A government too big to manage


If the political catchphrase of the past decade was “too big to fail,” this decade’s equivalent ought to be “too big to succeed.” That’s come to be our verdict on the federal government.

Barack Obama came in for criticism from the usual detractors on the right this past week when White House press secretary Jay Carney announced that the president only learned of the scandal involving the Department of Veterans Affairs through media reports. This was not exactly a novel explanation from the White House. Mr. Obama has previously issued such claims in regard to the Fast &Furious scandal, the Justice Department’s monitoring of journalists, and IRS harassment of conservative activist groups.

We may never know whether these claims were true, but we can say this much definitively: They’re certainly plausible. We’re in no position to judge whether claims that Mr. Obama is a hands-off boss are accurate, but even the most dedicated micromanager couldn’t be expected to keep up with every development within the federal government.

Consider for a moment the scope of the institutions that Mr. Obama is tasked with leading. As of 2012, the Office of Personnel Management reports, there were nearly 2.7 million civilian federal employees. The Department of Veterans Affairs alone employs more than 332,000 individuals — and it’s only one of the 15 executive departments represented in the president’s Cabinet. Given those numbers, we’re forced to conclude that the underlying problem may not be the president’s management style as much his governing philosophy.

The animating impulse of Mr. Obama’s beloved progressivism is the expansion of government. Yet every such expansion only multiplies the number of programs, employees and taxpayer dollars that the president is charged with holding accountable. Whether Mr. Obama is uniquely flawed as an executive is essentially beside the point. No one man or woman could be expected to effectively keep tabs on this leviathan.

Too often, the founders’ preference for limited, decentralized government is dismissed as a mere ideological conceit. It is, in truth, eminently practical. As government grows, it inevitably becomes less accountable and thus more likely to fail. The marvel isn’t that we have scandals like the one that occurred at the VA.

The marvel is that we don’t have more of them.

The politics of such scandals has become predictable. Half the country will blame Mr. Obama personally, just as half of them would have done with George W. Bush a decade ago. The real failure, however, transcends personalities. It is rooted in a government that has grown too large to be saddled by either the citizenry or our elected leaders.

Until that growth is reversed, we should expect failures like this to recur with metronomic regularity.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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