One of my favourite Ronald Reagan quotes is this one:
The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.
And so it came to pass:
Mike Marsh is a federal employee who wrote to Congress this summer with an unusual proposal to save the government money.
Fire me, Marsh told lawmakers. And everyone I work with.
“I have concluded that [my agency] is a congressional experiment that hasn’t worked out in practice,” wrote Marsh, who is the inspector general for the Denali Commission, an economic-development agency based in Alaska. “I recommend that Congress put its money elsewhere.”
This has been tried before. But not often. Old Washington hands could remember only two other federal workers who had lobbied publicly to have themselves defunded. One was a high-level Ronald Reagan appointee. One was a lowly weather observer.
Both failed. Meaning they weren’t fired.
Marsh seems likely to fail, too — even though his requests arrived in Washington in the middle of a battle to cut the budget. His agency seems protected by one of Washington’s most enduring customs: the defense of home-state giveaways, even in times of national austerity.
For now, the main impact of his request seems to be within his small agency — where the great debate over spending has turned into a smaller, tenser confrontation among colleagues.
Until a Washington Post reporter called, Marsh’s fellow employees did not know he was lobbying to have them cut off.
“No. Never heard that,” Joel Neimeyer, the top federal official at the Denali Commission, said when a reporter called. “Thank you for sharing,” he said. Still processing it. This was a man he and other staffers had gone to dinner with: Neimeyer thought Marsh was “charming, with a pretty good sense of humor.”
“What do you think of him sharing it with Congress and not the agency?” Neimeyer asked.
Marsh sent his first requests to Washington this summer. Then, this month — as Congress fought a battle over next year’s budget — he sent another letter, this one to Sen. Barbara Boxer(D-Calif.). He said his opponents in the agency were “shooting the messenger, tackling the referee, or berating the pathologist who has to convey the news one would prefer not to hear.”
Colleagues: Not amused
He’s right that they’re not happy.
“He’s done a great job of flummoxing our ability to serve these communities any better,” Vince Beltrami, a Denali Commission member and a leader of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said Tuesday when the commission met in Anchorage.
They spent more than an hour talking about Marsh. They didn’t spend any time talking to him, though, because he didn’t show up.