Homeland Security and the Perception of Big Government

Is public perception changing regarding what government’s role is or should be in community and state affairs? In a time when big government’s role appears to be scrutinized and under continuous debate, it begs the question of how should the government react to public opinion. When citizens believe that government has gone too far, at what point should homeland security step in?

Ammon Bundy and a group of armed protesters recently took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon to show opposition to what they called “government oppression.” A recent New York Times article attributed sentiments of the group’s followers to the despair left in rural Oregon counties from shrinking populations as migration has been toward more urban areas. The rural communities have seen many private jobs in lumber, ranching, mining, and farming dry up, resulting in a downward population spiral and an increase in the poverty level. Within those rural communities, many of the remaining jobs are in the public sector, and paid by taxes resulting in an increased tax burden on those who remain behind. According to Kirk Johnson’s New York Times article there is a perception in Harvey County that state and federal government is continuing to grow out of hand which has been fueled by the fact that “…nearly 60 percent of the pay earned in the county now coming from the public sector — including schools and federal management jobs at the 188,000-acre wildlife refuge”. In 2013 Harney County was Oregon’s leader in government dependence.

The perception exists that government, both federal and state, does not listen to its citizens. As populations migrate to more urban areas, rural areas feel their political influence is waning even further. According to Headwaters Economics 89 percent of the population in the Western U.S. live in what they classify as urban areas. This high percentage equals the heavily populated Northeastern U.S. as the highest percentage population in urban areas in the entire country. The biggest difference is that in the Western U.S. where there are large areas that are very desolate. In the West half of the counties are classified as “isolated” and have only five percent of the total population. In Harney County from 2003–2012 their population loss was the highest percentage in the entire State of Oregon.

““Isolated” counties face real challenges in terms of economic opportunity and access to social services, such as hospitals and schools. These counties are characterized by slower population growth, lower education and skill levels, lower job earnings, and more volatile income levels.” - Patricia Gude, Headwaters Economics

In rural Oregon, like Harney County the population migration feeds the perception of government intrusion into these rural areas. Ammon Bundy and his group of armed protesters took over control the wildlife refuge because they disagree with federal government’s control and use of federal lands. With the federal government owning and managing 28% or 2.27 billion acres of all land in the United States, those sentiments may not be isolated to Oregon.

So the question is should this example of governmental skepticism be a concern for homeland security professionals? Does government contribute to these perceptions by having government programs and subsidies or are those programs essential in stabilizing the population as they provide jobs in rural communities? If government is a contributing factor, how does Homeland Security compound the issue?

Let us know what you think.


New York Times, “Rural Oregon’s Lost Prosperity Gives Standoff a Distressed Backdrop,” January 18, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/19/us/rural-oregons-lost-prosperity-gives-standoff-a-distressed-backdrop.html

Headwaters Economics, “Urban Areas Drive Economic Growth in the West,” October 2015, http://headwaterseconomics.org/economic-development/trends-performance/urban-areas-drive-economic-growth-in-the-west

Headwaters Economics, “Migration & Population Trends in the West Vary by County Type,” December 2014, http://headwaterseconomics.org/dataviz/migration

Submitted by a member of Team plugged-in.

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