Scene in Passing: Kafka-esque burlesque or kabuki dance? |

Scene in Passing: Kafka-esque burlesque or kabuki dance?

John Barrette

The scapegoat escaped. Long live the scapegoat.

Friday’s exit by Veterans Administration secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army four star general, is a travesty looking for a cautionary tale. Shinseki’s ouster/retirement ostensibly was over a VA scandal about bogus wait time lists for veterans to see doctors. Anyone who didn’t know the VA was a bureaucratic quagmire long ago, however, hasn’t been paying attention.

The VA was a mess four decades ago, even before President Richard Nixon appointed Richard L. Roudebush VA administrator. Roudebush, a World War II veteran, had been an Indiana congressman before he lost by just 4,200 votes in a 1970 bid to unseat incumbent Indiana Sen. Vance Harkte, the entrenched but besmirched Democrat. Historically, in other words, the VA has been a political payoff post at least on occasion.

Shinseki’s sacrificial lamb status comes as a pale payoff by the Obama administration to those Democrats in Congress facing tough re-election challenges. The more things change, the more they stay the same in politics.

The VA, meanwhile is like many large government agencies at every level. A bureaucracy, it’s a warren of lifers who can out wait and outwit any political winds of change. Bureaucracies often are like big banks, but with a twist. Big banks are too big to fail; big bureaucracies too big to succeed.

Bureaucracies can be slow, even intransigent. Two come to mind involving Nevada, one federal and the other part of Nevada government. They are the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT). Both, rightfully or wrongfully, can affect local government directly by slowness or outright refusal to budge.

The BLM, for example, is taking what seems forever and a day to transfer land to Carson City’s open space program and, at the same time, has been subject to continuing complaints about lack of oversight and stewardship over the property the BLM is glacially moving along under an omnibus land transfer law. We won’t even broach BLM oversight of wild mustangs because NDOT is of more interest here.

Last week at a meeting on plans for this summer’s Nevada 150 Fair at Fuji Park and Fairgrounds, Carson City Transportation Manager Patrick Pittenger reported NDOT won’t budge and allow temporary fair-goers’ parking for 1,000 vehicles at the site of the long-delayed freeway project where packed dirt at the I-580 end point sits vacant just north of Fuji.

So let me get this straight. A signature Nevada 150 celebratory event, sanctioned and promoted by the state, can’t get a state agency to help out?

We don’t need a scapegoat so much as we need an escape hatch.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at