How a Department Resists a Businessman

In a previous post, How a Businessman Takes Over A Government Department, I discussed just that question. In this case it’s the Department of Energy (DOE). As a part of the 74 questions posed in the memo from the Trump Transition Team to the DOE, there were a couple of questions that obviously set people’s hair on fire. Let me quote those two questions and my comments about them from my previous post. Questions are in bold type, my comments are below the questions.

13 Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?

Now, this is the one that has the “scientists” involved most concerned. Me, I think they damn well should be concerned because what they have been doing all this time is HALF OF A COST/BENEFIT ANALYSIS!!

This is a pet peeve of mine. You can’t just talk of costs in a vacuum. To do that without considering the accompanying benefits is scientific malfeasance. To do it as a policy matter is nothing less than deliberately lying to the public. As a result, I hope that everyone engaged in this anti-scientific effort gets identified and if they cannot be fired for malfeasance then put them to work sweeping the floors. Talk about “fake news”, the so-called “social cost of carbon” is as fake as they come.

That was the first question that I said had set their hair on fire. The other one was:

19 Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years?

An IPCC Conference of Parties is much more party than conference—it’s basically an excuse to party in some lovely location (think Bali, Cancun, …), with the party occasionally interrupted by the pesky conference. It is a meaningless exercise which ends up with an all-night session that finishes by announcing that everyone has signed on to the latest non-binding fantasy about how to end the use of fossil fuels, drive up energy prices, and screw the poor. And yes, if I were appointed to run the DOE, I would definitely want to know who has gone on these useless junkets.

Now, I know that people are going to complain about “scientific freedom” regarding the memo asking who worked on what … but if you don’t want to tell the incoming team what you’ve worked on … why not? Are you ashamed of what you’ve done? Look, every job I’ve had, if a new boss came in, they wanted to know what I had worked on in the past, and I simply answered them honestly. Scientists are no different.

Finally, government scientists presumably work on what their agency directs them to work on … so the issue of “scientific freedom” is way overblown in this context where they are NOT free to work on projects of their own choice.

Today, we get the first salvo fired in response. From the Washington Post

“Our career workforce, including our contractors and employees at our labs, comprise the backbone of DOE (Department of Energy) and the important work our department does to benefit the American people,” Eben Burnham-Snyder, a DOE spokesman, told the Washington Post in an email. “We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department. We will be forthcoming with all publicly-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.” [Emphasis in original.]

When I saw that, I cracked up. Busted out laughing. I thought “You idiots! You just fell into the trap!”

Here’s the deal. The Transition Team sent that memo out. It doesn’t ask for anything other than the duties the employees performed. It doesn’t ask them to change their views or alter their scientific conclusions. It just wants to know, who worked on these projects? There is no reason to refuse that—it’s asked in this situation all over the world. A new boss comes in and says “Hey, who worked on the Jones project?” And Sally and Bob raise their hands. No harm, no foul.

At the request of a commenter I wrote a piece on the rules of thumb that I use to clarify murky situations. However, I forgot a very useful one. It goes like this:

If a man is hiding something … … … it’s because he’s got something to hide.

Applying this to the DOE certainly raises interesting questions. But to return to the issue, here’s why I say that they fell into the trap.

When I wrote the first piece, people noticed that the Transition Team started each memo question out with some variation of “can you provide” … and people wondered why.

Inter alia, this is why—it encourages fools to think that refusing to answer is a real option rather than a polite form of an order.

Anyone with half a brain would look at those polite questions and go nope, not gonna refuse, boss will be here in six weeks, dumb move. But we’re talking government employees here.

Let me see if I can explain this plainly. If you want to take over a bureaucracy, the key thing to know is that a single bureaucrat all alone is almost always a weak, pitiful creature for a simple reason.

He/she finds it very, very difficult to make a decision on his/her own.

Why do you think bureaucracies always spawn double handfuls of boards and commissions and working groups and the like? As a group, they can make decisions, no problem. Might not be good decisions, but they can make them. Plus which it makes them brave to have six or eight other men and women in agreement. But by themselves, chronological inertia takes over, and they slowly sink into their natural vegetative state of torpor.

In addition to a group, sometimes you do get a sort of a leader among bureaucrats. All too often they see their function as opposing the management … but they do have enough gumption to encourage others to take foolish chances and do dumb things. So you need to neutralize them along with the groups. When you’ve done that, 95% of the takeover is complete.

