In the humorous new book, which is part “Atlas Shrugged,” part “House of Cards,” and part “Forrest Gump,” Geraghty follows the growth of the heavily realistic but fictional Agency of Invasive Species and its corrupt and conniving bureaucratic leaders, along with their conservative foil who dedicates his career to killing the agency, in an epic battle playing out over multiple administrations and decades. Geraghty weaves together true events, figures and even newspaper clippings seamlessly, creating a story in which you can’t tell fact from fiction.
Below is one of the book’s funniest and most representative passages, whether you love or hate Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (and we think he’d agree).
“We are at a crossroads as a nation,” Gingrich said. “We are fundamentally reevaluating the role between the citizen and government, and shifting the power away from unelected, know-it-all, smug, out-of-touch, Washington elitist bureaucrats.” Gingrich looked around the room. “No offense.”
“None taken, Mr. Speaker,” lied Agency of Invasive Species Administrative Director Adam Humphrey.
“We’re shifting power toward the people, who indeed know what is best for themselves. It makes no sense to allocate millions upon millions to a federal agency just to keep track of what weeds and bugs are where and recommend what ways to treat it and allocate grants to farmers to ensure response. Not when every state has its own state-level agriculture department office doing the same, and many localities and agribusiness giants have their own research and efforts on these matters. It’s enormously duplicative and redundant and, frankly, stupid. So at this point, we’re preparing legislation to zero out the funding for this agency and convert it all to block grants, so that states can manage their own weed-abatement programs.”
For a moment, Humphrey’s right-hand man, Jack Wilkins wondered if an ulcer could spontaneously form within a matter of seconds, as his stomach twisted and burned with new anxiety. As bad as we feared, he thought.
Humphrey gently drummed his fingers on the conference room table. “Mr. Speaker, while I disagree with the specific direction of your proposal, I must say your vision is positively Churchillian. Actually, I couldn’t decide whether it was Churchillian or more like Charlemagne.”
“I had debated that myself,” Gingrich nodded. “In fact, I had actually seen echoes of Confederate Army Captain John Carter, who during the Barsoom campaign—”
“Mr. Speaker, I hate to interrupt,” Humphrey said as he seized the floor, lest Gingrich be overcome by his urge to resume his history lecture. “But if you will permit me a moment to update you on our latest efforts to deal with the problems you have so rightly identified, I think we may have some ideas that are . . . appropriate to these historical national crossroads you so astutely foresaw. Our agency is going through a metamorphosis, Mr. Speaker, and at the heart of that all-encompassing change is innovation,” Humphrey confidently declared, having memorized all of the futurist catchphrases from Gingrich’s earlier books. “We believe that the clearest path to the freer, more prosperous future you envision is through ‘Weed.gov,’ a cross-referenced interactive database that exchanges information at the speed of electrons about how best to protect the American bounty from invasive species. Miss Summers?”
Title: The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits
Author: Jim Geraghty
The fishnet-clad wonder popped out of her chair, checking to make sure her computer wires were all connected. She began showcasing a display that was like a slide projector, but used some software she had bought herself and brought into the building in violation at least six or seven different federal acquisition regulations. The mysterious “PowerPoint 4.0″ icon disappeared and she began showcasing stock photography of people screaming and expressing frustration.
“Okay, the reason you and everybody on the Hill and everybody outside these walls is so batsh—er, bonkers with frustration at this agency, and all of them like this one, is speed—it takes forever for anything to get done. Somebody finds a weed in their crops, they want it dealt with, like, immediately. They want answers immediately. It’s out there, and you know that somebody knows what it is and how to deal with it, and yet there are all these barriers. They have to take a guess on the best way to deal with it all, while they wait for their problem to work its way up the ladder, and wait for the answer to work its way down the ladder. By the time the answer reaches them, their problem may have completely changed.”
She paused on an image of many arrows heading up a ladder, and many arrows heading down a ladder. The graphic carried the message:
LAYERS = RESPONSE TIME = WEED GROWTH = BAD
“Precisely!” Gingrich boomed. “That’s it exactly. How old are you, nineteen?”
“Twenty-four,” answered Ava, the tech department wonder girl who had come up with the whole idea.
“If she can understand this, why can’t you old guys get this?” Gingrich asked with a smirk. He was kidding, but Ava’s heart pounded a bit. At last, recognition! The Speaker of the House was in her office building, dressing down her bosses for not listening to her.
She switched to an image of a spiderweb, where all of the layers were connected with each other in concentric circles.
