By SUZANNE DALEY
Stories of eye-popping waste and abuse of power among Greece's bureaucrats are legion, including officials who hire their wives, and managers who submit $38,000 bills for office curtains.
The work force in Greece's Parliament is so bloated, according to a local press investigation, that some employees do not even bother to come to work because there are not enough places for all of them to sit.
But as Europe looks for any sign of hope that Greece is on the road to reform, there are growing concerns about its ability - and willingness - to trim its payroll, a crucial element in bringing expenses under control enough to win continued international financing.
Some experts believe that Greece could reap significant savings by reducing its bureaucracy, which employs one out of five workers in the country and by some estimates could be trimmed by as much as a third without materially affecting services. But though salaries have been cut, the government has yet to lay off anyone.
The main reason is also one of the very reasons that Greece got into trouble in the first place: The government is in many ways an army of patronage appointments built up over decades. When election time rolls around, state workers become campaign workers, and their reach is enormous. There are so many of them that almost every family has one.
This puts the Socialist prime minister, George A. Papandreou, or any other Greek leader, in a tough spot: There can be little upside to cutting jobs precisely when the government most needs support for unpopular budget-cutting actions.
"There is a political cost to these reforms," said Nickolaos G. Travlos, an economist at the Alba Graduate Business School in Athens. "These workers are opinion leaders in their communities. And they are busy blaming the government, especially a Socialist government that is supposed to protect them." They are also well organized. This week's general strike follows weeks of smaller strikes, rallies, sit-ins and a blockade of the Athens landfill that has left piles of garbage rotting in the streets. When auditors from the "troika" - the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission - arrived last month at the Finance Ministry, workers blocked their entry.
In four days of tense negotiations, the auditors pushed hard for cutting the bureaucracy. Still, the plan to cut 30,000 jobs is modest by any measure. It amounts to about 4 percent of the public work force and would affect mostly people close to retirement. They would get a soft landing, too: 60 percent of their pay for a year while they remain in a "reserve" pool. After that, those who did not retire or find another job in the administration would be laid off.
The government has about 700,000 employees and 80,000 more who work for government-owned entities like the power company. Thirty years ago, experts say, the public sector was about one-third that size. (Until a census was carried out last year, however, government officials admitted they did not really know how many employees they had.)
But taking action against public sector workers can be costly, experts point out. For instance, many suspect that tax collectors, vital to the government's efforts to raise more revenues, have been on a work slowdown. The collectors, who like all public servants were hit with salary cuts, completed fewer audits this year than last year.
This is the corrupt political reality that underlies the US State Department's cultural affairs policies.
The Greek government is only theoretically in charge of that nation's affairs. In reality Greece effectively has a government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats. The end result has been bankruptcy, first political and now economic. Greek citizens have yet to discover the full measure of the terrible impending hardships their government has made them liable for, during decades of irresponsible policies driven by a need to find political cover and survive the next election. An avalanche of misery impends, and it is difficult to imagine how the Greeks will get through it.
Greece is not the only European nation with such problems. Italy also has a bureaucracy that even Italians perceive as being bloated and uncontrollable. The cost of financing uncontrollable deficit spending inherent to the economic policies of nations such as Greece and Italy is becoming insupportable. The inevitable consequence of such irresponsibility is default, and its implications threaten the stability of the entire European Union.
In the USA we don't yet face such difficulties, although deficit spending is a serious long term threat that must be brought under control. But that does not mean that we do not also have a government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats. One glaring example of this can be found within the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
This bureau is led by Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The State Department has a dual-tier leadership system in which political "ephemerals" - elected officials and political appointees - who come and go as policies and administrations change, are formally in charge, however details of formulating and administering policies and departmental responsibilities are delegated to career bureaucrats who are the authorities controlling what actually happens.
One of the most important and controversial bureaucratic fiefdoms within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is the Cultural Heritage Center, whose raison d'etre is to administer U.S. responsibilities relating to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Since its inception the Cultural Heritage Center (and its predecessors within the State Department and the US Information Agency) have been controlled by Maria Papageorge Kouroupas, presently executive director of the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Before that appointment, she had served as executive director of the Cultural Heritage Center, as executive director of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and (prior to October 1, 1999) was employed by the United States Information Agency, as Director of the Cultural Preservation Advisory Committee (1993) and earlier as its Deputy Director (1984). Previously she had worked for the American Association of Museums in Washington D.C. beginning in 1977, where she administered the association's international programs and became involved in the advisory panel representing museum interests during the legislative process that resulted in the 1983 CCPIA. Maria attended the University of Arkansas and the State College of Arkansas, receiving a Master's Degree in History and Education.
Maria Kouroupas has a well-deserved reputation as a fierce, uncompromising advocate of the prevailing archaeologist position that any private market for antiquities is unconscionable and that all such objects should be publicly owned. According to Jack Josephson, CPAC chairman from 1990 to 1995, she agrees with the Archaeological Institute of America's position that the art trade is a dirty thing and should be eliminated. Since 1984 she has singlemindedly and effectively worked toward that goal and in so doing, has effectively made the Cultural Heritage Center an extension of the AIA and its campaign to preserve an undisturbed archaeological record worldwide. In the process, the legislative intent of Congress in enacting the 1983 CCPIA has been thwarted, and longstanding legitimate rights of US citizens interested in collecting ancient artifacts have been ignored, as have been the responsibilities of the Cultural Heritage Center to administer the Cultural Property Advisory Committee so as to ensure fair representation of the interests of all US citizens and an unbiased balance of interests.
During the legislative process leading to the 1983 CCPIA, trade experts argued that it would give the State Department a "blank check" to embargo importation of almost all antiquities. The trade maintained that such broad authority was not required either by the spirit or the letter of the UNESCO Convention, and expressed concerns that the State Department, for diplomatic expediency, would use its powers to the benefit of foreign countries and detriment of the US art market. Although the proposed legislation required the Executive Branch to reach certain findings through consultation with a panel of experts before imposing import restrictions, the trade was concerned that arriving at these findings would be ritualistic and pro forma. These concerns were well founded. A seemingly uncontrollable ideology-driven bureaucracy, pursuing a narrow agenda intended to protect the professional interests of a small number of archaeologists in collusion with foreign governments, is now callously ignoring (and indeed trampling upon) the legitimate interests and rights of many thousands of US citizens.
So no one should imagine that government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats cannot happen in the USA. It has happened.