SO … if you want to take over a bureaucracy, how do you do it? Well, you either take over or abolish the groups that give individual bureaucrats power, and you isolate or otherwise neutralize the leaders.

Regarding the first one, let me offer you question 1 from the memo once again:

1. Can you provide a list of all boards, councils, commissions, working groups, and FACAs [Federal Advisory Committees] currently active at the Department? For each, can you please provide members, meeting schedules, and authority (statutory or otherwise) under which they were created? 

Clearly the authors of the memo know that the easiest way to get rid of something is to investigate the authorizing authority. The working group is not statutory? Bye-bye working group. Board membership is bloated beyond initial authorization? Bye bye extra board members. Soooo … that pretty much takes care of the “boards, councils, commissions, working groups, and FACAs”, you can be sure what will happen to those. But what about the leaders?

Well … you could hand the employees a list of questions phrased as “can you provide”, in the hopes that somebody will be foolish enough to stir up the ranks until they refuse to answer. What they refuse lets you know what they are hiding … and of course, who prompted the refusal will also be clear. Want to know who the leaders are? Foment a rebellion …

Here’s the truly insane part to me about this rebellion. It is doomed to fail, and thus can only make things worse.

There’s no conceivable way that they can hide who went to the Paris Conference of the Parties. There are hotel bills, airline ticket stubs, claims for reimbursement, per-diem issuance records, international phone calls, per diem expense vouchers, it’s the freakin’ Government, for heaven’s sake, they live on paper, they produce reams of details. And that’s just internal DOE records, that doesn’t even touch the UN Records of the conference with participant lists and emails and photographs of smiling time-wasters …

And the same is true about the scientific monstrosity called the “Social Cost of Carbon”. The people who worked on that will have their fingerprints all over all kinds of subsidiary documents and timesheets and records. There’s no way it can remain hidden.

But that’s not the bad news for the fools sticking their heads above the parapets. The bad news is that when Rick Perry comes in the door, he is the boss, and he or one of his lesser demons can call up any dang record they please … and he can also call employees one by one into the office and ask “Who worked on the Jones project”. That’s not a question affecting, what was it, the “professional and scientific integrity and independence” of anyone, it’s a bog-standard business question. And you can be sure somebody will want to curry favor with the new boss and will say “It was Jimmy that did it! I told him not to do so but he did it anyway!”.

And what is this nonsense about “independence” anyhow??? You are EMPLOYEES, idiots! If you want independence, DON’T WORK FOR ANYONE!

But wait, it’s worse. Rick Perry can also call people in one by one and ask them “whose bright idea was it to not answer the questions in the memo”

Like I said … if you want to know who the leaders are, foment a rebellion.

I would ask “How can these people be so foolish as to refuse to answer what they will soon be forced to answer, particularly when it can’t possibly be hidden anyway” … but then, to be fair to them, they are government bureaucrats …

Anyhow, that’s why I busted out laughing at the news that they are taking a brave, principled stand against evil people who want to … who want to … who want to know what they have been working on. Horrible cruel question.

Best to all,


19 thoughts on “How a Department Resists a Businessman

  1. How about an RSS feed link, for my mail and news reader? /thanks

    On Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 12:10 AM, Skating on the underside of the ice wrote:

    > Willis Eschenbach posted: “Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach In a previous > post, How a Businessman Takes Over A Government Department, I discussed > just that question. In this case it’s the Department of Energy (DOE). As a > part of the 74 questions posed in the memo from the Trump Tra” >


  2. When I first joined a UK Govt research agency many years ago my boss told me that at my grade I would be keeping a close eye on what the group scientists were doing. I went onto other things but that was a big eye opener to me at the time. The log books of those scientists/engineers listed all info and belonged to the project managers ultimately. Just hope the control system still operates adequately? Project Managers…prepare for a swift necking!


  3. The local newspaper has a relationship with the Washington Post and today’s editorial was “Why I’m trying to preserve federal climate data before Trump takes office” by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and journalist focused on weather and climate who lives in Tucson, Ariz. See it here:

    My initial impression was the guys who have resisted giving out their data are now suddenly worried the availability of data.

    Then I read this post and you nailed it “If a man is hiding something … … … it’s because he’s got something to hide.”

