Robert Knight

The federal government is growing like kudzu. That’s the Japanese ivy plant that is taking over roadsides all over the south and is even invading the north.

Kudzu does some good, holding the ground and so on, but the price is steep: It kills the other plants, trees and bushes by smothering them. It’s kind of pretty in the summer, like the topiary animals at Disney World, full of fanciful shapes. But in the states that have winter, it leaves a tangled mess of dead trees and brown, twisted vines – a perfect symbol for big government’s strangling tendencies.

In Washington, D.C., there are hundreds of buildings with tens of thousands of offices that are filled with federal employees laboring under florescent lights and whose job is to manage America’s population of 315 million. There are so many of them lining the south side of Independence Avenue that we might as well rename it Dependence Street.

This is not new. We can argue about whether it began with Woodrow Wilson or with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but a strong case can be made that Washington’s kudzu-like growth began with the advent of air conditioning.

As you walk down the sidewalk staring up at these concrete and glass monoliths, you can’t help but wonder what the people in there are doing. They can’t all be playing Sudoku, but it might be better if they were. At least they’d leave the rest of us alone.

Many years ago, I had a friend who worked for a federal agency. She told me that her desk was filled with games like Parcheesi, since she could easily finish what few tasks she had before 11 a.m.

It could be worse. Bored employees at the Security and Exchange Commission got caught in 2010 using their computers to access Internet porn.

It would be profoundly unfair to indict all federal employees just because a few perverts at the SEC got caught, or because the Internal Revenue Service shelled out big bucks for parties in Vegas between forays against the Tea Parties and conservative candidates.

I happen to know some conscientious federal employees at various agencies who are patriotic and take their jobs seriously. But in general terms, the government is way too big, so let’s return to the kudzu analogy.

The Executive branch alone has 2.8 million employees, including 600,000 postal workers. Surprisingly, only about 370,000 federal employees work in the Washington, D.C. area, plus lots of civilian contractors. The contractors have their own concrete and glass canyons rising in the Dulles corridor, whose computer-related companies now rival Silicon Valley’s. That giant, sucking sound you hear is money flowing from the rest of the country into Washington’s burgeoning suburbs.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.