The Conversation

Post Editorial Board: Government Bureaucracy Doesn't Work

In a piece published today, the Washington Post editorial board says the problem at the VA is the same problem experienced within other parts of the government: a stagnant bureaucracy protected by political favoritism.

As the editorial board notes, the pattern we're now seeing in the wake of the VA scandal is one we've seen many times before. They write "the trajectory was similar when it involved the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Hurricane Katrina or the Internal Revenue Service and the tea party or the Department of Health and Human Services and HealthCare.gov." The real problem goes beyond the particulars to the outdated nature of the bureaucracy itself:

Such “scandals” will recur, likely with increasing frequency, as long as government leaders ignore the underlying problem: a personnel system that has not been upgraded to suit the 21st-century knowledge economy...It is a cumbersome system that can’t recruit or compete for talent and doesn’t reward top performers or punish poor ones.

The Post could have added Benghazi to that list. I don't mean whatever may come of the ongoing investigation, I mean just the part all sides now agree is true, i.e. there was insufficient security and enough warning that the attack should have been prevented. Four people were suspended for a few months then reinstated in other positions. No one was fired.

That aside, calling government bureaucracy cumbersome and outdated sounds a lot like a Republican message. And yet, when it comes to saying which party is to blame, the Post is suddenly bipartisan:

Some of the resistance to change is political: Democrats rely on government unions that are suspicious of merit-based policies, and Republicans are suspicious of government altogether.

The latter claim is certainly true, at least in general, but so what? Which Republican would reject the kinds of union-curbing civil service reforms the Post suggests are needed? There is no room for equivalence here. One party is the party of expanding government and public sector unions (and benefits directly from their support). The other party is the home of Scott Walker.

The Post deserves credit for highlighting the treadmill of government incompetence a lot of Americans have experienced in the last six months. However this is one of those situations where the politics are not a wash. The Post ought to be willing to give Republicans credit on an issue where they surely deserve some.


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