideal of public service has been lost

Slashdot has an interesting headline about how the British security agency, Government Communications Headquarters, aka, the "GCHQ", had been begging the NSA for access to NSA data pools. "Begging"? One security agency is begging for access to another's data? Someone at the GCHQ would like to go hunting for a terrorist so he can claim a prize, and get a reward.

This sounds a lot like ego to me. At both agencies, the cries for greater access to private data and suspension of 4th Amendment rights is more about finding and laying claim to having found and stopped a terrorist plot than about being of service to the public. Why can't they be happy with what they have now? Why always more, more, more?

There was a time when doing public service meant just that. Being of service, with no expectation of reward at the end of the service should be enough. Isn't it enough to know that you have helped someone and seen them smile? I know this from my own work. I know what it's like to help someone and get a reply or a smile when they're satisfied. Sometimes I'm good for a week when I've done that.

But to listen to these guys at the security agencies talk, I think that its more about ego than being of service. For years, we've been told that all this surveillance is going to keep us secure. But I can't recall an instance where the plot was foiled because of all this security theater. I guess the details are secret and it can't be told how many times the NSA was actually doing it's job instead of checking up on their ex-spouse, looking at pornographic selfies or fetching commercial intelligence for a paying competitor.

The ego thing isn't limited to our security agencies. Pretty much every agency is "owned" by the industry they service or regulate. For decades there has been talk of the revolving door where industry wonks do "public service" learning how the government works so that they can go back to work for the same company and "help" that company compete against others. Why, public service has become an opportunity for employees to work for government and get a raise when they leave.

Monsanto is a great example of this. The Obama Administration has many people who used to work for Monsanto, working in the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies that can help the ailing company get its genetically modified foods accepted. Sure, they take a pay cut when they work for the government, but when they leave the government, a nice, high paying job is waiting for them. In that new job, they can use their government experience to help further the commercial goals of Monsanto. Public service? Never heard of it.

Somewhere, long ago, the idea of doing public service was lost. I don't know where or when, maybe it never was. I can remember a time when working for government, any government, was a target of derision. Now it's a step in the corporate ladder to fantastic riches.

We started with a government of the People, for the People, by the People. But now that corporations are people, and money is speech, we have something that works for corporations first and people second.
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