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Government Bureaucrats Need Accountability

April 27th, 2020 by dk

If you’d like to understand better how this coronavirus catastrophe snuck up on us, ask any teacher or parent about remote education guidelines. Or a Wisconsin voter who was forced to leave home to vote this week. Or take a look at your Oregon driver license. Examples of government inaction abound. Examples of accountability are rare. Surprising government officials isn’t very difficult.

We all watched in horror this week as Wisconsin voters were forced to risk their health to vote. When the governor issued a stay-at-home decree, citizens did what you would have hoped they’d do. They applied for absentee ballots in droves, overwhelming local voting officials.

When it became clear that thousands of Wisconsinites would not be receiving their mail ballots by election day, the governor had no good options. He couldn’t unilaterally change election day (though he tried), and he couldn’t persuade lawmakers to change it.

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the election not only couldn’t be moved, the deadline for returning absentee ballots couldn’t be extended — even though thousands had already waited weeks for their ballots.

Were there any consequences for Dean Knudson, chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission? Or for Wisconsin’s Secretary of State Doug La Follette? Or for any of the 1,850 municipal clerks across the state? No, none at all. Although the debacle was front-page news, their names never came up. The calamity flowed from their inaction.

Closer to home, Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered all public schools closed in mid-March. Oregon Department of Education promised local school districts remote education guidelines. Many districts delayed their plans, waiting  for that guidance.

On Thursday, March 26, ODE announced that the guidelines would be posted within three days. Monday arrived without any guidance, and also without any apology. “The department is taking the time to get this done right for our students,” ODE spokesperson Marc Siegel wrote in an email on Monday evening. Deadlines apparently do not apply to governments — even when those deadlines are self-imposed.

School districts, teachers and parents were inconvenienced by ODE’s tardiness. Not every Wisconsin voter will get sick. But the consequences of government inaction sometimes are more dire. 

Government officials were warned that COVID-19 testing kits were flawed in February. They were warned about the rampaging coronavirus in January. The need for a stockpile of respirators was ignored. The danger of a pandemic has been known for decades. Only after a disaster strikes do we wish government had been more active, more responsible, more attentive.

Oregon has not upgraded its drivers licenses to the Real ID security standards established in 2005. Last month, Oregon was granted one more extension, until the fall of 2021. After that, your current ID will not be enough to board an airplane or enter a secure federal building. What risks are we inviting by inaction? We may not know until it’s too late.

The deadline has been coming for more than a decade, but Oregon has alternately resisted and ignored it. And why not? Without consequences, deadlines don’t matter. Then real dangers can sneak up on you.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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