Day By Day

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thompson on Civil Service Reform

I can't take Fred Thompson very seriously as a candidate..., yet. At this point he, like Barak Obama, seems to be more a symbolic focus of voter discontent, a fantasy alternative to realistic political action, than anything else. But, unlike Obama, he does have some interesting things to say. I was particularly struck by this excerpt from an interview with David Frum:

Mr. Thompson says that while a senator he was long concerned with U.S. intelligence failures. "The CIA has better politicians than it has spies," he says, referring to the internecine turf wars that have been a feature of the Bush administration.

A key problem, Mr. Thompson notes, is a general lack of accountability in government, where no one pays any price for failure. When asked about President Bush's awarding the Medal of Freedom to outgoing CIA Director George Tenet after U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq became apparent, he shakes his head: "I just didn't understand that."

The next president, according to Mr. Thompson, needs to exercise strong leadership "and get down in the weeds and fix a civil-service system that makes it too hard to hire good employees and too hard to fire bad ones." He doesn't offer specifics on what to do, but notes the "insanity" of the new Congress pushing for the unionization of homeland security employees only five years after it rejected the notion in the wake of 9/11. "Should we tie ourselves up in bureaucratic knots with the challenges we may have to face?" he asks in wonderment.

Read it here.

At last, a major political figure who is willing to admit that the permanent federal government is dysfunctional and, more to the point, is willing to campaign on that issue. I can remember JFK complaining about the problem, but doing nothing about it. Reagan, too, complained and threatened to take action, but settled on "starving the beast" which achieved little. Clinton/Gore talked about the problem, but referred it to a commission that went nowhere. Dubya is the first President to actively confront the issue -- pushing for wide-reaching reforms of the DOD, State, the entire intelligence apparatus and FEMA. The result has been a concerted bureaucratic effort to undermine and destroy his administration -- one that in wartime borders on treason.

At least the Iraq war has provided an opportunity to clear some of the deadwood out of the DOD. It's taken four years, and the forced resignation of a lot of people, but at last the military is beginning to function effectively and efficiently in the face of today's challenges. What is needed now is a similar assault on other federal agencies -- breaking up the logjams, and clearing out the deadwood careerists.

Is Fred Thompson the guy to do it? We will see. If he makes civil service reform a major campaign issue, I may just vote for the guy.

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