by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Mass shootings often highlight the problem of governmental incompetence, but even the most cursory review of government bureaucracies reveals that it’s not limited to law enforcement. In fact, law enforcement may ultimately represent one of the least incompetent branches of government service. Compared with the VA, the FBI looks like a model of efficiency and excellence.
It’s time for Americans to face facts. With few exceptions, our governments — local, state, and federal — are not constructed to be competent. The permanent class of civil servants —the career officials who work for multiple presidents, governors, mayors, or town officials — work within bureaucracies that are designed from the ground up to be insulated from effective accountability and discipline. They enjoy a job security that private-sector workers can’t begin to imagine.
A few years ago, a USA Today report rocketed around the Internet for a few days and then faded into obscurity. Too bad. It should have triggered an extended national conversation and extensive legal reform. The headline was sensational, but true: “Some federal workers more likely to die than lose jobs.” It traced the number of employees laid off or fired in multiple federal agencies and found that turnover was microscopic to nonexistent.
Even assuming that a federal worker is a better class of employee than your average private-sector employee (a debatable presumption), the numbers were amazing. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission collectively employed 3,000 people. They fired no one. NASA employed almost 19,000 and fired 13. The EPA employed almost 19,000 and fired 19.
In other words, incompetence is baked into the bureaucratic cake.