Bob Franken

Last Week’s King Features Column

(Writers note: The arrangement with the syndicators allows my columns to be posted here a week after they have been distributed to newspapers. Obviously, this one preceded the Tucson murders. Reflections on that will appear on this site after the normal delay)


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While it is true that most of us are lulled into believing that the important work of government is done by the White House and Congress, and every once in a while the Supreme Court, they are just a distraction. The real show in Washington takes place in officialdom’s hidden branch, the work group.

With that in mind, make plans to be in D.C. Feb. 1 and 2 for the national summit of the Federal Bed Bug Work Group, organized by the Environmental Protection Agency and including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense, along with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No, this is not made up; it’s for real. In fact, it’s the second-annual summit.

Various lobbying groups will show up, perhaps maybe even one to represent the pests themselves. The greatest news of all is that you and I can attend. It’s open to the public, so the first order of business should be identifying hotel rooms that are not infested.

Why focus on the Bed Bug Work Group? Because it represents a real slice of Washington life, or in this case, a chomp. Work groups are sometimes called study groups or commissions. Whichever, they are all motion and no movement, a substitute for action. Usually, for those who don’t have a solution to any problem, they are an excuse simply to pass the buck.

Another example is the much heralded deficit commission. Actually there were two: a presidential commission and a separate, privately organized study group.

As we know, both came out with harsh programs to combat a crushing national debt that threatens to bury the United States. Their reports included similar recommendations for severe cutbacks in government programs, including tightening the sacred cow Social Security, along with higher taxes. They both elicited similar pat-on-the-head reactions: “We agree we have a problem, we appreciate your hard work and you gotta be kidding.”

No wonder: Nowhere in either proposal was there any consideration of suggestions that had appeared in my earlier columns, like selling naming rights to federal buildings (Goldman Sachs Treasury, Boeing Pentagon), or renting out beach condos at a new Guantanamo Bay gated community. Nor were there other leading-edge concepts, like making cable news networks pay a fee for the officeholders they put on to yell at each other, a Blowhard Stipend (BS).

Most innovative of all might be some sort of levy imposed on task forces, commissions, work and study groups. Maybe we can appoint a commission to consider that.

Usually, their studies result in little more than calls for further study. That is exactly what happened with the first summit of the Federal Bed Bug Work Group. In the EPA’s announcement of the second summit we could read: “One of the recommendations from the first summit, that an interagency federal task force be created, led to the formation of the Federal Bed Bug Work Group.”

So here we are, at Bed Bug 2, where we can plan for Bed Bug 3. Meanwhile the vermin continue to spread just about as fast as study groups do.

It’s not all self-perpetuation, though. What did come out of the meetings is the information that temperatures over 122 degrees Fahrenheit kill these creatures, so hot air can be effective in controlling them. Who said there was no role for Congress?

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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