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Our Government Is Not Constructed for Competence




From where does incompetent government come? On February 16, two days after Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at a public school in Parkland, Fla., the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that in January it had received through its tipline information about Cruz’s behavior that suggested he might commit a mass shooting. The FBI further revealed that, contrary to protocol, the information was never forwarded to its agents in Miami for further investigation. One of the reasons government can fail with such disastrous consequences, writes David French, is that there are rarely consequences for those who fail:

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, 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.

[David French, “Our Government Is Not Constructed for Competence,” National Review, February 20]


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  1. A friend who was one of the active Federal Aviation Admnistration air traffic controllers (he was fired in Reagan’s strike retaliation in 1980) told me the “solution” to problems with failed FAA employees was to PROMOTE them to get them out of the way, plus give them PAY RAISES.
    No incompetent one ever got fired in the 1970s, at least at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
    Plus, one of the incompetents was transferred to drive an O’Hare FAA on-site transit bus, at about 100,000 1978 dollars per year, he had to be one of the highest-paid bus drivers in the USA.