Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Government Is too Big and It Is Doing too Much

Paul Light of New York University has a column in the Washington Post that acknowledges an ongoing pattern of incompetence by the federal government. He admits that the bureaucracy is too big. He notes that bureaucratic success is unrelated to merit and that it is well nigh impossible to fire incompetent staff. And he also mentions that huge army of consultants and contractors, which further makes accountability impossible. Unfortunately, he fails to draw the obvious conclusion that the federal government needs to be radically downsized:

The systemic failures that led to the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 are, sadly, all too familiar. Substitute the words "Christmas Day plot" for tainted meat, poisoned peppers, aircraft groundings, the Columbia shuttle accident, Hurricane Katrina, counterfeit Heparin, toxic toys, the banking collapse, Bernie Madoff or even Sept. 11, and the failure to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the "no-fly" list becomes yet another indication that the federal government can no longer guarantee the faithful execution of our laws. ...Fifteen years later, a second national commission...looked at the widening federal agenda after the Sept. 11 attacks as well as underlying causes of poor performance and frequent breakdowns. The final report minced no words: "There are too many decision-makers, too much central clearance, too many bases to touch, and too many overseers with conflicting agendas . . . accountability is hard to discern and harder still to enforce." ...four bureaucratic problems that plague the federal government. First, the federal government currently has the most confusing hierarchy in its history. Barack Obama entered office overseeing at least 64 discrete titles just at the top of the government. Even one vacancy in the reporting chain can wreak havoc on performance. With more layers of management and more managers per layer, information must travel a great distance before reaching the president, if it ever does. ...Third, front-line government employees have expressed serious concerns about their jobs. Interviewed in mid-2008 by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, less than half of a random sample of federal employees said their agencies were able to recruit employees with the right skills, just over a third said promotions were based on merit, and even fewer said their agencies took steps to deal with poor performers. ...Fourth, the federal government is increasingly dependent on a huge workforce of employees who operate in the shadows. According to estimates from Eagle Eye Publishers, prepared on my behalf, the number of federal contractors grew from an estimated 4.4 million in 1999 to more than 7.5 million by the end of the 2005 fiscal year. Given the continued rise in federal procurement spending, the number of contractors is almost certainly higher today. As the number of large contracts has increased and competition has declined, it has become nearly impossible to hold anyone accountable for what goes right or wrong.

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