"[T]here is a danger that the Obama Administration will be remembered as not even good enough for government work," if President Obama doesn't step up his game, argued liberal Time magazine columnist Joe Klein in his October 30 piece, "Buckpasser."
"Firing for cause doesn’t seem to exist in the Obama Administration," groused the columnist, lamenting that "few have paid the price for the Administration’s errors." But before we congratulate Klein too much for getting tough on Obama, let's be perfectly clear, Klein thinks administrative incompetence is the fundamental problem, not that ObamaCare is itself fatally-flawed in its design to begin with:
And I certainly expected more from the Affordable Care Act, since it is the most significant piece of social welfare legislation since the 1960s, and an absolutely crucial piece of our social safety net going forward. It is early days for the ACA and we should reserve judgment about whether this legislation was just too big and complicated a mess to implement. But, surely, SOMEONE–maybe many people–should be fired for these opening pratfalls. And we should also be able to get some of our money back from the private contractors who failed to implement the exchanges.
There is a larger point here. It lies in the nature of government work. It is near-impossible to fire anyone in the civil service–and without the fear of firing, the incentives for hard work diminish. (There are also very few rewards for finding creative solutions.) This is the 130th anniversary of our Civil Service system, enacted by Chester Alan Arthur. It may have been a good thing in 19th century, when even Abraham Lincoln was hiring political hacks to run the post offices–but it has transformed agencies like the VA and HHS into lugubrious sludge glaciers in the 21st century.
The President should set the tone for the way the federal government operates. This President hasn’t done that. He still has three more years in office to get it right, perhaps even to propose some radical changes in the work rules governing federal employment. He could even force DOD and VA to agree on the unified electronic records system that he promised.
Otherwise, there is a danger that the Obama Administration will be remembered as not even good enough for government work.