Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Your Helpful Bureaucrat??

What is the appropriate division of responsibilities between a bureaucrat and her customer/client? I raise this question because of a news report that IRS was willing to do tax returns for taxpayers, which aroused the ire of Grover Norquist (and presumably H&RBlock). The issue came up in agriculture, as well. At one extreme you could argue that the bureaucrat is a public servant, and should do whatever is needed to serve the public and get the job done, whether it's collecting taxes or making farm payments. At the other, you say that the citizen is a mature responsible adult, who should be capable of doing whatever calculations and completing whatever forms the agency designs.

In the case of ASCS/FSA, the employees in the county offices were the neighbors and friends of the farmers being served. Naturally they tended to hold the hands of the farmers, particularly in the old days when many farmers were not experienced with paperwork. (It was also sexist, farmers being too male to bother with clerical work. It probably also was an occasion for racism and favoritism in general. A bureaucrat would go the extra mile for the person she liked or had empathy with, and be more rigid with those for whom she had no positive feelings.) The problem is if the farmer takes action based on erroneous advice from the bureaucrat. We had a section of law and a whole process to handle such cases.

One of these days I'll look at what the IRS does in such cases.

No comments: