Book Review: The Weed Agency

The EPA messed up royally late last week when a crew they hired to dig in a closed gold mine in Colorado accidentally opened up a barrier that was holding back contaminated water.   That water flowed into the Animas River, polluting a needed water source for the city of Durango and for area ranchers and farmers,  and into neighboring New Mexico; it is now even a bigger threat I learned tonight, as it may also contaminate a river that flows from the Animas into Utah.

Reading about this horrible accident, the EPA’s response at a Duragno Town Hall meeting,  and also how some wag has suggested that the EPA’s name be changed to the Environmental Pollution Agency, has all refreshened in my mind the book I read earlier this summer, Jim Geraghty’s book, The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits.

The Weed Agency

Geraghty is a newsman by trade.  He is a contributing editor at National Review, is an online blogger and columnist for National Review online, is the author for their email newsletter, The Morning Jolt and for their Campaign Spot blog, and he also appears, from time to time, as a roundtable pundit for Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.   If you doubt his news reporting abilities, than take a look at his resume, found via Linked In.

In Geraghty’s book, there are two protagonists, if you will, who are really antagonists of each other.  There is the career bureaucrat, Jack Wilkins, who’s sole reason for his career is to keep his federal government agency from ever being shut down and to keep their budget rising no matter who the President is or what political party is in power.  The other protagonist is Nicholas Bader, a Reagan Whitehouse Budget hawk turned congressman from Pennsylvania who has an obsession with cutting the Weed Agency out of the government forever.

Each of these two main characters has his “minions”, so to speak, characters who work for them and believe in their boss’s cause.  There is also an elderly “statesman” congressman, who brings a lot of pork back to his home state.  When reading about this character, various elder statesmen came to my mind, as his character is an amalgamation of that type of politician.  The politician who brings  a lot of money back to his state, has many buildings and highways named after him, and who can wield a lot of helpful power to any bureaucrat who needs his help.

I found the book to be a fast read, to be a funny read, and in infuriating read.  Infuriating because it gives an unabashed look at one federal government agency, it’s monstrous growth through a 31 year period, and it show’s no signs of stopping, nor does it show that this agency has done a lot for American taxpayers.  How many of the other agencies in the US federal government fit this description??  Too many, is my humble opinion.

The Weed Agency is an actual agency: it’s part of the USDA, and it’s actual name is The Agency of Invasive Species.  It began during President Carter’s administration, due to his background of peanut farming and a fear of invasive weeds being brought in to the US that could decimate crops.

Geraghty’s use of actual facts from various administrations(Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama)and from various Congressional activities,  help illustrate how a bureacracy can control its outcome in a positive way, despite threats of a shutdown or a budget cut from  politicians.  I found his descriptions of Al Gore and Newt Gingrich particularly funny, as both men and their staffs hold hearings with The Weed Agency, when their Presidents (Clinton and Bush) have authorized wasteful government agencies be trimmed or shut down.  The masterful way that the agency director, Jack Wilkins, and his aides, completely get Gore and Gingrich off track and supporting the continuation of  The Weed Agency is hilarious!  Flattery will get you anywhere, should be one of the morals of this book.

There is a side bit about one of The Weed Agency’s employees, a computer whiz, getting tired of working for the government and her career move into Silicon Valley illustrates the stablity that exists in  a government job vs the instability when  working for a new venture.  There is also a final showdown between The Weed Agency’s director and retired Congressman Bader, the latter finding a way to shut down the construction of the new, fabulous, and ultra expensive building that  will house The Weed Agency.

For a funny look, and yes, at times, infuriating look, at the federal government, at how politicians try to enter Washington DC with good intentions but how bureaucracy often stops them in their tracks, get a copy of The Weed Agency.  I highly recommend it!

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