Government & Politics

Government: Your Tax Dollars at Waste

People in an organization rise to their level of incompetence.

Michael Swartz · Nov. 13, 2015

Decades ago, a social scientist named Laurence Peter determined that people in an organization rise to their level of incompetence. We need look no further than the federal government to see this maxim at work. Indeed, two egregious examples are in this week’s headlines.

Let’s start at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where we learned that those who fail to provide good patient care aren’t failing to get good bonus checks. The VA awarded more than $142 million in 2014 performance bonuses, some of it to those who allowed wait times to get out of hand and provided substandard care when patients were finally seen. Never mind the more than 300,000 veterans who died waiting on VA services.

“Rewarding failure only breeds more failure,” sighed Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who chairs the House VA Committee. “Until VA leaders learn this important lesson and make a commitment to supporting real accountability at the department, efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail.” In the meantime, while the government dithers on how to address this problem, which came to light over a year ago, thousands of veterans are returning from The Long War in need of care. Clearly, it will take new executive leadership to rectify these problems.

The Peter Principle is also alive and well over at the EPA, whose incompetence earlier this summer ruined the pristine Animas River when one of its contractors let loose 3 million gallons of highly toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine. Last week, that contractor struck gold, receiving more “contract enhancements” to bring its payday since the day before the August catastrophe to nearly $2.7 million. It remains to be seen whether Environmental Restoration LLC — the recipient of over $500 million in government contracts since 2001, most of which has been awarded under Barack Obama — will be liable for any of the estimated $27 billion cleanup cost. Only Uncle Sam would award a company $1.4 million in the face of such gross and costly incompetence.

(Who’s responsible for this outrage? Perhaps it’s the EPA bureaucrat who remained on the taxpayers’ dime for months while awaiting formal punishment for watching two to six hours of pornography each day.)

But the real proof that incompetence — make that dereliction — rises to the top comes from Hillary Clinton, who compounded her initial ineptitude regarding the Benghazi terrorist attack by lying to our faces about it. An obscure pencil-pusher wasting taxpayer money is one thing, but when saving one’s own skin comes at the cost of four American lives it shows an utter contempt for job performance and, worse, for the American people. Even Clinton’s supporters are hard-pressed to come up with something she accomplished in her adult life aside from getting Bill Clinton to say, “I do.”

There’s certainly no guarantee that a Republican administration will magically end incompetence and corruption within the federal government, since the tangled web of bureaucracy has grown with each passing president, regardless of party. (Ronald Reagan, for example, signed the legislation creating the Department of Veterans Affairs, a Cabinet-level department. Meanwhile, the EPA was created under another Republican president, Richard Nixon.) But there’s at least a tiny glimmer of hope that a reform-minded GOP standard-bearer can ride into town and tame the wild beast known as the federal bureaucracy. There’s no such hope for a Democrat, much less Hillary Clinton.

If there’s anything that makes the case for a “starve the beast” mentality, it’s stories like these. We’re a long way from our Founders’ intent — those constitutional clauses used to justify most of government’s existence are stretched to the breaking point. Fortunately, so is the patience of the American public.

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