E minus 29: Running an effective government is tough work

Remember the old saw about whether it’s better to do the right things or do things right?  The first answer is often given on grounds that an organization fixated on functional excellence won’t achieve overall success.  Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right, bothsidesofthetable.com, 7/14/10. http://tinyurl.com/nfv4836

Consider the difficulties of agreeing on “the right things” for a government to do, however, when Side A thinks government action can solve most of the problems of mankind while Side B believes just the opposite.

Even the best plans can go awry due to poor execution, moreover, and incompetence or worse is common in government service.  Thus, the 2010 dismissal rate for 168,000 federal workers in the Washington area was 0.26%.  And appalling failures have occurred without anyone being fired, e.g., the GovCare website fiasco or denial of requests for upgraded security at US installations in Benghazi.  Wrong ideological choice has cost Obama dearly, Jonah Goldberg, Townhall.com, 10/3/14. 

If Obama wanted to restore faith in government, he would have pushed for mercilessly firing bad government workers and ending stupid government programs. And while he paid a little lip service to such things, his priorities were all in the other direction. That is because he had to dance with the girl that brung him. The Democratic Party isn't simply the party of government, it is the party for government.

Our answer would be that one should try to do the right things
and do them right.  A series of examples follows, which may help to make that point.

1. Presidential security
– A man with a knife climbed the fence at the White House on September 19, entered the presidential residence by the front door, and ran through several rooms before being apprehended.  The incident was seen as a shocking failure on the part of the Secret Service, and it sparked many questions as to how something like this could have happened.  White House intruder got far past front door, Alicia Caldwell & Josh Lederman, abcnews.com, 9/29/14. http://tinyurl.com/no73ch4

The president initially expressed full confidence in the Secret Service and its director – who had been appointed to head the agency in 2013 (the previous director retired, with the timing possibly related to disclosures that Secret Service agents had consorted with prostitutes while in Colombia to do advance work for a presidential visit).   After Julia Pierson got a bipartisan congressional grilling and then an earlier security breach came to light, however, her resignation was tendered and accepted.  Secret Service director resigns under pressure about breaches, Michael Shear & Michael Schmidt, New York Times, 10/1/14.

In the wake of Pierson’s departure, the Secret Service is seen as needing a top-to-bottom overhaul. Morale at the agency is poor; agents feel overburdened, distrust the higher ups, and have been frustrated by orders that they viewed as compromising security needs. Pierson failed to provide fresh start for Secret Service that administration wanted, Carol Leonnig, Washington Post, 10/1/14. 

The 6,700-member agency [with a $1.5 billion annual budget], long an elite class of skilled professionals who prized their jobs, now suffers from diminished luster and historically high turnover rates. Officers in charge of protecting the White House say they have grown resentful at being belittled by their bosses and routinely forced to work on off-days. Some agents who have sworn to take a bullet for the president and his family have little faith in the wisdom or direction of their ­senior-most leaders.

A conservative senator sagely attributed this situation and others to a pattern of excessive delegation.  He went on to say “the federal government is dysfunctional, ineffective, [and] inefficient so my suggestion is to stop growing it.”  Sen. Ron Johnson [R-WI]: Obama’s inability to manage at root of Secret Service problems, Melissa Clynne, newsmax.com, 10/1/14. 

2. Redskins
– We will refrain from opining as to whether or not Washington, DC’s pro football team is appropriately named.  The answer depends on whether Native Americans feel demeaned by the Redskins long-time name, and what do we know about that?

It does seem, however, that some of the people raising this issue have an agenda of promoting White Liberal Guilt.  And instead of making their point and moving on they keep raising it, as though determined to get their way.  The second biggest issue in America, Bruce Bialosky, Townhall.com, 10/27/13.

One particularly persistent critic is the Senate majority leader, who insists that the team’s name is racially derogatory.  Harry Reid says NFL and “Redskins” need to clean up their act after NBA punished Sterling’s racism, Seattlepi.com, Brett LaGiurato, 4/30/14.

The nation’s leader has also weighed in on the subject.  President Obama: [If I owned the team,] “I’d think about changing” Redskins name, Mike Jones, Washington Post, 10/15/13.
http://tinyurl.com/lwcmcrq  Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but since the president said this two administrative agencies have proposed actions that would hurt the team owners.

First, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided to revoke the Redskins name and logo trademark, as it had unsuccessfully attempted to do in years past.  The team’s response was effectively “see you in court.” Redskins defy trademark ruling, say they’ll defend name, Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner, 6/18/14. 

