July 20, 2005


New Law Requires Workers To Learn About Constitution: Federal Employees' Lack of Knowledge Is Lamented (Christopher Lee, July 20, 2005, Washington Post)

Civics lessons do not get much swankier than this.

The 160 or so federal employees who filed into the National Archives' McGowan Theater yesterday for a program on the Constitution sat in plush red chairs and heard a five-piece brass band play patriotic songs. They were given pocket-size copies of the country's most famous document, and settled in for speeches from such experts as National Archivist Allen Weinstein and Deputy White House Counsel William K. Kelley.

Then came the featured attraction, the 87-year-old senator with the shock of white hair who moved slowly to the lectern with a cane in each hand and began quoting the Founding Fathers as though they were personal friends. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has made his living in the Senate for nearly 50 years and totes a tiny version of the Constitution wherever he goes, was there to sing the praises of a document that he said was second in his heart only to the Bible. [...]

Julie Atkins, a Federal Transit Administration budget analyst and "a bit of a nerd," said the Constitution fascinates her.

"It's amazing that our government exists today and it's built on these pages, a relatively small document with enduring ideas," said Atkins, a presidential management fellow with a PhD in political science. "I know it sounds naive and idealistic, but I guess I was naive and idealistic to work for the government in the first place."

LaJuan Bryan-Beveridge, a new-employee coordinator at OPM, said, "Before you become a federal employee, you have to be sworn in. So you should at least know what you are swearing to."

OPM Director Linda Springer said each agency will devise its own program to be presented on or near Sept. 17, Constitution Day. Springer had no estimates of the expense but said, "It's going to be minimal cost compared to the value that we get from it."

Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the libertarian Cato Institute, said Byrd's requirement was laden with irony since, in Pilon's view, the government's involvement in public education and many other programs goes far beyond anything in the Constitution.

"The idea of these federal workers taking time off to learn about the Constitution in itself isn't a bad thing," Pilon said. "But that's not what the taxpayers pay them to do. Indeed, one would like to think they already know about the Constitution before they go to work for the federal government."

The Founders would be appalled that a permanent bureaucracy had been allowed to arise as an almost unchecked force within the republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 20, 2005 12:00 AM

"It's amazing that our government exists today and it's built on these pages..."

An important point that is all too often missed. The workings of the government is what the Constitution defines. And that's basically it.

"...a relatively small document..."

Certainly compared to the EU version...

"...with enduring ideas."

Hmm. This sounds nice, but what are these "ideas" and where are they in the Constitution? The preamble is nice enough, and some of the Amendments are based on perhaps lofty sentiment, but aren't they really just additional rules for the gov't to follow? If you want to find out about the "ideas" that define America, you wouldn't read the Constitution, you'd read the first part of the Declaration of Independence.

Posted by: b at July 20, 2005 10:18 AM

The only real justification for publicly funded education is that a government of the people should be made from a citizenry that understands how that gov't works. And they can't even do that right, or more likely, are deliberately creating subjects and clients instead of citizens.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 20, 2005 10:23 AM

No, the Preamble defines the purposes of the document. It incorporates the Declaration when it refers to Blessings.

Posted by: oj at July 20, 2005 10:23 AM

One doubts that Mr. Hamilton would have been surprised.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 20, 2005 11:56 AM


The ideas are implicit, such as the rule of law. The fact that our government is founded on a specific set of rules, available and understandable to all citizens is one of those "enduring ideas".

I have to disagree with CATO on this, as understanding the Constitution should just as required as any other job skill for a government worker. Is CATO going to object to any on the job education or training? If not, they can hardly object to this. And while one would like to think they knew of the Constitution before gettting the job, to believe otherwise is simply delusional.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 20, 2005 12:26 PM

...and these people have the vote.

Posted by: Luciferous at July 20, 2005 12:30 PM

You call this a bureaucracy? Look to Brussels and Strasbourg. That's a bureaucracy.

Posted by: ed at July 20, 2005 4:10 PM