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

The consequence for McCarthy was a promotion; President Obama nominated her to head the EPA in March and she was confirmed in July.

The waste, mismanagement, and unaccountability is usually a bit more mundane. The inspector general of the Department of the Interior, having recently completed a review of how the Bureau of Indian Affairs leases office space, found issues with every lease it reviewed, 14 in all. The report concluded that the BIA is overspending and renting office spaces larger and more expensive than federal rules permit, costing taxpayers $32 million.

Other examples of waste, fraud, and utterly miserable performance abound:


At the U.S. Postal Service, a former facilities project manager pleads guilty to accepting bribes to steer inflated construction contracts, costing the USPS $982,064.

This week the Center for Effective Government released a report showing that in 2012 the U.S. State Department responded to only 1 percent of FOIA requests within the 20 days required by law.

The U.S. Department of Energy announces it will need two years to prepare to clean up a nuclear-waste storage tank that is leaking. The department first confirmed that the tank was leaking in October 2012.

Scrutiny of the General Services Administration’s infamous 2010 conference in Las Vegas didn’t change much. The inspector general of the Department of Commerce concluded that the National Institute of Standards and Technology conference in Orlando in 2012 incurred a number of “avoidable costs” that pushed up the $1.1 million price tag for the event.

The Department of Labor paid for the Washington Nationals’ mascot to welcome workers back after sequestration.

Defenders of the federal workforce will be quick to point out that most of these cases were uncovered, investigated, and, in most instances, punished by the offices of the inspector general at the various federal agencies. They were, but only after fortunes were spent and wasted. As Joseph E. Schmitz, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Defense, observes, some of the watchdogs mandated by Congress simply are not in place. Since Obama took office, the Departments of Labor, Interior, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the Agency for International Development, have gone years without an inspector general nominated by the president confirmed by the Senate.

What’s more, every scandal generates a new round of guidelines and calls for better employee training, as if new federal employees needed to be instructed to follow the rules on acquisitions, not commit fraud, and not tell their bosses that they’re unavailable to come in to work because they’re secretly working for the CIA. The managers of the worst offenders rarely if ever are held accountable, and, as we’ve seen, apparently no scandal is sufficient to warrant firing a cabinet secretary. If Sebelius escaped consequence for failure, why should anyone below her worry, or anyone in any other branch of the federal bureaucracy?

Members of the Obama administration judge the federal bureaucracy the way they want the electorate to judge them: by their good intentions, not their actual results.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO. His first novel, a comic satire of the federal bureaucracy entitled The Weed Agency, will be published by Crown Forum in June.