Then it was the Federal Communications Commission’s turn. Citing a listener complaint, the FCC said it might impose fines on broadcasters for referring to the Washington Redskins by name.  FCC considers fines for on-air use of Washington Redskins name, Lisa de Moraes, Wall Street Journal, 9/30/14.

The commission is charged with fining broadcasters for obscenities and indecencies by responding to viewer/listener complaints; in this case, it received a petition from legal activist John Banzhaf III asking that regulators strip a local radio station of its broadcasting license when it comes up for renewal because it used the team’s name. Banzhaf insists the word is racist, derogatory, profane and hateful, making its use “akin to broadcasting obscenity.”

For the record, a majority of Americans feel otherwise.  The percentage of supporters is down to 71%, however, versus 89% in 1992.  Poll: Most Americans think Redskins should keep name, newsmax.com, 9/3/14.

How ironic, that the government doesn’t seem able to take care of core responsibilities like keeping intruders out of the White House, yet can so doggedly go after a dubious issue like this one.  

3. Global warming
– Will there ever be an end to the efforts to combat global warming, which is blamed on human burning of fossil fuels and supposedly threatens the future of the human race?  We hope so, but the current administration and environmentalist activists are pursuing this issue relentlessly and with minimal regard for economic and social costs.  Global warming cures that aren’t needed and would cost a bundle, 9/1/14.   

On September 21, protestors assembled in New York to protest global warming and whatever ills might conceivably be associated with it – and demand recompense. Climate justice now!  Occupy the climate!  Byron York, Washington Examiner, 9/22/14.

Put it all together — all the justice demanders, the tax Wall Streeters, and the spirit of Occupy symbolized by the angry pacifist — and the People's Climate March was one long, loud, loosely organized demand that vast sums of money be taken from the wealthy and given to the clients of the coalitions and alliances and networks and task forces that make up today's environmental justice movement. They've had enough of debating climate models. They want to start taking — now.

On September 23, in a speech at the UN Climate Change Summit, the president called climate change (aka global warming) “one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.” The marching of protestors was also duly noted. 

So the climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it.  The alarm bells keep ringing.  Our citizens keep marching.  We cannot pretend we do not hear them.  We have to answer the call.  We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm.  We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change.  We have to adapt to the impacts that, unfortunately, we can no longer avoid.  And we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late. 

On September 25, EPA Director Gina McCarthy touted the clean energy agenda (which is the basis for the proposed Clean Power Plan, or CPP, that the EPA published on June 2) in a speech at Resources for the Future, a nonprofit research organization.  Her speech glossed over resulting energy price increases and argued that the overall economic effects would be positive rather than negative.  Predictably, some critics were underwhelmed.  EPA chief’s climate pitch ignores rising electric prices, Ben Wolfgang, Washington Times, 9/25/14. 

“I think President Obama and the EPA must live on a different planet,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican and the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “What people want is for them to back off of their attacks on our economy. Their benefits calculations are bogus because the costs for their most recent mandates will be astronomical, and their federal takeover of the electricity grid could kill hundreds of thousands of jobs in Louisiana and across the country.”

We previously suggested that (1) “the CPP is ill advised from a scientific, economic or political standpoint,” and (2) it would be best to “countermand this proposal instead of allowing a legal battle over it to play out in the courts.”  Accordingly, our analysis concluded, Congress should “promptly pass legislation, by a veto-proof majority, revoking the authority that the EPA claims to have been granted to impose and enforce increasingly stringent limits on CO2 emissions.”  SAFE to Congress: Bin the Clean Power Plan,
6/16/14 (a one-page summary was sent to every member). 

Nice words, but the only concerted congressional reaction to the CPP of which we are aware was a letter to Director McCarthy requesting a 60-day extension of the 4-month comment period “so that states and utilities can provide the most detailed assessments on how to meet the targets while maintaining reliability in the grid.”   Dated September 11, the letter was signed by 53 senators (mostly Republicans).
http://tinyurl.com/q3t8ynx (download PDF).

The EPA’s ensuing 45-day extension (until December 1) of the comment period was painted as a major concession.  Obama delays key power plant rule of signature climate change plan, Suzanne Goldenberg, the Guardian, 9/16/14.

. . . a delay puts the EPA on an even tighter deadline to finalise the rule before Obama leaves office in 2016. Even before Tuesday’s extension, the initial comment period for the new EPA rule was already longer than the norm.

Moral: When government officials are pursuing a cherished objective, they may go after it pretty hard – even though it’s the wrong thing to do.  Hit them over the head! 