    Thank you and keep up the good work


    • “Why I’m trying to preserve federal climate data before Trump takes office”

      This is what happens when people are ‘wound up’ by a combination of their chosen news sources and their personality. We are all guilty to some extent but some, as above, just leap out of the trenches screaming. The idea that Trump would, or could, order the ‘deletion’ of ‘climate data’ is plainly an absurd notion. It seems to me that these things (change) just serve to identify the mentally unstable very quickly.

      My problem is that such people have been masquerading as ‘Journalists’ in ‘respected’ outlets for so long…


  4. The Trump transition has (as of yesterday) “walked back” their RFI, says the Washington Post — “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol,” a Trump transition official told the Post. “The person who sent it has been properly counseled.”

    I suspect the “counseling” consisted of “wait until the Electors vote” and the attempted coup has failed.


  5. Here’s the truly insane part to me about this rebellion. It is doomed to fail, and thus can only make things worse.

    But Willis, some will think that if they are going to get the order of the boot in any case, they may as well go out in a blaze of glory. Probably singing about the flag ‘shrouded oft our martyred dead’


  6. Sorry, I should have followed local rules more carefully.

    Willis wrote (and I quote) “when Rick Perry comes in the door, he is the boss, and he or one of his lesser demons can call up any dang record they please … and he can also call employees one by one into the office and ask ‘Who worked on the Jones project’. ”

    Former Governor Perry has been nominated for Secretary of the Cabinet Department of Energy. EPA is oddly not quite under the DoE, but floats in the org-chart along side, with its own director, Richard Windsor.

    Well, used to be Richard Windsor. Well, it USED to be Lisa Jackson, who was on leave from the board of the Clinton Foundation to pretend to be in charge of the EPA, by pretending to be Richard Windsor. To Windsor’s credit the email to and from the office was hosted on EPA government servers, rather than some private computer set up in Jackson’s spare bathroom. But one does wonder what the intention was in setting up two different holes to hold memories in.

    Anyhow, rather than a former Texas Governor / politician the new president-elect has nominated a former Oklahoman Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

    This hardly changes the analysis, but we do have to get the data right in order for the analysis to remain persuasive.


  7. I have to disagree with you on the purpose of meetings and commissions. I worked for companies that interfaced with technical people that were employees of the FAA and NOAA. Meetings were the one of the methods used to NOT get things done. The other use for them was to diffuse responsibility so they could all accept praise if they did accomplish something and to avoid blame if it failed.

    AFA draining the swamp goes, I have grave doubts that much of anything can be accomplished. Bureaucrats know they will be there long after the political appointees they work for are gone. They offer obeisance to them but either do what they damn well please or drag their feet (“oh we put together a committee to study that sir!”). Trump is used to being able to fire someone who bucks him or is just incompetent. Try that under Civil Service rules! Even worse, the Dems have added unions to the mix making it even harder. Don’t believe me? Back in the 70’s I saw two GS 12’s who had real mental problems and they couldn’t fire/demote or even force them to get mental help. Another sat at his desk and read technical mags or slept. Managers are even worse. If they’ve been there any length of time they know how to get there underlings to do things that are either against the rules or even unethical without actually telling them to do it. No actual threats, just phrasing and tone of voice that let’s you know what will happen to you if you don’t do it. Of course if it comes out their hands are “clean”. One of the commenters on WUWT linked to a scene from “Yes, Minister” showing how it’s done (and that wasn’t a joke. I’ve seen similar).

    And I don’t believe for a minute that they can’t “lose” documentation for people who went to conferences or anything else. It’s going to be outright guerrilla warfare for the next four years.


  8. Willis,

    Good points all…but I have my doubts that the bureaucracies will have their playing-card castles knocked down as quickly and as summarily as we hope (and as you seem to allude in your post). The sheer volume of the federal bureaucracy, not to mention the entrenchment and defensive postures Trump will be facing, leads me to believe this is going to be more of a slog through a WWII Pacific theater than a blitzkrieg through the Maginot line. I find my faith in any elected official having the patience and fortitude to see it through to the end quite lacking. Time will tell I suppose, and hope doth spring eternal…



  9. Over at The Conversation they’re hyperventilating about a new McCarthy era … y’all might want to comment, and I invited them to discuss it here as well. Most comments, curiously, are quite reasonable.



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