Politics & Policy

The Case for Competence

What government's missing.

Editor’s note: Click here to listen to the original radio commentary.

Wasn’t it Casey Stengel, the old baseball manager, who said one day after the third dropped fly-ball in the outfield, “can’t anybody here play this game?” That’s sort of the way I feel when I watch certain parts of our government in action.

#ad#We’ve known for a long time that our intelligence capabilities weren’t cutting muster. It was certainly the case before 9/11, and it’s still true in Iraq and elsewhere. Now we have apparently decided that we really don’t know if North Korea has a uranium enrichment program to make bombs or not.

Whether it’s the Katrina response, the problems at Walter Reed Medical Center, bungled border security, or the IRS and FBI which can’t get their computer systems working, it seems like we’ve lost our ability to take care of some of the most basic duties of government.

Not that this problem is new. For decades, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has told us, time and time again, that we’ve lost control of the waste and fraud and mismanagement in many of our most important agencies. And it’s getting worse.

A big part of the problem is our outmoded civil-service system that makes it too hard to hire good employees and too hard to fire bad ones. The bureaucracy has become gargantuan, making accountability and reform very difficult.

Faced with this managerial swampland, the number of talented executives willing to come to Washington continues to dwindle. Those who do accept the challenges usually want to tackle big national goals in the few years they spend in public service instead of fighting their own agencies. So the bureaucracy just keeps rolling along.

Department heads should learn a lesson from Casey, who once said about his winning Yankees, “There is less wrong with this team than any team I have ever managed.”

What we need now are managers who understand that even building a government with “less wrong” about it would be a major public service and a truly worthwhile legacy. Of course, it would be nice if they got a little help from Congress and the White House.

– Fred Thompson is an actor and former United States senator from Tennessee.

© PAUL HARVEY SHOW, ABC RADIO NETWORKS

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

Most Popular

Culture

‘Why Would Jussie Smollett Do This?’ They Cried

Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent for CNN, was baffled. “You know, we saw a lot of politicians and Hollywood celebrities and activists rally around Jussie Smollett's side as soon as he made these accusations several weeks ago,” he said on Saturday night after his own network, among others, had begun ... Read More
Religion

The Roman Farce

Pope Francis is conducting his extraordinary summit with cardinals on the problem of sexual abuse in the Church. And we can expect it will go nowhere. The summit is happening in light of two events outside of it. The first was Pope Francis’s recent laicization of the former cardinal archbishop of Washington, ... Read More
Film & TV

A Sublime Christian Masterpiece of a Film

‘There are two ways through life -- the way of nature and the way of grace,” remarks the saintly mother at the outset of The Tree of Life, one of the most awe-inspiring films of the 21st century. She continues: Grace doesn’t try please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked, accepts insults ... Read More