Friday, November 07, 2008

Your Government Failed You



No, this isn’t an account of the Bush Administration. It’s the title of Richard Clarke’s latest book.

”There was a government reform movement in the early twentieth century that aimed to end corruption and to professionalize civil service and public administration. It was known as the Good Government Movement, and its advocates were called Goo Goos. It’s time to bring back the Goo Goos, not just to end corruption but to restore professionalism in public administration and end the practice of using government as a political whipping boy, limiting it effectiveness and then complaining about how it can’t get anything done.”

Mr. Clarke’s book contains the theme that I see repeated in much of my reading these days. When you believe that “government is the problem”, government doesn’t tend to work well. Contracting out the government’s legitimate functions doesn’t help. It just winds up hurting you -- that would be “you” the citizens -- in the end. It does wind up making somebody rich. Which means they got rich at your -- and your government's -- expense. But it winds up hurting your country through incompetence, poor decisions and misguided decisions.

Your Government Failed You takes you through much of the military and national security history of the recent past. Richard Clarke started working for the State Department in 1973. He is most famous for his work in counter-terrorism on the National Security Council under President Clinton. Some of the inside details he provides are juicy and some are shocking. But the real message of the book is much like the message I try to get across in this blog: Government is important. How well our government works -- or doesn’t work -- counts.

You can’t make government work better by demonizing it. You can’t put your half-wit cousin in charge of the sewer system and expect the toilets to flush. You can’t put some political hack in charge of FEMA and expect it to work. You can’t put some ideologue in a Cabinet position and expect the department to function well.

Your Government Failed You is a good book and well worth your time. If , like me, you worked for the government during these years, I bet you find yourself nodding your head while reading it. There were so many times I found that I could just take out the words like “State Department”, substitute “FAA” and the statement would still ring true.

”Riddled with inexperienced political appointees and private sector contractors doing jobs typically performed by career staff, the department ranked thirty-sixth out of thirty-six federal agencies...”

See what I mean ? Mr. Clarke could have been talking about the FAA. Unfortunately, he’s talking about the Department of Homeland Security. And I hope it hits you, he could have been talking about almost any department under the Bush Administration.

Don Brown
November 7, 2008

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