Monday, September 12, 2011

The 'flags for bureaucrats' act

I'm sure that's not what they'd like H.R. 2061 to be known as, but that's what some people are calling it: the 'flags for bureaucrats' act.

Officially, it's the Civilian Service Recognition Act of 2011 and it would authorize the presentation of a U.S. Flag to the family of a federal employee who died while working for the government.

Under the Act, the head of an executive agency could pay for and present the flag when an individual who was an employee of the agency "dies of injuries incurred in connection with such individual's employment with the Federal government." The bill was introduced by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY24) and has 18 co-sponsors.

Here is the background for the bill:

According to the sponsor’s office, nearly 3,000 federal civilian workers have died on the job since 1992. For those civilian employees who die in the course of service to their country, H.R. 2061 would authorize the presentation of a United States flag as a way to formally express sympathy and gratitude. There is currently no law authorizing the presentment of a flag to the families of civilian employees who lose their lives as a result of their employment. More than 100,000 civilian employees have served in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside military forces. Every year federal civilian employees are killed at home and abroad while doing their jobs. In the U.S., federal employees, from law enforcement officers to IRS employees, have given their lives while on duty.

I completely understand the desire to honor government employees for their service to the people of this nation. But I wonder if such presentations would diminish the tribute paid to our military for the voluntary act of putting their lives on the line for our defense. I do not want that to happen.

While in this day and age of terrorism or even the drug wars in Mexico, it may be a given that any federal employee is at risk, but they don't enter the service with the foreknowledge and expectation that they are offering their lives for us as the members of our military forces do. The presentation of the flag as a tribute paid to the family members of our military is a special thing - and my eyes tear up just thinking about the words that are said at the time: "on behalf of a grateful nation."

If you're an embassy worker who happens to be present when some idiots sets off a car bomb, is that really the same thing deserving of the 'on behalf of a grateful nation' presentation?

And what if you're an IRS agent who dies in a car accident on your way to an audit? Or if you die of a heart attack while protesting or picketing? The bill would allow the agency heads to present a flag under these circumstances if a family requests. And if a family were to request, would the agency head go against a union and say no?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who doesn't like this idea. Erick Erickson of has also weighed in on the issue:

The act of folding the flag and giving it to the grieving family should mean something special. And when anyone who works for the federal government can get it, not just soldiers who died in active service protecting the country, it becomes just another trapping of power from the federal government available to all those people in the ever expanding federal bureaucracy.

If the military thought this was a good idea, I'd probably defer to them. But our veterans aren't happy with the bill either. The American Legion believes the bill "is a misguided attempt to equate civil service with military service." I agree.

The American Legion is denouncing a bill the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on today allowing for payment of "expenses incident to the presentation of a (U.S.) flag" for civilians who are killed while working for the federal government.

The Civilian Service Recognition Act of 2011 (H.R. 2061) was introduced May 31 by Rep. Bill Hanna of New York. Noting that 3,000 federal employees have died since 1993, Hanna said, "Like members of the armed services, civilian federal employees are often in harm's way. Ours is a grateful nation, one that values the sacrifices made in honor of this country. A life can never be repaid, but it can be honored."

Fang Wong, newly elected national commander of the Legion, said the bill is a misguided attempt to equate civil service with military service.

"Congress needs to think twice before acting on this hastily written bill," Wong said. "Civil service workers do not sign a pledge to defend America with their lives, they are not forced to serve in combat zones, and their work routines do not include engaging enemy forces overseas."

The bill's advocates and the Committee of the Whole noted that presentation of a United States flag "is an appropriate way to honor Federal employees' contributions to the American public. The Committee believes these individuals are no less deserving of our respect than members of our armed forces." They point to legislation passed in 1993, allowing for civilians working with the military to be afforded the same privilege.

"This bill leaves far too much to be determined by a few individuals," said Tim Tetz, legislative director of The American Legion. "It allows agency heads to determine who may be eligible upon their deaths. It allows them to determine ‘next of kin.' It doesn't clearly identify associated costs, and it leaves far too much to be decided without any public feedback."

"We certainly respect the service and dedication of those who sign up for civil service," Wong said, "but these individuals pledge much less than our servicemembers and veterans. If federal employees die or are killed in service to America, they should be honored by a grateful nation. Just not in the same way as our military or veterans."

I understand that Rep. Hanna's office is meeting with the American Legion in order to draft some language that would address their concerns and a new vote on the bill has not yet been set.

There is still time to weigh in on the issue. If you believe this honor and tribute should be reserved to our military, be sure to call Congress and let them know: 202-224-3121.

1 comment:

Timothy W Higgins said...


There is something sublime and ridiculous in the concept of awarding a flag to the family of the 'heroic bureaucrat'. While greatly tempted to take on the subject at length (hmmmm...), certainly such high irony deserves the likes of Douglas Adams or the members of Monty Python at the very least.

The best I can offer however, is taking this to its logical and absurd extreme. Perhaps we should come up with bureaucratic flags for the IRS, the EPA, and the NEA; with respective anthems to go be played as they march. Perhaps we could create honor guards of men in dark suits, power ties and bowler hats as pallbearers at a 'service funeral'. And of course, what ceremony would be complete without an honor guard to fire a twenty-one stapler salute.

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