The Accelerating Scale of the Legislate-Regulate-Spend-and-Repeat Cycle Has Broken Government

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians – the state and individual citizens – have received over $81 billion in COVID-related federal funding. That comes to $9,507 for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.  Big money. 

That was Virginia’s share of $5.3 trillion in federal spending just on the pandemic (so far). A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. A thousand billion dollars.

For comparison, GDP was about $21 trillion in 2020  It is projected to total just short of $23 trillion this year.  The national debt is $29 trillion and growing. A little over $86,000 for every American. That figure does not include the $5 trillion in additional spending pending in the Congress.

Every day we spend $1 billion on interest with interest on the 10-year treasuries at 1.18% today. The Congressional budget office predicts 3.6% before 2027. Do the math. That is $3 billion a day — well over a trillion dollars a year — in interest. 

Relax. If you thought I was about to launch off on a discussion of drunken sailors, writing checks that our grandkids will have to make good, and the fact that inflation will drive interest payments ever upward, be reassured I am not.

This is about the demonstrated inability of many government agencies at every level to regulate, administer, oversee, spend and repeat with anything approaching efficiency or effectiveness. 

Republican politicians have joined in the Democratic spending addiction without the Democratic admiration for leftist virtue-signaling and business-strangling regulations.

We have broken our government in the process.

Government has gone unstable

Government has officially spun out of control. It is in an endless loop that has left it exhausted and unable to carry out its own rules.  

  • The Code of Federal Regulations exceeds 200,000 pages and grows every year.
  • Virginia’s Administrative Code lists 160 state agencies that write, enforce and carry out regulations.

Like the federal government, Virginia’s government, controlled entirely by Democrats, does it to themselves. Republicans roll back regulations. Democrats, the party of government, expands laws, regulations and spending without considering whether they can do it in ways that work.

As a result, both federal and state governments have reached the point of permanent incompetence.

Some agencies exhibit what the Harvard Business School calls skilled incompetence, whereby “managers use practiced routine behavior (skill) to produce what they do not intend (incompetence),”  

They flood themselves with data they cannot process into better outcomes. They then write more regulations that require more data.

I will cite several examples of systemic incompetence in Virginia government, the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Department For Aging And Rehabilitative Services  and the Virginia Employment Commission.  

Readers will have other favorites.

I will throw in the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). DHCD has done the best job of all the state housing agencies in distributing federal rent subsidies by distributing half of what has been appropriated.

The other half? Well, you know, regulations. And it’s hard to excel in governing from home.

Virginia regulatory agencies. The Virginia Administrative Code (VAC) is organized into 24 subject areas called Titles. Each title contains the state agencies that create regulations related to the subject area. That is where the 160 Virginia regulatory agencies are listed.

Virginia Department of Health. The Virginia Department of Health is charged with regulation and oversight of healthcare delivery. VDH is structurally incompetent to oversee either the business of healthcare or the inspections of healthcare facilities, and has been for decades.  

In the business of healthcare, VDH is the agency which carries out the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law. Without legislative mandate or intent, VDH has created and protects regional monopolies that violate federal and state antitrust laws with impunity because the state has created them. 

The negative effects of that have been discussed extensively here and were formally reported to the General Assembly by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Because VDH has been captured by the industry it regulates, it continues to do it.

VDH has owned major responsibilities under the Commonwealth’s pandemic emergency plan since 2012. It has admitted that it never carried out those responsibilities. 

VDH is not only the regulator but also the inspector of health care facilities for the purpose of enforcing both federal regulations and the state regulations it writes. The inspection staff is so short of personnel that it has admitted publicly it cannot carry out its duties. 

That has elicited no reaction from the Secretary of Health, the governor or the General Assembly. Why? The industry does not like to be inspected. And it contributes a lot of money to campaigns.

Consequences for citizens? See the COVID slaughter in the nursing homes. The hospitals unprepared to handle victims  The lack of data at VDH on hospital statistics relative to COVID. The lack of PPE. The unpreparedness to test for COVID after the tests became available, ditto on vaccines. The list continues.  

