IT IS RARE to find an exception to the indiscriminate government practice of establishing a program for every problem and a bureaucracy for every program. So, when we encounter a conspicuous problem that has spawned neither program nor bureaucracy, we think a celebration of sorts is in order. The problem we have in mind has to do with Unidentified Flying Objects.
First off, lest we contribute to a massive disruption of the mails, we should make clear that we have no formal opinion concerning what those things actually are that so many people claim to have seen. Visitors from other planets? Hallucinations? Odd but explicable natural phenomena? Many UFO sightings are plausibly explained away as meteorites, atmospheric distortions of light from distant planets, errant weather balloons and so forth. But there is a residue of unexplained sightings. And it is the government's commendable indifference to the problem of that residue that we wish to praise.
Think programmatically, as is Washington's wont, and the possibilities are nearly limitless. Any respectable unsolved problem warrants an office, if not an agency, perhaps an inter-agency task force, and at least one White House specialist? Right? And, once staffed up, any office or agency qualifies for a standing advisory council, plus a squad or two of consultants, not to mention a grants program for academe and an annual conference. Regional domestic offices? A European liaison office? Why not?
The answer is that the U.S. government has officially put the UFO problem in that sparsely populated category of things that are not a threat to national security. As one of the government's most esteemed science advisers recently confided, "Whatever they are, they are non-malevolent." The CIA, which is not modest about its jurisdiction, is so uninterested in UFOs that, in its own words, it is no more than "a passive recipient" of UFO data -- and, the agency says, it doesn't even bother to analyze the stuff.
We find reason for pride and hope in the neglect of the UFO problem. So many real problems go untended that it is reassuring to encounter this triumph of do-nothing common sense over the natural, bureaucratic instinct to start a program.