We Need Government – But Not For Everything

“For 100 years, the narratives of progressives from Woodrow Wilson on, is that progress will come if and only if we concentrate more and more power in Washington, more and more Washington power in the executive branch and more executive power in the hands of experts — disinterested experts such as those who designed HealthCare.gov.”

— George F. Will

I like George Will a lot, and have for years. There are days when he gets a little doctrinaire for my tastes, but they are always redeemed by points like this.

I am not quite as doctrinaire about government as some of the more extreme libertarians. I believe that there are some things that the federal government must do because a) they must be done, and b) neither private enterprise, civil society, nor any other level of government can legally or practically do it. I think most reasonable libertarians would agree with me, and that the only thing we might dispute is where that line is drawn.

You don’t put Bechtel in charge of preserving our national parks. You don’t make the L.A. City Council responsible for building interstate highways. You don’t make the First AME Church responsible for enforcing civil rights legislation. And you don’t put the governor of Kansas in charge of the national defense. You get the federal government to do those things because, like it or not, experience has proven that they are most likely to be most effective in those roles. We can argue as long as you like about whether those things are necessary, but logic dictates that the Feds do it.

Neither, however, do you operate on the presumption that something is better done by the federal government. The folks in Washington have done some fine things over the years, but they have also laid upon this nation some schemes that we may wish we could forget but we must not.

Leadership vs. The Bureaucracy

Obama: ACA Rollout Doesn’t Reflect on Management Style”
Sophie Novack

NationalJournal.com
December 6, 2013

English: Kathleen Sebelius speaking after her ...
Kathleen Sebelius speaking after her official nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services. President Barack Obama is standing behind Sebelius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pacific Bull Moose endeavors to refrain from gratuitous displays of partisanship. We prefer to eschew tossing spitballs across the aisle, choosing instead to develop principles upon which the nation should be governed, approaches to its challenges, and policies rooted in both.

Presidents Lead the Government

President Obama’s remarks to Chris Matthews on the matter of his management style deserve a response, but ours is aimed less at POTUS than at a principle.

As the National Review notes:

“President Obama said Thursday that the problems that have plagued the first couple months of the health care law rollout are not an indication that he needs to change his management style, Politico reports.

Obama instead pointed to larger issues with the federal bureaucracy.”

As a matter of principle, POTUS is being disingenuous. Anyone who has taken a high school civics class can tell you that the President sits at the head of the bureaucracy. His constitutional role is to lead the executive branch of government, which includes the bureaucracy. An inability to lead the apparatus of government, to implement programs, is, prima facie, a management problem.

Implementation issues come part-and-parcel with any effort to bring about major change, and they have dogged every modern president for the past century. Dealing with the inertia of large bureaucracies comes with the job of President of the United States along with the house, the plane, the salary, and the benefits.

Bureaucracies do Stink, Regardless of Size

At the same time, those of my fellow Republicans who would jump on this issue and suggest that the president’s lament is a proof point for small government had best hold their horses. The problem here is not size, it is effectiveness.

Management guru Tom Peters once noted that “any organization larger than five people is a hopeless bureaucracy.” Big organizations come with big jobs. The question is whether those organizations are properly constructed, staffed, budgeted, and led to make them effective and efficient at those jobs.

Where the Buck Stops

Giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt, it is entirely likely that the Department of Health and Human Services is not properly constructed, staffed, budgeted, and led to enable it to effectively and efficiently implement the Affordable Care Act. But if that is the case, the failure still lands on the White House for not seeing – and adjusting – to that.

A fish stinks from the head, as my father once told me. We hold CEOs and boards to credit for the successes of their companies, and we hold them accountable for their failures. We do the same for leaders of non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, sports teams, and vessels at sea. The same is true for the Executive Branch of government

No sitting President of the United States, Republican or Democrat, can dodge responsibility for the actions and behavior of the constituent parts of the government. Harry Truman, a Democrat like Mr. Obama, understood as much, and made it a mantra of his administration rather than resort to blaming a bureaucracy largely created by and for his predecessor.

How Social Media is Changing Disaster Response

Subcommittee Hearing: Emergency MGMT 2.0: How #SocialMedia & New Tech are Transforming Preparedness, Response, & Recovery #Disasters #Part2 #Govt/NGOs
The House Committee on Homeland Security

July 9, 2013

It is nice to see Congress keeping up with trends, and judging from all of the hashtags in the title above, you have to hope some of our distinguished Solons know the difference between Twitter and Facebook.

