The Brookings Institute came out with a study last week that looks at failures by the federal government. It concludes what we’ve talked about many times: that the federal government is fumbling the ball more and more often:
The federal government is failing now more than ever. That’s the conclusion of a unique taxonomy of federal ball-dropping just released by Paul C. Light, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The study tracks the growing failure rate through the past five presidents. While many factors contribute to the generally increasing frequency of bureaucratic failures, the fluctuating numbers do reflect on an administration’s overall managerial competence. Light believes that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush led especially competent White House teams. Reagan, his study shows, averaged 1.6 failures per year during the final part of his term.
On the other hand, George W. Bush’s administration was the most failure-ridden of them all. W. averaged 3.1 failures per year – overseeing more than twice as many annual failures as his father.
Of course, by Light’s account Obama isn’t looking too hot either – he’s currently running 2.9 failures per year, with a little over two years two go. “Good government is not just a function of good laws, it’s also a function a faithful execution,” he said. In that area, President Obama does not get good grades. “Probably the lowest of any post-war president,” said Light in an interview. “I’d give him a C- on attentiveness, and a D on reform.”
In the report, Light writes that Obama promised reform and modernization but “he never followed through. He was either too distracted to concentrate, too bored by the nitty gritty of management or too frightened of the Republican backlash to make the effort needed to make big government work.”
First of all, I’ll say right out that I am dubious of this “study”. It seems to consist mainly of scouring the news for bad things and blaming them on the government. There is little rhyme or reason to it. The Navy Yard shooting is listed as a government failure, for example, while the S&P credit downgrade is not.
That aside, I think his basic conclusions is correct, give or take a few failures. This Administration is showing a staggering incompetence at executing even the most basic functions of government. They are light years behind Reagan or Bush 41 or Clinton. The reason is what I’ve said for a long time: a President has to be more than just a good speaker with some ideas. He has to be … an executive. He had to run the government.
It’s true that the government wasn’t running terribly well when Obama came into office. I agree with Light’s assessment of the Bush 43 Administration as incompetent. But all Presidential administrations inherit problems. All government agencies accumulate cruft over the years that impedes their functioning. Good Presidents — Reagan, Clinton, Bush 41, Eisenhower — understand that you have to periodically overhaul government agencies or they get bogged down in their own red tape. Obama has done none of this. He’s just given the government more and more and more to do and then acted all surprised when it can’t do it.
However … Light simply can’t resist the Cult of Obama. In the end, the real villains out there are .. brace yourself … Republicans. Some of this is the usual blame of the previous Administration (although Bush apparently take all the blame for 9/11 even though he was only nine months into office and the only prior warning was a vague assessment that Al-Qaeda was going to strike in the US). But there’s also this:
Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.
This is … not to put too fine a point on it … bullshit. Almost all of Obama’s failure are his own damned fault. Very few can be pinned on Republican obstructionism or Democratic “cowardice” (Democrat cowardice being defined as a refusal to enact the most radical far Left agenda imaginable). Let’s go through the Obama failures they list one by one and see where the blame lies:
The Deep Water Horizon Spill. It has been fashionable for people to blame this on “deregulation” or regulatory capture. Even if that were true, Obama had been President for two years and had appointed his own people to run federal agencies. But it’s not true. The Deepwater Horizon Study Group — based out of that bastion of conservative ideology UC Berkeley — concluded that it was BP’s fault for being lax on safety and not meeting existing standards for safety. This was a corporation cutting corners in appalling ways. There’s no regulatory regime on Earth that could oversee every single aspect of an oil company’s platform.
The Boston Marathon Bombing, the Fort Hood Shooting, the Undie Bomber. In all three cases, there was prior warning that something bad was going to happen. And in all three cases this was ignored. But to blame this on “cutting budgets” is mind-boggling. Homeland security is one of the most massively overfunded agencies in the government. The WaPo itself did an expose on just how much money is being poured into national security.
Benghazi. Budget cuts did not cause the Benghazi debacle. The State Department ignoring warnings about a dangerous volatile situation. And then they compounded their error by trying to pretend it was a spontaneous protest that no one could have foreseen. Every investigation has concluded that this was the result of State Department incompetence, not evil Republican budget-cutting.
The Navy yard Shooting. I’m not sure how any government program — other than seizing all the guns in the country — would stop a nut from smuggling a gun into a building and blowing people away.
Healthcare.gov. This one was all on Obama. They bid it out to a shaky company, lied about how well it was going and then launched a flaky buggy website rather than wait a few months to fix it to avoid any political heat.
The VA Scandal. This problem has been building for a long time, long before any mythical Republican obstructionism. And Obama had six years of warnings about it and did nothing.
Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion. The liberals were blaming this on deregulation before the debris even hit the ground. And the investigation has concluded that regulations were lax. But they also criticized the company for cutting corners and criticized local and state regulators for dropping the ball. And again, it’s not like Obama demanded more funds to inspect fertilizer plants.
Secret Service Columbia Hooker Scandal. The only scandal here is that the agents tried to stiff some legal sex workers out of their money. This was not because of a lack of oversight or budget cuts.
IRS scandal. This wasn’t a lack of money, despite desperate attempts by such as Vox to argue that it was. It’s true that the IRS didn’t have the resources to thoroughly investigate all the 501(c)(4) groups applying for status. But they responded to this not with random investigations but by targeting groups that they thought opposed the President. This was abuse of the system by the supposed overseers. And we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it.
NSA Leaks. This is a scandal and not the NSA’s abusive programs? In any case, the NSA does not lack for funding and Obama has resisted any attempts at more thorough oversight.
Chevy Cobalt recalls. Can’t pin this one on Republicans. They’re not the ones who put together this “controlled bankruptcy”.
General Services Administration Conference: You may remember this one: the GSA blew $800,000 on a Vegas luxury trip. The thing is … the GSA are the government’s overseers. This isn’t a matter of budget cuts. This is a matter of quis custodiet ipsos custodes? That’s supposed to be Obama or his cabinet.
Operation Fast and Furious. Yeah, Republican were all about gun-walking.
I would add one more to that list: the Border Crisis. The Border Patrol are overwhelmed by the current crisis and the problem throws its roots down in long-term policy. However, Obama wasn’t exactly screaming for more resources or demanding changes in the law. If anything, he’s neglected the border and ignored the exploding violence in Central America.
Look over that list. Maybe you can shade some blame on Republicans for the fertilizer plant explosion or the VA scandal. Both of those problems long pre-date Obama. But even in those two cases, it wasn’t like he was screaming for more resources to deal with them. He has neglected the basic oversight duties of the government and then, when it literally blows up, tries to blame it on Republicans.
But even punting those two, almost all of Obama’s failure are the result of incompetence or idiocy by members of the Administration. Almost none were a result of Republicans “gutting” spending and oversight or intimidating the President. They are the result of a disorganized bumbling Administration that can’t manage the basic functions of government but is constantly coming up with new ones for it to try out.