4. Ebola
– An outbreak of this disease has reached alarming proportions in several West African countries.  First identified in 1976, Ebola is highly infectious but not highly contagious since it does not spread through the air but only via direct contact.  The fatality rate has been over 50%, e.g., 3,048 cases had been reported in Liberia through September 23 with 1,830 deaths.  Ebola fast facts, CNN.com, updated 10/3/14. http://tinyurl.com/mbwrmmz

The United States and other countries have responded by sending medical professionals, support workers (including some 3,000 military personnel from the US), supplies, and funds to assist in fighting the Ebola outbreak.  The president’s weekly address, 9/27/14.

America is leading the fight to contain and combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. We’re deploying our doctors and scientists -- supported by our military -- to help corral the outbreak and pursue new treatments. From the United Kingdom and Germany to France and Senegal, other nations are stepping up their efforts, too, sending money, supplies, and personnel. And we will continue to rally other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this disease, and enhance global health security for the long-term.

The administration’s point man for this effort has been Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in Atlanta.  “Ebola the most urgent challenge,” says CDC director, Brian Hughes, Washington Examiner, 10/4/13.

Frieden was among the earliest proponents of an aggressive US plan to handle a virus that by January could afflict 1.4 million people in West Africa. He has pledged that a similar outbreak won’t happen here.

Concerns that Ebola might reach the US have been downplayed, notably in a speech the president gave at the CDC headquarters on September 16 after meeting with Dr. Frieden et al.

. . . our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.  We’ve been taking the necessary precautions, including working with countries in West Africa to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States.  In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home.  *** working to help flight crews identify people who are sick *** working with hospitals to make sure that they are prepared, and to ensure that our doctors, our nurses and our medical staff are trained, are ready, and are able to deal with a possible case safely.

Things didn’t work out quite so smoothly, however, when the first US case of Ebola surfaced.  In just two weeks, Obama proven completely wrong about Ebola, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 10/2/14.

A Liberian infected with the virus, Thomas Eric Duncan, flew from Monrovia to Brussels to Virginia to Dallas. No screening at any airport stopped him, nor did any flight crews. *** when Duncan arrived in Dallas, the doctors, nurses and medical staff at the hospital he entered were not prepared and in fact released him back into the Dallas population where, fully symptomatic, he had contact with lots of people.

It turns out that the screening procedures at the airports in Africa may leave something to be desired.  Top Ebola virologist: Liberia’s airport checks “useless” and a “disaster,” Frances Martel, breitbart.com, 10/3/14.

And although Duncan said he had come from Africa when he went to a Dallas hospital complaining of flu-like symptoms, he was not initially admitted for treatment.  Ebola victim told ER nurse he had been in African outbreak zone - but was sent home with antibiotics for a “low grade virus” TWO days before he was finally quarantined, Daily Mail, 10/1/14.

Another worry: the Ebola virus could mutate, acquiring the capability of attaching to receptors in the human respiratory system, at which point the disease could become highly contagious. Although regarded by some experts as unlikely, such a development cannot be ruled out as Ebola spreads to more and more human hosts.    Doomsday warning: UN Ebola chief raises “nightmare” prospect, Corey Charlton & Lucy Crossley, Daily Mail, 10/2/14.

Could it be that it’s time to impose travel bans from West Africa?  So far, the administration has insisted that such restrictions are unnecessary and could prove counterproductive. White House: Travel ban would “impede” Ebola response, Brian Hughes, Washington Examiner, 10/3/14.

Best defense is to combat Ebola in West Africa, which entails sending people over to help with an assurance they can return – screening procedures have prevented “dozens and dozens” of presumably infected people from getting on planes there – “our healthcare infrastructure in the United States is well equipped to stop Ebola in its tracks.”

Americans would like to believe that government experts know what they are talking about and are exercising good judgment, but Ebola is not something to be taken lightly and the way in which this problem and others have been handled lately does not inspire a lot of confidence.  Brett Baier show, panel discussion, Fox News, 10/2/14.

 Look, I'm not a doctor, I'm not even a medical reporter.  [So] I have to trust my government and that's why I have to trust the healthcare system. [Unfortunately], we really have lost faith in all our institutions. And the medical system in particular has given us reason to have doubt even in this particular incident. So if there was ever a time where we need to be able to keep our heads about us and trust the people leading us this would be the kind of incident that we should. But the problem is it's rather hard to do so.

Moral: government leaders should do their homework and remember who they are working for.
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