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The British Disease, Coming Soon to a Bureaucracy Near You

A specter is haunting America, the specter of public-sector unions.

You’ve seen New Jersey Governor Chris Christie confront the teachers' union. You’ve seen him confront the police union. Unless you happen to belong to one of those unions — and possibly even if you do belong to one of them — you have probably cheered Christie’s honest, no-nonsense approach to the fiscal emergency brought on by out-of-control public sector unions.

You cheered him, figured he was winning, and turned the channel.

No so fast. We’ll see what happens with unionized state and municipal workers in New Jersey. Christie just might make a difference, and bully for him if he does.

But what about the larger problem of federal unionized employees? How are we doing there? As you may have noticed, Barack Obama is no Chris Christie when it comes to dealing with unions (or anything else, for that matter). Instead of confronting them, he coddles them — and why not? They are his most reliable constituency, indispensable to the livelihood of the contemporary Democratic Party. He takes care of them, and they “encourage” their members to vote for him and other Democratic candidates. It’s a time-tested formula.

Consider, to take but one example,  Executive Order 13522, which Barack Obama signed in December 2009. The stated purpose of “Creating Labor-Management Forums to Improve Delivery of Government Services” is “to establish a cooperative and productive form of labor-management relations throughout the executive branch.”

But, as an editorial in the Washington Examiner points out,  this anodyne bureaucratese conceals a worrisome power-grab by — or, more accurately, a power-gift to — the unions. It provides for what the Examiner’s editorialist calls an injection of “a massive dose of the British disease into the daily operation of the federal government.”

Remember Britain in the late 1970s? There were labor strikes, shutdowns, slowdowns everywhere. “Company owners and managers,” the Examiner reminds us, “had to secure prior approval from union bosses before carrying out even the most routine workplace tasks. As a result, productivity plummeted, and exports of once-popular British products like cars and motorcycles dropped sharply or disappeared entirely. Economic growth stagnated, investors fled overseas, and the country's standard of living declined.”

Executive Order 13522 is supposed to “improve delivery of government services.” But as the Examiner points out, the only thing that will be improved  is the ability of union bosses to tell managers of government agencies what they may and may not do.

Not only that, but you, the public, won’t even know what is going on:

What makes this an even more extraordinary turn of events, however, is the fact the Obama administration has empowered union bosses to exercise this new power behind closed doors without fear of exposure via the Freedom of Information Act.

Another victory for “the most transparent administration” in history.

Once again, the devil is in the diction. Savor the use of the phrase “pre-decisional involvement”:

According to a recently distributed guidance memorandum signed by Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients, federal managers must "allow pre-decisional involvement with unions in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining."

Use of the term "pre-decisional" means documents produced prior to a specific policy decision are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. And requiring federal managers to involve union bosses on all matters regardless of whether they are negotiable under the law effectively gives them a veto on virtually any workplace issue. Such power represents the essence of the British disease and thanks to Obama, it's now established policy in the federal workplace.

In other words, the only thing the public, the people paying for all this, will ever see is a series of faits accomplis. Along, of course, with the bill in the form of higher fees/taxes and more burdensome regulations and bureaucratic intrusiveness.

I suspect that the person or committee writing Executive Order 13522 (think about that: there are at least 13521 others!)  had at least a little sense of humor, for there is this lovely sentence: “Labor- management forums, as complements to the existing collective bargaining process, will allow managers and employees to collaborate in continuing to deliver the highest quality services to the American people.”

Got that? The order will help The Bureaucracy to continue “to deliver the highest quality services to the American people.”  What a card!

But that’s the only funny moment the order contains. For what it presages is another giant engorgement of an insatiable anti-democratic bureaucracy that is teetering out of control. The unions brought Britain to knees in the 1970s. It took Margaret Thatcher to break them and restore sanity and prosperity. Is there a Thatcher on the horizon for us?