Whenever I hear a speech by Donald Trump these days, I hear the same refrain. Every problem will be solved by getting the best business people to work on it — to build a wall, to negotiate trade deals, etc., etc., etc. We heard this again in The Donald’s victory speech in New Hampshire last night. Of course, those stud managers and negotiators who are going to save the country and let us “win again” never get named.
It reminds me of one of the last scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, after Indy has recovered the Lost Ark of the Covenant, turned it over to the U.S. government, and learned to his dismay that he’s not going to be able to study it. Who is going to study this object of unimaginable power? The tubby, pipe-smoking government bureaucrat simply responds, with smug assurance: “Top men.” Of course, the Ark ends up boxed into a crate and carted off to some anonymous shelf in a seemingly endless government warehouse.
The next time the Trumpster makes this point, I wish he would just use the phrase “top men.”
We know from the recent scandals about the poor care received by our veterans that the Department of Veterans Affairs is a poorly administered mess. Now the VA may be helping to illustrate a deeper problem with our federal bureaucracy — the lack of accountability on the part of federal employees, and the inability to mete out disciplinary action that is a standard part of most regular, non-governmental jobs.
In short, the VA is so poorly managed — or so removed from the pressures of normal jobs — that officials looked the other way when employees gamed the system, and the failure to act or discipline those other employees sets a precedent that protects employees who engage in later, similar misconduct. It’s a topsy-turvy world that would never be tolerated in a normal business.
The American civil service system was developed in the years after the Civil War to try to shield government jobs and career employees from cronyism and politicization when new Presidents were elected or new Congresses took office. It was a good idea, but the system has become calcified, and in many instances now serves to protect employees from being held appropriately accountable for their actions. The VA’s example tells us it’s time to take a fresh look at the civil service system.