Loyalty and Responsibility

What would you think if the owner of a Ford dealership always purchased General Motors cars for his family to drive? Or, what would be your reaction if the owner of a McDonald's franchise always took her family to eat at a Wendy's? Although there is no written law that people have to be loyal to the products they are selling, we naturally expect them to be.

It seems to me that we as taxpayers have a right to expect this same type of loyalty from people who are employed to conduct the business of the federal government. But according to statistical reports published by USA Today, as of last September 3.9 percent of all federal employees owed back taxes, and the percentage is on the rise.

The delinquency rate of people on the payroll of the House of Representatives was among the highest at 4.9 percent. The Senate delinquency rate was 3.24 percent. Can you imagine -- some of the very people and their staffs who make the laws for citizens to follow lack the sense of loyalty and responsibility to abide by those laws themselves!

Let's dig further. In the past week we have learned more about what has been going on in the Veterans Affairs Department. At first it appeared that the VA had just been incompetent in caring for our veterans. But now we are learning that in all likelihood many appointment records were falsified to make it appear that veterans are being cared for so efficiently that employees of the VA are eligible to receive financial bonuses for superior job performances, which is clearly not the case. And, on top of that, the Veterans Affairs Department's tax delinquency rate of 4.4 percent is one of the highest of all government departments.

Looking at the Treasury Department, it has the best tax compliance rate among departments in the federal government at 1.2 percent. But the IRS, part of the Treasury Department, according to the report, paid more than $1 million in salaries and bonuses to employees who have not been paying their federal income taxes. I am incensed that people whose responsibilities include seeing to it that we citizens pay our taxes lack the sense of loyalty and responsibility to pay their own taxes.

The private sector and the federal government are similar in as much as they pay bonuses for failure. In the private sector, after failing to perform their responsibilities adequately, CEOs and coaches often receive big bonuses as part of their severance packages. But in these instances, the private sector does at least dismiss those who fail to do what is expected of them. The federal government, on the other hand, not only keeps employees who violate the law by failing to pay their federal income taxes, but in some instances also pays them bonuses.

Where is the sense of loyalty and responsibility to the citizens who are paying the salaries of these government employees? Franchise owners who are disloyal to their brands are breaking "unwritten" expectations of loyalty and responsibility. It is quite another thing for employees of the federal government to break "written" laws that were enacted by the United States Congress and signed by the President.

We hear so much these day about banks and companies that have become so large they are unable to manage themselves -- that there are so many layers of bureaucracy that illegal and unethical behavior can go undetected for years. Has our federal government become this same way?

I think is was Attorney General Richard Kleindienst during the Nixon Administration who suggested that the United States government had become too large to manage the affairs of our country solely from DC and put forth a proposal to divide the government into two equal divisions, one managing our country east of the Mississippi River and the other managing matters west of the Mississippi. Such an idea seemed farfetched and complicated and was immediately dismissed. But has our federal government now become so large that it can't govern effectively? Has the government lost its ability to manage its employees and hold them accountable? Has the federal government become so big that it has lost a sense of loyalty and responsibility to the very people it represents and governs?

I'm not a member of a far-right political group that wants to radically change the makeup of the federal government. But I hold loyalty and responsibility in high regard. People tend to adhere to the qualities of life they learned as children. I was reared during World War II, and the patriotism of that era produced in people a deep sense of loyalty and responsibility.

According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "loyalty" is defined as being "faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product." "Responsibility" is defined as being "able to answer for one's conduct and obligations."

I see indications that loyalty and responsibility are values that are going out of style. In my opinion, loyalty and responsibility are historic and important ingredients of our way of life that should never be put on the back burner, either in the private sector or the federal government. It may be that the federal government is too large and too important to fail. But we as taxpayers have every right to expect the employees of our government to be loyal and responsible, and if we discover they are not, we need to take appropriate action at the ballot box.

(Tax delinquency statistics are from the May 23-26 weekend edition of USA Today, page one.)