In the Arena

Buckpasser

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Charles Dharapak / AP

President Barack Obama speaks about the initial rollout of the health care overhaul in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Oct. 21, 2013

The President is responsible for the quality of his Administration.

I’ve been reading Tom Ricks’ excellent book about military leadership since World War II, The Generals. In it, Ricks argues that one of the reasons  we were able to win World War II was that Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower were absolutely brutal when it came to relieving field commanders who were not up to the job–and also discerning enough to leave politically incorrect, but brilliant, leaders like George Patton in their positions. He also argues that in the subsequent, cold-war bureaucratization of the military, this rigorous practice has been largely abandoned.

Firing for cause doesn’t seem to exist in the Obama Administration, either. The most high-profile government officials who were removed from their positions over the past five years were the two Air Force generals who were responsible for the sloppy handling of nuclear weapons; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates–perhaps the best cabinet officer in both the George W. Bush and Obama Adminisitrations–ordered both firings.

There may have been other high-profile dismissals over the past five years, but I can’t remember them. People like Larry Summers haven’t been hired, but few have paid the price for the Administration’s errors. This isn’t only an Obama problem; mistakes are inevitable in any administration–and most recent Presidents have taken far too long to rectify their blunders. (George W. Bush, for example, took six years to get rid of the execrable Donald Rumsfeld and replace him with Gates.)

Still, I expected more from Obama. I expected more at the Veterans Administration, since the President said that making sure that our veterans received the best treatment really mattered to him. It is remarkable that five years on, Obama still hasn’t resolved the dispute between the VA and the Department of Defense about providing a unified electronic medical records system that would follow active-duty personnel into retirement. The waste, heartache and delay caused by his inaction is appalling.

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.

177 comments
georgie148.al
georgie148.al

Maybe a process should be put in place to fire lazy journalists whose entire analysis of Obamacare is based on the opening of the website two years after the law's implementation. I thought I was about to read an examination of the problems of Obamacare that supported Klein's "fire the bums theory". Sorry to disappoint but as with Klein's lame cheap shots with teachers unions little effort was made to research the subject. The rich are different, they just assign blame to everyone but themselves.

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

Joe Klein forgot that these problems all have to do with contracting out responsibilities that could be easily fixed if the government had control of the IT infrastructure instead of empowering his Beltway Bandit drinking buddies.

He's never been smart enough to learn about technology issues or bright enough to stop lying about them:

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2007/11/time-columnist/

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Obama is a decent guy, no question about it.  But, at worst, he could be labeled the Mismanager in Chief. 

Basically, as I see it, this decent guy is just out of his league.  He had no managerial experience prior to 2008.  And he's been struggling ever since.  On the Job Training isn't acceptable for a country of our size and caliber.

It is the responsibility of We the People to elect more qualified people.  Electing those who win Beauty Contests just won't get it.

bidiboom
bidiboom

By the way generally speaking Turks are ethically loose people too. Ordinary people wouldnt be able to make this "Silent Revolution" in Turkey. You need technically and ethically special guys. Regular ones will go on to exploit as they come to those high positions bcs.  

bidiboom
bidiboom

I am from Turkey and I still cant believe that Sebelius is still on the wokr, not fired and things go for her so smooth! :( Its really incredible. Actually the more I observe how things roll in the US, the more I find it a like of 1980s Turkey. I dont say that to humiliate, but its the fact. We have had that kind of a Civil Service System, a similar approach, an insurance sytem that bleeds en-masse resource :(( 

In last 10 years, less than 10 years it took actually, we chnaged the whole Turkish ste of mind in public services. Today youth are competeing in a nationwide test to get a job in any one of the public services  they like and its really a very tough test. Both the income and expectation from public servants has changed. The corrupt and loose system without any sanction turned into something way clean. Now public services quality mostly are even better than private sector quality.

To get technology in service had a serious part in this transformation. They exploited IT tech the world presents as much as possible. For instance in health care system now we passed to "palm veins reading system" instead of papers, which both is a burden for the patient, and may be leaking point for public sources. I remember before todays government one of the most bleeding system was health and public insurance. It was such a gorging monster . First the IT tech got in use to scan through all the leakage holes, they have been plugged (the doctors, medical providers, patients.. who are altogether stealing over fake papers), the insurance system has changed, the weaknesses of the system providing a good ground for exploitation.. all changed. Now I can get my appointment in any public hospital with any doctor of any specialty over internet, I can get my analyses imaging works done (which have costed a couple of thousands TLs,which a couple of times, regarding the costs in Turkey, means a lot!) get my prescription, get my drugs from whichever pharmacy I prefer (for they are online connected with public health system), and I pay.. brace for it:)) 10Tl or so, which makes appr. $5!

Thats not only good intension, thats will, competency  and hard work. Before todays government we have had a very corrupt public system and The Establishment benefited a lot form it. 

