Why Liberals Can’t Govern
Those who believe in the inherent goodness of government avert their eyes from its abuses.

President Obama speaks while HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius looks on.


Jim Geraghty

Back in late February, a new contract document revealed that the Department of Health and Human Services would be paying $60 million for the computer cloud that supports back-end data sharing for and state Obamacare marketplaces, more than five times the amount in the original contract. This week HHS revealed that the contract has been further revised — to roughly $120 million, now more than ten times the original $11 million value of the contract when Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services first awarded it in 2011.

In most professions, when you end up spending ten times what you budgeted, the consequences are swift and severe. Heads roll. Responsibilities are reassigned. Budgetary authority gets yanked. This, of course, is not how things work in the federal government.

When George W. Bush was in the Oval Office, liberals often argued that conservative wariness and distrust of government made them poor managers of it. Because they didn’t believe in the power and benefits of an active, powerful federal bureaucracy, they tolerated and came to expect waste and mismanagement.

Alan Wolfe articulated this idea in the Washington Monthly in 2006. “Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference,” he wrote, “expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government. . . . As a way of governing, conservatism is another name for disaster.” His article was entitled simply “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern.”

That argument is strongly disputed, but the Obama administration has proven the flip side of the coin: Liberals’ belief in the inherent goodness of a far-reaching federal government drives them to avert their eyes from its wildest abuses, even when they are occurring right in front of them. Waste and mismanagement are ignored, dismissed, downplayed, and excused, because confronting them too directly would undermine the central tenet of their worldview: that the federal government is an irreplaceable tool for making the world a better place.

The Obamacare debacle is the most vivid example of high-profile failure and limited consequences. Kathleen Sebelius continues to run HHS, despite her admission that she didn’t tell the president about worries that the website wouldn’t be ready on time. CGI Federal no longer has the contract to build, maintain, and run; it will have to console itself with the $197 million it collected on a contract that was initially estimated to cost $94 million, and with the six additional contracts with HHS, worth $37 million, that it won between October 1, when the website launched with its myriad problems, and February. On February 21, CGI Federal signed a $4.87 million contract extension that will ensure it works on the site at least through March 31. New contractor Accenture has a one-year deal with HHS worth $91.1 million, with an additional $2 million in travel costs.

Over at The Washingtonian, Michael Gaynor offers further details on the culture of the Environmental Protection Agency, where John Beale was the highest-paid official while failing to show up for work months at a time, covering his tracks with strange and implausible tales of secret work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

The lack of accountability throughout the organization is jaw-dropping:

The EPA “research project” that took Beale to Los Angeles five times was really a smoke screen for visiting his parents in Bakersfield, two hours away. Yet his travel vouchers were barely reviewed. Officials didn’t question his expenses — they were approved laterally, by a peer instead of a manager. “Because of where he sat in the organizational structure, there were no questions,” [Office of the Inspector General special agent Mark] Kaminsky says.

Beale’s off-the-charts $206,000 salary, inflated because of the 25-percent retention bonus that never expired, was more than allowed under law. An Inspector General’s report published last year faulted a lack of internal controls at the EPA — there was no automatic stop on the bonuses after the designated allotments were distributed.

In the same report, the IG revealed that these pay issues had been brought to the attention of Beale’s office as early as July 2010. Yet managers believed that the discrepancy was a human-resources matter and tossed it back, causing it to languish for years. . . .Beale and Kaminsky counted up how often he’d used the CIA guise to skip work since 2000. The grand total: approximately 2 1/2 years.          

Investigators later put dollar amounts on his crimes: $437,901 in fraudulent retention bonuses, $58,127 for the “D.O. Oversight” absences, $8,000 for the parking spot, and so on. Altogether, he cost taxpayers $886,186.

Beale’s most recent manager at the EPA was Gina McCarthy, then the assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation. She told the inspector general that she had “concerns” about Beale’s claim to be secretly working for the CIA, but there is no evidence she ever acted on those concerns, according to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.


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