Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Barack Obama: The Incompetence Factor


Has anyone else noticed the recent spate of news stories whose common theme is administrative incompetence by the Obama administration?

  • GSA administrator Martha Johnson and several other officials resigned after news broke of a lavish, $823,000 conference at the M Resort in Las Vegas (1) – which included clowns, psychics and an award for a video of a GSA employee joking about living luxuriously at the expense of the taxpayers (2).
  • Eleven Secret Service agents were placed on leave after a preliminary investigation found they brought prostitutes back to their rooms at the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia (3). Apparently the story broke when one of the agents refused to pay for services rendered.
  • Twenty-three people – four of them members of the US Military – were killed in rioting in the wake of the discovery that US Military personnel burned 48 copies of the Quran at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (4).

    In each of these cases, the government was unable to control the people working for it. Some of these stories have humorous aspects, especially the one about the Secret Service. But there is nothing funny about the tragic deaths in Afghanistan, especially since they could have been avoided by better management of the materials taken from the prisoner’s library at Bagram.

    As with any large organization, when things go wrong, the person at the top needs to be accountable. I do not for one minute believe that President Obama intended for any of these things to happen. He seems to be a more a less decent guy and I’m sure he is just as appalled as the rest of us at these incidents. But to paraphrase Hanlon’s Razor, never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. Therein lies the problem: The President is in over his head. He doesn’t have the administrative skills necessary to run the Executive branch. This shouldn't surprise anyone. At the time he threw his hat into the 2008 Presidential contest, he had never run anything bigger than a Senate office. It is unfortunate that the vacuum at the top is tainting the many professional and hard working members of the US Military and the civil service.

    We learned too late that administrative skills matters.

    (1) “GSA chief resigns amid reports of excessive spending”, The Washington Post, April 2, 2012
    (2) “Joke video from GSA’s Las Vegas bash: ‘I’ll never be under OIG investigation!’”, The Washington Post, April 5, 2012
    (3) “Secret Service agents relieved in Colombia amid prostitution allegations”, CNN, April 17, 2012
    (4) “2012 Afghanistan Quran burning protests”, Wikipedia
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