SO their media is brainwashing over fake stories about Turkey. Most are either disinforming or misleading :( ..anyway.. As a conclusion, its impossible to change the system in the US as long as humans and their competency, ethics and enthusiasm is not changed, which is near to impossible for the US.. since its reallt a huge system which is controlled by immoral guys :( hope you can change.           

BrendonCarr
BrendonCarr

We tried firing Barack Obama for cause in the 2012 election, when guys like Joe Klein were busy covering up and apologizing for his incompetence and malice. Everything that is known about Obama's deficiencies today could have been known in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012 had the media been willing to examine him critically. Sorry, Joe: Barack Obama sucks, and it's your fault we're stuck with the worst President and worst Presidency in American history. I hope you choke on it.

jkellymcgowan
jkellymcgowan

@barneydidit @BrendonCarr Sorry Barney.  W held the pole position til BO took the lead.  Merely consider:

However idiot the invasions were and ultimately self defeating to life, treasure, and international reputation.  BO has trumped them all:  

1.  We are out of them, in fact we are using drones at a stupendous rate, which only creates more distrust.  2.  W started the NSA ball rolling, but under BO it has grown completely out of control (and his response is merely, "i didn't know"  which makes it worse than if he did!!)

3.  Our debt has ballooned under BO, and before you scream about how it was Bush's fault do your homework.  I have a post graduate degree in finance and markets and trust me that while there is plenty of blame to go around the banks and other private players (including the public), a very big chunk of it belongs squarely in our government dating from 1992.  So please don't listen to simplistic assignments, the Dem's are as much to blame as the Rep's on this.  In any event.  BO has done NOTHING to prevent the next one other than pile on more debt, employ more regulators to micro manage incomprehensible rules that amount to nothing when it comes to protecting the investor.

4.  And the reason that BO will be the worst is that is signature piece of legislation is such an abomination of law and reason that it will accomplish nothing beneficial while costing us everything.   And this, like all federal agencies, will take an act of God (not congress) to undo.  Just consider why did the insurance companies finally agree to reform?  Do you really believe it is because they "came around" or "did it for the benefit of the country?"


This one will haunt us forever, 

tcwestdad
tcwestdad

Joe, we know you to lean to the left in your viewpoints. That can be without doubt. However, do you realize you prove the point conservatives have had about government from day one. If not, let me repeat it:

"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."

Liberals love them some big government. They want government to do more and more. Can't trust the other bigs (pharma, oil, etc.), but they love them big government. And yet a liberal journalist, in one paragraph, makes the conservative point, so succinctly. 




SharongeGe
SharongeGe

my friend's mom makes $62 every hour on the internet. She has been unemployed for 8 months but last month her check was $13696 just working on the internet for a few hours. ......>>>>>>>>>>  www.jobs60.ℂom

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

You know what I really love about this comment thread? The folks who are in general agreement with Joe Klein.

Good company you're keeping there, Joe. Keep up the good work.

jkellymcgowan
jkellymcgowan

@shepherdwong @eoniii Really, liberals were the "harshest critics"?  Please, i'll send you a postage stamp so you can write all the names of the harsh liberal critics of ACA before 10/1.  


Classic liberal rewriting history to what you want it to be.  Sorry charlie, this one is going to stick on you and you can thank your messiah (between his golf game and polishing his Nobel).  See you 2014

eoniii
eoniii

@shepherdwong Joe does seem to be getting a little smarter. The Obamacare trainwreck was narrative colliding with reality. Reality won. Even the ditziest liberals are finally noticing Obama's incompetence and mendacity.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@eoniii "Even the ditziest liberals are finally noticing Obama's incompetence and mendacity."

If you weren't a clueless Teatard, you'd know that liberals have been the harshest critics of the ACA since day one. You also wouldn't have voted for Bush/Cheney (twice?) and still lack the shame and self-awareness to call Obama mendacious and incompetent (Bush retired both terms permanently). The ACA is a "conservative" Heritage Foundation, health care system, AKA "Romneycare." Just STFU, moron, before you embarrass yourself any further.

MikePalmer
MikePalmer

@shepherdwong @eoniii Shep: you know not of which you speak, and you are a complete hypocrite for accusing eonii as being clueless, when it's obvious you've done zero research on the Heritage Foundation paper and have more or less just echoed what you've heard on the liberal blogs.  If you weren't so "clueless", you'd know that the Heritage paper is nothing like the ACA.  Its fundamental premise was to induce people to buy insurance for catastrophic situations (not things like abortions and birth control), and it did so via tax incentives not by through a penalty.  Plus it lacked all the regulatory BS that is killing everybody's existing policies b/c they don't meet the standards set forth by our omniscient government.  Its like saying a Ferrari and Yugo are exactly the same because their both cars.   You are without a leg to stand on here, and for anyone who has actually done the research, you look like a half-wit fool.

tvincentct
tvincentct

This is the kind of "management" to be expected from a community organizer/part time law lecturer.

Why would anyone expect this clown to act as an executive?