“What if you could connect everybody who ever worries about these things together so that information passes among them almost instantaneously? Instead of a farmer in Georgia and a state agricultural official in Florida and a pesticide manufacturer in Tennessee and someone here in Washington all responding to this separately and in periodic, static communication, what if they were all simultaneously coordinated? What if instead of this slow-moving, disconnected response, everyone in the system moved like a school of fish or flock of birds, separately but unified, to nip the problem in the bud? Our idea, Weed.gov, can do this.”
Humphrey quietly cleared his throat.
“If you give us the funding to implement Weed.gov, we can do this,” she said, remembering Humphrey’s emphatic instructions about phrasing. “This would be the collective hive mind of everyone in the entire country involved in growing anything, from the biggest agribusiness giants to small farmers to gardeners. Somebody spots an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease and BOOM! They post it and it gets catalogued. Our experts examine the particular threat to regional agriculture, the most effective responses, the most likely dispersal patterns. Information gets out to everyone who needs it, instantly. For once, information can actually outrun the invasive species themselves.”
Newt stared in awe and glee.
“This is the most profound understanding of my revolutionary vision I have ever encountered from any federal government employee ever!” he said, practically bouncing out of his chair with enthusiasm. He looked at her in amazed delight. “I can’t believe somebody finally gets it!”
This somehow turned Ava’s enthusiasm up another notch. “Picture it: An online encyclopedia of all invasive and noxious weeds—tens of thousands of different species, categorized and cross-referenced. A photo-matching database so that any citizen could upload a photo of a particular weed and have an AI algorithm identify it.”
Humphrey jotted down a note to himself: make sure ai does not displace human agency employees.
“Think about how quickly we would know when some invasive species is in an area!” Ava continued. “Think about how comprehensive our responses would be. In the long run, this could save millions! Within a few years, this could make us so efficient that we could be twice as effective for half the cost. With this up and running, you could probably cut our budget with no drop-off in agency performance!”
Humphrey failed to entirely stifle a spit-take.
“Thank you, Miss Summers, this has all been very helpful, but we ought to remind the Speaker of the caution necessary for long-term budgetary assessments!” He wiped the mess. “So as you can see, Mr. Speaker, the block grant proposal favored by some in the House, such as Congressman Bader, might result in some short-term savings, but would ultimately result in a disjointed system of responses that proved even more redundant and slow moving because of communication issues between separate state agricultural offices. Contrast that with the innovative, effective, and truly groundbreaking approach of Weed.gov, well . . .”
“The digital revolution ending the era of bureaucracy and ushering in an era of ad-hoc-racy, a fluid, organically structured organization that adapts to changing challenges and circumstances,” Gingrich beamed. “I’m very impressed, and considering that you’re all just a bunch of government employees, I’m even more impressed.”
“Don’t be too impressed!” Ava exclaimed before Humphrey could steer away from the Speaker’s lapse into condescension. “We’ve been trying to use the interagency working group as often as possible! It’s just like Toffler wrote—”
“You read Toffler?!” exclaimed Gingrich in giddy disbelief.
“Hell-lo?” Ava laughed. “He’s only the world’s most famous futurologist, the foremost scholar on how technology advances change society, and the preeminent theoretician of the singularity!”
Humphrey had urged all of his senior staff to read up on Gingrich, but he hadn’t told Summers to do this. He realized her enthusiasm was genuine.
For fifteen straight minutes, the Speaker of the House and Ava mind-melded on all manner of obscure scientific, technological, and sociological topics: Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Satellite-based handheld communications. Space exploration. They quickly mapped out a plan to build a Star Trek–level utopian society within a decade and a half.
“I keep telling people, the science that Michael Crichton based Jurassic Park upon is extremely doable, and would really not be that expensive, difficult, risky, or time-consuming!” said Gingrich with an incredulous irritation that seemed incomprehensible to everyone else in the room but Ava.
“Not when you can adjust the growth rate of the species by tinkering with its genetic code!” Ava said. “And who’s to say you have to stop with dinosaurs? How much does the endangered species list change when we can whip up as many animals as we need in a lab to replenish the species? We could have flocks of dodos whenever and wherever we want! What happens when extinction becomes not just reversible, but obsolete?”
Wilkins leaned over to Humphrey. “This is going a little too well,” he whispered. “It’s getting creepy.”
Excerpted from THE WEED AGENCY: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits © 2014 by Jim Geraghty. Published by Crown Forum, a division of Random House, LLC.