There’s a Trust Crisis in Government. It Must Be Fixed.

A tourist gazes up towards the dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Public officials have lost sight of their mission.

If you were to ask Americans if they trusted the government to do the right thing, the likely answer is a big, fat No. According to Pew Research, only 3 percent of Americans say they trust that the government will do the right thing “all the time.”

3 percent! If only 3 percent of Americans said they trusted a pilot to land a plane, would you board the flight? If only 3 percent of Americans said they trusted a doctor to write the correct prescription, would you take the pill? What about if only 3 percent of Americans trusted a business to keep their credit-card information secure? Would you make a purchase from their website?

In all these cases, of course not.

Why is trust in government nearly at an all-time low? It’s because the hardworking men and women of this country look at Washington, D.C., and see story after story of corruption, lack of transparency, and mismanagement. From senior FBI agent Peter Strzok’s onetime involvement with an opaque investigation of the president of the United States, to Lois Lerner’s Internal Revenue Service that targeted conservative organizations, to politicians from both parties who have abused public trust by engaging in sexual harassment.

What do all these cases have in common? It’s officials who have lost sight of their mission to serve We, the People.

Take, for example, the scandals that have plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs. With long wait times, inadequate facilities, and little oversight, the VA has failed to live up to its sole mission “to care for those who have borne the battle.”

As the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal revealed, corruption and mismanagement can have deadly consequences. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. A VA doctor in Oregon was just fired for boosting his performance rating by turning away veterans who were seeking his care.

I also hear from veterans every single day who must resort to calling their congressional representatives to get through to the VA. So often, when a veteran contacts the VA, they get the runaround rather than having the red carpet rolled out for them. It shouldn’t be this way.

For far too long, the VA has been resistant to change and innovation that puts veterans first. I even encouraged the VA to use existing commercial off-the-shelf technology to let veterans schedule appointments quickly and more easily.

At every step of the way, the VA put up roadblocks. They told us it would take more than $600 million and seven years to replace their archaic scheduling process with new technology. With veterans still waiting to receive care, that was outrageous and unacceptable. To cut down this bureaucratic timeline, my bill, the Faster Care for Veterans Act, was signed into law, mandating the VA to carry out a pilot program establishing a patient self-scheduling appointment program.

In this case, the VA had the opportunity to do the right thing by making their services more efficient and effective, but it took an act of Congress to make them do it.

Trust has been badly broken at the VA, and the only way to rebuild it is with greater accountability, stricter management, and services that give patients more control over their health care. That’s why Congress passed the VA Accountability Act to give the administration greater authority to fire failing employees. President Trump has made this a priority, and so far, more than 1,500 employees have been removed for failing to do their jobs.

Trust is broken a lot faster than it can possibly be rebuilt. We are just getting started with reforming and fixing the broken culture at the VA, and it serves as an example of what we need to do to refocus the federal government on its core mission of service. It’s vital that we restore trust by promoting transparency, oversight, and accountability in every single government program and agency.

We need to refocus the federal government on its core mission of service.

As President Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” I don’t expect the government to ever have 100 percent of the people’s trust. A certain level of skepticism of Washington, D.C., is healthy, because no one is waiting for a perfect federal government to swoop in and solve every problem. That isn’t what our Founders intended when they separated powers among our three branches of government and protected the power of our state governments.

But when just 3 percent of people say they completely trust the government to do the right thing, that’s a crisis of confidence that cannot be ignored. Congress must do its part to rebuild trust in our democracy. That’s why I’m more committed than ever to demand the effectiveness and accountability that the American people expect and rightfully deserve from their government.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) is the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the lead communications arm of the leadership team. She is the highest-ranking woman in Congress and the fourth-highest Republican in the House of Representatives.