Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is the Executive Branch as Broken as Congress?

by Bill Holmes

I think we can all agree that the Congress of the United States is completely broken. We have a Democratic controlled Senate and a Republican controlled House of Representatives. They can't agree on anything except maybe when to go into recess. To make it even more complicated the Republican Senators and House Republicans rarely agree either. Then we have the Tea Party faction. It seems a few radical obstructionist are intent on seeing that no meaningful legislation is passed.

I submit that the Executive branch of our government is also completely broken. I'm not talking about the roll the president plays in the legislative process, although that too is a mess. I'm talking about the day to day running of the country. The latest cluster fuck is the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, rollout or should I say lack of rollout. This is just the latest in a continuing story of government employees and departments that are incompetent or criminal. Let's outline a few examples.

In regards to Obamacare, the first clue of problems was when the executive branch delayed implementation of the part where businesses that have more than 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance or pay a fine. That deadline was pushed back one year because the Department of Health and Human Services wasn't ready. Now we have the individuals side of the implementation at a near standstill because the technology put in place for shopping and signup is total crap. The blame is being placed on a bad website. The website may be bad, but that should be relatively easy to fix. The real problem is the underlying architecture and design of the whole system. If the database and processing behind those web pages we see is bad then the data displayed on the screen will be slow, wrong or not displayed at all. Now that the bad system has been deployed, technically competent people outside the government have had a chance to see it. I haven't read a single review that gives the government any grade higher than an F. Many are saying that the system needs to be completely rewritten from the ground up. Obama has said he is calling for a tech surge to fix the problems. Seems he may be about a year or so late. It appears that Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius barely knows what a computer is nor is she a health expert. She's a politician and former governor of Kansas. Seems like the perfect choice to head up the implementation of a very large health and technology endeavor. She has no idea when the signup process will be fixed. 

There are plenty of other examples of executive branch incompetence. The National Security Agency (NSA) is regularly being caught breaking the law and internal policy. They collect personal data without warrants, they hire contractors and don't do adequate background checks. The NSA and/or other agencies have been caught spying and eavesdropping on countries and leaders of our allies. Seems like the administration is apologizing weekly.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has run amuk both by introducing politics into the tax code enforcement and spending exorbitant amount on parties, videos, travel and entertainment.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is constantly changing the rules of what you can and can't take onto a plane. They also have serious problems with TSA employees being involved in theft, fraud and smuggling. What do you expect when you hire almost minimum wage people and give them some authority? 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) both regulate and inspect parts of our food supply. The boundaries of jurisdiction are not always clear. One thing that is clear is that neither agency does a very good job. They have too few inspectors and are too much in bed with the food suppliers. The USDA Secretary is a politician and former Democratic governor of Iowa. The FDA is a part of Kathleen Sebelius's Health and Human Services empire. 

The Justice Department and it's various enforcement agencies have been accused of supplying the bad guys with guns, drugs and immunity among other things. Attorney General Eric Calder was held in contempt of Congress although that could mostly be political. 

The Department of Defense and various branches of the armed forces have had multiple problems. Sexual harassment and assault, security leaks, internal attacks on bases and facilities, bribery and of course major cost overruns on every project they undertake.

The State Department is run by a lifelong politician, ex-senator John Kerry, who succeeded ex-senator Hillary Clinton, not professional diplomats. They have their Benghazi issue among others. 

I'm sure there are many more examples of government incompetence. It's systemic and not new since Obama took office. Just like private enterprise, you can not successfully run an organization by continually promoting the best schmoozer over the most able. The president is held responsible for screw ups by the executive branch as he should be. He can blame the previous administration for a couple of months but after that it's on him (hopefully her someday). Now after five years they are all Obama's problems. New ones are of course his and any old ones that haven't been fixed or are being fixed are now his too. You can't blame Bush anymore.

My opinion is that the world, country and government are far too complicated to be left to the politicians. Maybe we can leave it to them to set the direction and pass the laws but not to implement them. Regardless of party affiliation and favors owed, the president and his advisers need to fill the top spots in government with competent experts. If you are going to try to implement a major health initiative that requires a significant technology effort maybe that should be led by a health expert with tech knowledge or a tech expert with experience in the health/insurance field. An ex-governor that didn't even help you carry her state is not the ideal choice. Although Iowa is a farming state, their ex-governor and current Secretary of Agriculture is a lawyer, not a farmer. 

Of course the president can't micromanage the entire executive branch of the government. What he can do is appoint competent leaders of the major departments and set the tone that competence is required. Then he can expect those cabinet secretaries to appoint competent people to run the various departments and agencies and so on down the line.  

I'm not naive enough to think this will happen in my lifetime but maybe someday the cabinet and agency head positions will be completely honorary posts or will be devoid of politics. Either way it will open the door for real leaders and experts to actually run the departments. Some of the organization has to be simplified too. Decide who regulates food, the USDA or FDA. Eliminate a bunch of federal police agencies. There are dozens of enforcement agencies. We have the FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshals, Customs, CIA, Treasury (Secret Service) and probably several more. It may not be so bad that we have so many focused police agencies but it is probably bad that they are spread out among so many cabinet level departments. That's a lot of supervisors and chiefs, all with authority, turf and big egos. The president is the only common boss of our national police. 

A couple of ideas would be to require some experience or expertise in the business of the department by the nominated head. Another would be to stagger department head terms so they don't line up with presidential terms. Change cabinet positions into honorary positions or require some competence for the appointees.

I realize that the political winners need to have some trophies to hand out to their supporters. How about we limit those positions to the ambassadorship of Luxenbourg or Monte Carlo and a couple of other places that don't matter but are fun to live in.

Until and unless we have exceptional leaders who know the area their department administers or regulates we are doomed to a never ending cycle of failures, apologies, sacrificial resignations, limited fixes, more failures, more apologies, more sacrificial firings/resignations, new administration. Rinse and repeat. 

It's obvious that Obamacare is just the most recent and most public failure of the executive branch. There appears to be many other failures that don't percolate up to the national stage. Don't we deserve better from our government?  

I am extremely disappointed with Obama. I expected much better and instead got much worse. He is not a leader. Unfortunately, I think when the numbers are in and the historians write the history of 2009-2016 Obama will be judged harshly. I also think they will find that at most minorities barely kept pace. I actually expect to see that they lost ground both economically and socially. Very sad. That's another issue for another day's post. 


No comments:

Post a Comment