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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two cautionary tales

Yesterday my husband embarked upon life as a civil servant. (He will be aiding the national defense -- so he will be among perhaps a minority of civil servants who are performing functions authorized by the Constitution.) He immediately encountered two distinct instances of the federal bureaucracy fouling things up, in a way we may ponder as we contemplate a greater federal role in American health care and/or business.

As part of "in-processing", he took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. This was his first opportunity to do so, and he was proud and moved to make such a declaration. He was discomfited to discover that the form given him to sign, while properly allowing him to "swear (or affirm)", included the language "so help me God". He asked the lady in charge whether he could cross out the religious language and was told, "No, you can't change anything on a federal form." The form by which he was to declare his allegiance to the Constitution violated the Constitution.

He was troubled enough to do some research when he had the chance. As it turned out, a previous version of the form specified that, should the "appointee" choose to affirm, the words "swear" and "so help me God" should be stricken out. The fine print on the current form is less specific, and was perhaps intended to be less restrictive: "Note - If the appointee objects to the form of the oath on religious grounds, certain modifications may be permitted pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Please contact your agency's legal counsel for advice." The bureaucrat in charge of the procedure was unaware of this language, and her statement directly contradicted it. Even had she made some attempt to comply with it, the form gave her little guidance and no convenient way to obtain any.

Our next surprise concerned health insurance. My husband and I had both grown up hearing that federal employment offers particularly good benefits. This may be, but it turns out he is not yet covered by his new insurance. In fact, he -- and the rest of the family -- won't be covered for more than two weeks. None of his previous employers -- government contractors -- have left him out in the cold this long. This instance of federal management of health care has not inspired us to optimism where Obamacare is concerned.

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