Social media can be a massive time-suck. It can also be a powerful tool at the right time and in the right hands. The Department of State figured that out, and is now working on its toolkit. Apparently, so has the American Red Cross, and several state and local governments. These hearings are a ray of hope that the DHS will as well.

GAO: Government Struggles to Track Money and Performance

Unaccountable Government: GAO Reports Show Feds Struggling to Track Money and Performance
Committee on Oversight & Government Reform
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July 10, 2013

Pork Barrel BBQ
Pork Barrel BBQ (Photo credit: joshbousel)

Three more incidents that highlight management issues in the government, specifically the IRS, the National Park Service, and the Bonneville Power Administration. Naturally, these are anecdotal, but they hint at a more widespread problem.

Debates I have had with liberals have them suggesting that the real problem with government is not wastage, but too much defense spending and corporate welfare. When I have the same discussion with conservatives, they say entitlements are the issue.

The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere in the vortex between the three positions. First, there are programs for which the government should not be paying, and those exist in the pet projects and pork barrel coming from both sides of the aisle. But at the same time, there is a constant stream of evidence that we are wasting vast sums via poor management, ineffectiveness, and outright malfeasance.

This is not a matter of “what to attack first.” It ALL has to be attacked. We don’t need to expand government or contract government as much as we need to right-size the levels of regulation and expenditure. In order to do that, both what government does AND how it does it must be on the table.

An Open Postcard to the Koch Brothers

Selfishness is the root of big government.

To wit: when we strive solely on behalf of our own interests, we create a social vacuum into which government is drawn as light into a black hole.

For this reason, those who would demand less government must thus first make it unnecessary.

A tiny hint to the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, and other American plutocrats. Take a hint from Bill Gates and put your money to work solving the problems that afflict our nation and our planet, rather than pouring it down the sewer of political patronage. Not only will you whittle away at the need for government to take action, you will also leave a legacy of more streamlined government for future generations.

All it takes is wise vision, rather than the myopia of ideology.

Toward a New Moonshot

NASA
NASA (Photo credit: Luke Bryant)

William H. Gerstenmaier’s “Our Brick Moon” in the Summer 2012 issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly does a passing fair job at explaining some of the benefits America and mankind have derived from the International Space Station.
He talks about the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an instrument that allowed scientists aboard the ISS that is helping investigators in 16 countries to understand the composition of the universe. Space-grown superbugs have led to better vaccines, including a pathway to a vaccine for the virulent methicillin-resistant staph, or MRSA, that kills nearly 99,000 people in the US alone each year, and one for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. Liquidmetal, an ISS-developed material with the strength of titanium and the moldable properties of plastic, has been licensed by Apple for better, lighter electronic devices.
He explains how the environmental control system developed for ISS recycles up to 80% of the water used by the crew, and an oxygen generation system that is totally self-contained. Aside from the implications for deep-space travel, there are lessons to be learned for an increasingly thirsty world. What is more, doing all of this taught NASA – and everyone involved with these projects – how to make multinational efforts work more smoothly in space and on the ground. As someone who has spent a quarter century running cross-cultural workplaces, I can attest this is no small triumph. Finally, the ISS has made possible a new era in government-private partnerships that have led to the development of promising firms like SpaceX, Orbital Systems, and dozens of subcontractors. A new space-economy is born.
It is a shame, however, that he stops here, because in doing so he either overreaches, underreaches, or both.
Let me explain.
America does not need lengthy eloquent justifications for money the nation has already spent on space. We get that. Microwave ovens, freeze-dried food, microprocessors, countless technical breakthroughs and the competitiveness that each of those innovations have bestowed on the nation were spinoffs of the space programs from Vanguard to the international space station. Open-sourcing the innovations that came out of nearly six decades of tax-payer funded effort was a part of the bargain that brought funds to NASA in the first place.
If, however, Mr. Gerstenmaier expects American taxpayers to continue their financial support of NASA manned space programs because of those benefits, he is mistaken. If he believes that he will get American taxpayers underwrite future manned space programs because of what Apollo did for computers, or the IIS as did for esoteric biomedical research, he overreaches. American taxpayers understand that past results do not guarantee future results.
Yet if he only wishes to extol the accomplishments of his pet programs he under reaches. What NASA needs more today than ever as for its senior administrators to explain to the American public why the United States still needs the space agency when its roads are crumbling for lack of highway funds.
America needs a vision for its space future. That vision needs goals, it needs a vision that incorporates a public–private partnership, but incorporates NASA’s role as a driver of key research, that frames benefits beyond those that are bestowed upon the largest government contractors, that lays out the programs in the payoffs therefrom, gives a timeline, and provides practical route of funding.