He never managed a lemonade stand.

eoniii
eoniii

So why do you want a "lugubrious sludge glacier" (nice term) like the HHS to control our health care? This bureaucratic  lethargy and stupidity isn't going to change in our lifetimes. The bigger the government gets, the more it f****s up everything. So why do reasonably smart liberals such as you and Ezra Klein (cousin?) write about the federal government's lack of accountability for failure and its Stone Age IT practices? Do you expect anything else?

Government should be limited to those few functions only government can do and then leave us alone as much as possible. We should have a reasonable safety net. but not the radical redistribution and crushing of the middle class that we are seeing in Obamacare.

surfdog
surfdog

Klein's point about the 130 year history of Civil Service Protection loses velocity by not mentioning the rise of public sector unions. They are entrenched , self serving and destructive . 

On his second time around California  Governor  Brown probably wishes he had not instituted  the right to organize to state employees. But he would never admit it.


LibSick
LibSick

Joe Klein - a liberal joke.

Next week he will be kissing Barky's a$$ again.

It is interesting, however, that Klein mentions the destruction of the military for political purposes.  We are no longer in a position to defend our borders or our citizens, thanks to the consistent replacement of competent officers with leftist acolytes.  The military that Barky is having built is designed to fight against the American people, not foreign enemies.

jpalm32
jpalm32

Hey, How about that amnesty thingy? On to the next scandle

Gooms
Gooms

Oh, SHADDUP, Klein. You get the government you deserve and vote for and you got what you voted for TWICE. 

We, the Tea Party conservatives have tried to blast the clarion call about big, bloated, centralized gargantuan government and for our efforts were (are) called racists, homophobes, terrorists and Hitler for simply wanting more, local "power-to-the people" government away from the centralized, unfeeling, D.C. lily-white, uber-wealthy bureaucrats living in an elitist bubble in their beltway.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@Gooms 

You Tea Party Conservatives have done nothing beneficial for this country despite your much bally-hoo'ed desire to take back your country (from whom and from what exactly?) and return the government to the Constitutional one envisioned by our forefathers (as if they could even imagine the sophisticated, interconnected and immensely complicated nation we have today) way back then.  Your aim may (or may not) be noble but your tactics are killing us.  And moreover, your confrontational mindset and ever farther to the right polarization is just making the other side step on the brake pedal even harder.

You Tea Party Conservatives need a serious attitude adjustment.  Instead of what you are doing you need to think of ways you can work with the other side to achieve your goals without doing the country any more harm.

retired.military
retired.military

Obama doesn't want to get it right. He wants single payer and he wants to destroy America.  As soon as you realize that the sooner you will see why he does what he does.

arminius
arminius

@retired.military He's a talentless hack.  Talentless hacks don't fire other talentless hacks.  It's sorta like a gentleman's agreement, among the truly useless.

Sibelius, and the VA administrators caught wasting millions, and Eric Holder and the rest of the hacks could be videotaped boiling kittens and eating them on the White House lawn, and nothing would happen.  

Let me point out the obvious, as well: YOU, the media, bear substantial blame. You shielded your love object, Mr Obama through two elections and 1.25 terms. He is Dear Leader to you and the liberal intelligentsia. Share the misery. Own it. You bought it for us.

jhngalt9
jhngalt9

The reason to retain incompetent people in government is obvious. They know alot. Fire them and they might do something crazy like tell the truth. I am sure people from most presidential administrations could tell us some amazing things about just how incompetent and corrupt government has really become. 

The problem is it is a closed shop. The people in it protect one another because there is always another appointment or job to come that might depend on your associations with people in power. The truth has been dribbling out over the years about past administrations. People retire, pass on and the reasons to keep a lid on things diminishes.

FR2011
FR2011

The problem with Klein's proposal is that Obama is unfailingly loyal to the federal government and its bureaucracies. Those are some of his most loyal supporters.

manapp99
manapp99

I think it comes from how one viewed the original Obama Presidential campaign in 07 and 08. Many seemed to listen to Obama's words and actually believe that he could accomplish the things he said. Smarter government, better world relations, better relations in DC, health care for all, fixing the financial system etc. I listened and thought there is no way he can keep the promises he is making and the failure to do so is going to haunt him. I did not think that because I thought him a liar but because I thought him naive to ways of big government. My understanding of the way government works comes only from observation of government activities small and large. The system is much larger than the individuals that come and go and the system is not geared for efficiency or effectiveness.  Like the public school system, government is full of good people who cannot change the system and are trapped inside of it. The only approach is one of measured dismantling of every program and every agency and then to have them rebuilt (or not if not needed) from the ground up. From the bidding process that keeps the best contractors on the sidelines to the strict rules that do not allow supervisors the ability to run things efficiently,  all current systems have to come under review. All this done while still governing. A mammoth task that would take decades but you have to set the wheels in motion. The current path is heading towards a death of a million cuts. 

Becke1827
Becke1827

You're a little late, Klein.