The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale Of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits, by Jim Geraghty
This is the sort of book that I could see being the inspiration for a movie, or perhaps even more hilariously, a sitcom about an obscure federal agency whose responsibility it is to deal with weeds, and which is incompetently run to great hilarity and annoyance on the part of the reader, hilarity because it is enjoyable to see people be incompetent but with great annoyance because we are paying them to be incompetents. I must admit that as someone who enjoys reading about bureaucracy almost as much as I am irritated at having to deal with them, this novel hit the right spot. Its main characters are deeply funny in how they seek to find and keep a secure place in receiving federal monies and deal with the opposition of those who want to tame the swamp, and the novel has a somewhat pessimistic view of the way that the swamp tends to grow in spite of the efforts of many to beat it back. In reading this book, I pondered why it was that we do not have the tradition of creating sitcoms about bureaucracies, as many of them are precisely the sort of places where office television would seem to thrive.
This novel is a relatively short one at a bit less than 250 pages long. It spans in time from the early 1980’s to 2010, and at its core features a small but mostly lovable set of characters. Adam Humphrey is the Administrative Director of a a semi-fictional USDA Agency of Invasive Species, and the story begins in February 1981 when he makes a fool of one Nicholas Bader, an idealistic Reaganite with a passion for bringing the bureaucracy under control. The increasingly personal grudge between Bader and this agency forms one of several plot lines that circle through this story, including the sheer incompetence and disinterest by the agency for dealing with invasive weeds in the first place, being more focused on feathering their nests with comfortable grifting. Idealistic workers find themselves discouraged by the lack of progress, and only those who are comfortable with the boring routine of doing nothing but waste hundreds of millions of tax dollars in an obscure corner of the bureaucracy find themselves at home here. The book shows, in humorous form, how people deal with the changes of politics and manage to insure that the bureaucracy states funded regardless of the political winds, and towards the end there are some humorous scenes that I will not spoil for the reader.
This book, in a subtle way, reveals how it is that a federal agency can continue to grow and grow. For one, those who are in charge in federal bureaucracies of any size can be expected to cultivate relationships with the people who are on various committees, with the hope of ensuring larger budgets every year. Part of that is done by making sure that every dollar is spent, and the people who are in charge of the Weed Agency (which is a very passable facsimile of an actual interagency bureaucracy that really does exist in Washington DC) have the wise idea to lay low, except that a couple of times they are unable to do so, which requires the ritual of falling on the sword by the people in charge to keep the agency growing. This book is a sobering and also entertaining look at how hard it is to get rid of a bureaucracy once it is allowed to take root and grow, and how dishonest grifters are keeping the grift coming without any concern for justifying the tax money that they spend.