Is our government’s bureaucracy designed to fail?

The National Review’s David French writes that, in many instances, it may be the case.

Incompetence is baked into the bureaucratic cake.” — David French

French notes that the FBI’s failure to act upon reports about Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland, Fla school shooter, has brought this issue to the fore.

However, he writes, when compared to other agencies, the FBI is relatively efficient and “one of the least incompetent branches of government service.”

French is less confident in the abilities of other federal agencies.

Limited Job Turnover Points to Issues

For evidence, he points to a 2011 USA Today report which examined federal employee turnover rates over a one-year period.

The story, French writes, “traced the number of employees laid off or fired in multiple federal agencies and found that turnover was microscopic to nonexistent. 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,” he continued, “incompetence is baked into the bureaucratic cake.”

French explains the history behind the extremely low turnover rates and admits that the job security began as a good idea.

Rather than continue a spoils system, where the political victor was able to replace all bureaucrats, the new system implemented in the early 1900s focused more on merit-based positions.

The result was a structure that works to insulate bureaucrats from politics, but French writes that the long-term effect was a system that seriously curbs accountability.

He extends the issue to state and local governments, claiming that, in many of these jurisdictions, the problems with accountability are even more pronounced.

Extreme Change is Needed to Reverse Course

French concludes with a broad suggestion for reform of the system.

He writes that President Trump’s proposed civil service reform modeled after the VA Accountability Act is “a start,” but that more radical changes are needed to shift the culture of the bureaucracy.

To read French’s full opinion, click here: Our Government Is Not Constructed for Competence

One Response

  1. B.P.

    How exactly do low turnover rates necessarily equal incompetence? This study seems almost completely useless. See for example this sentence: “The government laid off 385 people in reorganizations last year — a 0.02% rate, or one in every 6,000 employees. No comparable private sector layoff rate is available.” So if no comparable private sector layoff rate is even available, then there is no meaningful conclusion that may be drawn.


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