Washington, January 9, 2009 — This morning I was endeavoring to attend a monthly briefing on the state of the nation’s economy by an Assistant Secretary at the Treasury Department. I was unsuccessful in my quest for prior approval, so I proceeded to Plan B. I would make a courtesy call on the Public Affairs staff so I and they could put faces with names and engage in high-touch, in-person interactions. This was the Public Affairs office of the Treasury Department of our open, democratic government. This will be simple, I thought.
Rather, my experience was so Kafkaesque that I beg your indulgence beforehand and implore that you accept this tale as the truth. I will not engage in any hyperbole, at least none other than obvious literary embellishment which you will be able to discern immediately.
E-mails and calls about my desire to meet went unanswered. By unanswered, I mean that no one told me before I arrived at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, that even entering a warm, indoor facility with a rest room was not possible this wind-chill aided below-freezing morning — without a previously scheduled appointment.
No “walk-in” option is available for a citizen to his or her Treasury Department, the agency which receives, manages, and oversees federal tax receipts from American taxpayers. If Mr. or Ms. Smith goes to Washington to talk with someone in the Treasury Department, he or she will be left out in the cold.
Ironically, I was a long-time Department (IRS) employee and whenever I had business at the headquarters building, I merely flashed my badge and that was it. Circumstances have changed dramatically and access for the average Joe or Jane is so problematic as to be virtually nonexistent. Even more amazing, many people inside and outside the government do not seemed particularly concerned about this.
OK. Here’s the hyperbole. My reaction today is that my government is aloof, oligarchic, and more interested in its own interest than interacting in any meaningful, personal manner with the citizens who supply the fuel – read: cash – for the government to have its own interest in which to be interested.
Admittedly, I have never been to Russia. This morning, however, I felt like I was there.
So, what can I say about American democracy?
I have to say: At this time, at this place, and at this moment at the Treasury Department Public Affairs office, it is a very cold and closed institution.