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National Security & Defense

America’s Ongoing Era of ‘Ineptocracy’

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

America’s Ongoing Era of ‘Ineptocracy’

Picture the day, not too long from now — say, mid-2016 — when hackers target the Social Security Administration. They do more than the recent hack that compromised the Social Security numbers of every federal employee and quite a few retired federal employees. This time, they mess around with the system sufficiently to disrupt Social Security checks being sent out to elderly Americans. Maybe not all Americans, maybe just a fraction — of course, a “small fraction” of the 59 million collecting Social Security is a lot of people. One month, for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions, the checks don’t go out the door, or they go to the wrong address, or the wrong amount is sent.

Is that when the consequences of widespread government dependence and inept, no-accountability federal bureaucracy will be clear to everyone? We’ve already seen it all over the federal government – the VA, ATF, Health and Human Services, U.S. Secret Service, the NSA, the IRS, the U.S. Postal Service, NOAA, DHS, and now the Office of Personnel Management . . .


That’s not even half his list. Why is it, Geraghty concludes, that with a record of failure — unpunished failure, to be clear — as long as this, progressives still want the feds to have an ever greater role in American life? Let me supplement that with another question: Why is it that Obama and his inner circle seem to value loyalty, in declining to punish their hires for gross incompetence, more than they do accountability? Why shouldn’t O call a presser and stand there for 45 minutes shaking his fist that underlings ever could have allowed this to happen? John Schindler says the OPM hack amounts to nothing less than the wrecking of American espionage, a disaster arguably even bigger than Edward Snowden stealing the keys to the castle from the NSA. A rival power now has everything they need to sniff out, blackmail, frame, or spear-phish practically anyone who’s worked for Uncle Sam over the last 30 years. “This isn’t shame on China,” said former CIA chief Michael Hayden. “This is shame on us.” Right, but that’s usually the case; most major government debacles were preventable. Then someone fails to prevent them and . . . nothing happens. Why is that?

Part of the answer, I think, is that the age of ubiquitous media requires the White House and its deputies to be careful about alienating employees. Who knows what other scandals are known to higher-ups at OPM, or what sort of security breaches they could orchestrate if they got fired and felt disgruntled? Make enemies of them and there’s no shortage of reporters in print media, TV media, or online who’ll be happy to listen to them spill whatever they have. Unaccountability, in other words, is the price of damage control. And it’s also the price of competitive government hiring: If you can’t afford to pay a qualified applicant as much as a private-sector firm could, one way to make up for the shortfall in compensation is with job security. You can target tea-party nonprofits for special tax scrutiny, leave veterans to languish on eternal waiting lists at the VA, or get caught sleeping while China’s rifling through the federal filing cabinets, but only very rarely, when perceptions of inaction become too politically painful, will the White House move to punish employees for it. We’re all used to that. What Dougherty’s asking is why perceptions of inaction at OPM aren’t already so painful that Obama has no choice but to pull the trapdoor on someone. Ultimately it’s a critique of the public even more so than our government. Why aren’t more people demanding that heads roll at OPM?

An NR commenter calls our current system of government an “ineptocracy.”

When we say it’s time for heads to roll . . . is bringing back the guillotine too harsh? Okay, even if we never actually beheaded any federal employee for negligence or incompetence, could we at least bring it out and leave it in the middle of Washington, D.C. to motivate everyone there?

Because we need to do something dramatic:

The agency that allowed hackers linked to China to steal private information about nearly every federal employee — and detailed personal histories of millions with security clearances — failed for years to take basic steps to secure its computer networks, officials acknowledged to Congress on Tuesday.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee spoke in unison to describe their outrage over what they called gross negligence by the Office of Personnel Management. The agency’s data was breached last year in two massive cyberattacks only recently revealed.

The criticism came from within, as well. Michael Esser, the agency’s assistant inspector general for audit, detailed a yearslong failure by OPM to adhere to reasonable cybersecurity practices, and he said that that for a long time, the people running the agency’s information technology had no expertise.

Last year, he said, an inspector general’s audit recommended that the agency shut down some of its networks because they were so vulnerable. The director, Katherine Archuleta, declined, saying it would interfere with the agency’s mission.

Archuleta, stumbling occasionally under withering questions from lawmakers, sought to defend her tenure and portray the agency’s problems as decades in the making as its equipment aged. She appeared to cast blame on her recent predecessors, one of whom, John Berry, is the U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Offered chances to apologize and resign, she declined to do either.


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