The Corner

Politics & Policy

New Study: Government Breaking Down More Often, Because GOP is Stingy

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

New Study: The Federal Government Keeps Failing to Do Its Job, But It’s Mostly the GOP’s Fault

The Weed Agency comes to life again, as a new study finds the rate of “breakdowns” in government performance is steadily increasing year by year… and blames Congressional Republicans, claiming they “have cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum.”

Uh-huh.

The study is from Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman and Paul Light, the spry professor of public service.

If it feels like government is getting less competent over time, that would probably be because it is:

Has the number of government breakdowns increased over time? The answer is yes, and significantly so. A review of news interest surveys since mid-1986 reveals that the government had twenty-three breakdowns in the almost fourteen years to January 2001 (1.6 per year) compared with forty-eight breakdowns in the fourteen years since then (3.3 per year). Government breakdowns were relatively rare during the first decade of the thirty-year period but began to increase during the second decade and accelerated during the third. At the current rate, government will set a contemporary record in the number of post-2001 breakdowns under President Barack Obama. Government is currently running at 3.5 breakdowns per year, which means that the president will exceed the record before his successor is elected.

Did the number of breakdowns vary across the five administrations? As expected from the pre- and post-2001 comparisons, the answer is again yes. The federal government had four breakdowns during the final months of President Reagan’s second term (1.6 per year), five during President George H. W. Bush’s term (1.2 per year), fourteen during President Clinton’s two terms (1.8 per year), twenty-five during President George W. Bush’s two terms (3.1 per year), and twenty-three during President Obama’s first six and a half years (3.5 per year). At the current pace, government may yet set a record in the average number of breakdowns per year before the president leaves office in 2017.

The “mean nasty Republicans” theory takes a hit when you observe this phenomenon:

Second-term presidents face a greater risk that government will produce more breakdowns. Government had a total of twenty-nine breakdowns during the first terms of Presidents George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama (1.8 per year), compared with forty-two during the second terms of Presidents Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama (2.9 per year). The differences are significant enough to suggest that government may be somewhat more likely to fail during the last few years of a two-term presidency. This is perhaps because presidents begin to lose focus, appointees begin to look for post-administration jobs, the opposition party becomes more likely to undermine government performance in advance of an open election, and the media looks more diligently for bureaucratic mistakes. All these explanations make sense, but my view is that the lack of presidential attention and appointee turnover are the most important contributors.

The report’s chart offers a glimpse which breakdowns scored the most and least public interest and awareness in poll surveys, asking whether respondents are following the news “very” or “somewhat closely.” The 9/11 attacks were at the top with 96 percent, obviously. Three scandals tied for third from the bottom was “State Department e-mail security” – i.e., Hillary’s server – with 39 percent. That scandal tied with the General Services Administration conference scandal in 2010 — where the agency spent $822,000 on a lavish four-day Las Vegas conference for 300 employees that included a clown, and psychic readings – and the “government information breach” from earlier this year, where hackers believed to be connected to the Chinese government swiped Office of Personnel Management files on 21.5 million current and former federal employees.

Only one of the bottom five in public interest occurred during the Bush administration, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Finally, ranking dead last, no pun intended, the Fast and Furious gun-smuggling scandal, at 37 percent.

Convenient for Eric Holder, huh?

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