VDH is at the center of the biggest scandals of COVID. The consequences for the Department? More money.  

Indications that it will reform itself? Zero.

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. The Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services regulates and oversees independent living facilities that are not nursing homes, both for the aged and for people with disabilities. The inspection and oversight of the readiness of those facilities for a pandemic emergency was that Department’s responsibility.  

Like VDH, it did not carry out those responsibilities resulting in the same citizen consequences as in the hospitals and nursing homes.

Virginia Employment Commission. Start with the fact that like the agencies above, the Virginia Employment Commission did not even read, much less comply with, the 2012 pandemic emergency plan that predicted a sudden surge of unemployment. A simple exercise would have shown that the commission could not handle it. If it had, maybe it would have replaced its hardware and software before COVID. That exercise was never conducted.  

Virginia was dead last among the states in the responsiveness of its unemployment system to COVID claims.

The governor has proposed in the current budget special session sending $73,600,000 of federal money to the VEC for “information technology modernization, call center improvements, security, and claims adjudication. Information technology improvements shall include a customer relationship management system and other such communication tools to better serve Unemployment Insurance clients.”   

Seems like a good idea.  

It would have been a better one between 2014 and 2020 after VEC had exercised the 2012 pandemic emergency plan. If it had done so. Which it did not.

Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). DHCD is the department responsible for the Virginia (Rent) Relief Program. Go to and read about it. Have fun. The user guide for the program is 45 pages long. See how regulations work?

All you need to know about how well it is working is that Fairfax and Chesterfield counties are running their own programs.

Yet Virginia reportedly has disbursed a larger percentage of its federal rent relief money to renters and landlords, half, than any other state. Not sure how much of that was spent in Fairfax and Chesterfield.  

Praised with faint damnation.

Virginia Department of Education. VDOE has been the subject of severe criticism across the state for, first, its halting and flawed responses to COVID.  

Remember the “comprehensive plan” Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020?  Remember the work of the Return to School Recovery Task Force, the Accreditation Task Force and the Continuity of Learning (C4L) Task Force? 

No? Well, mission accomplished. The governor prays you don’t.

Now consider that the staff at VDOE spent the last 18 months or so writing an avalanche of new regulations from the comfort of their homes. 

Some of those regulations, like Model Policies for transgender students, were very likely to lead to litigation that the state will lose. They knew when they wrote it that there is no one in the schools qualified or licensed to carry parts of it out and that federal law proscribes denying records to parents.    

“Given the changing legal landscape, including on-going litigation and different interpretations, school divisions should consult with their school board attorney.”

But leftist dogma trumped legal concerns.

Yet VDOE have proven utterly unable for at least a decade to enforce the laws and regulations already in place that govern school quality.  

Ask the kids who attend (if that is what we are to call remote learning) the City of Richmond Public Schools how the quality deal is working out. But ask them on the phone.  

Don’t ask them to read anything.

Legislate, regulate and hope. So, let’s see how that federal COVID relief money gets appropriated, regulated and eventually spent.  

Consider the latest of the federal COVID relief bills. Consider the size of the laws before the federal, state and local regulations were written.

  • The American Rescue Plan, 242 pages.  
  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security CARES) Act, 335 pages. 
  • The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, 5,593 pages. Division M of that Act was the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021. Division N was Additional Coronavirus Response and Relief.

Now flush those through federal, state and local regulation and administration processes before the intended recipients can spend the money.  

You get the idea.

Reward failure and repeat. The left who favor constant and vast expansion of laws and regulations at every level of government must want them for the pleasure of reading them. They cannot rationally expect effective and efficient oversight and enforcement.  

So they don’t have any such expectations, just hope.  

When it all goes bad their solution is to appropriate more money to failed programs and write more laws and regulations to fix the problems caused by the previous cycle.

That cycle has been in a coma for decades.  

We need to take it off life support. Figure out what our real priorities are for government. Eliminate the rest.

And insist that what we really want and need government to do is done well.