Obama Administration

Obama Argues For Bigger Government, More Executive Authority, as Federal Agencies Flounder



Last month, I wrote a National Journal cover story on Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, portraying him as the Democratic face of government reform. As a two-term governor, O'Malley argued that he'd shown how to harness the levers of government effectively, allowing him to make the progressive case for a more activist government. Politically speaking, that's becoming a prerequisite for President Obama and the Democratic Party, given the expansion of federal programs amid ample evidence that the government isn't working effectively as it should be.

The latest snafus in the health care law's implementation are merely the latest signs that government isn't working as advertised. The administration delayed the effective date of the employer mandate by a year, and quietly acknowledged that eligibility for the exchanges will initially begin on the honor system. The most generous interpretation of the political targeting that took place at the Internal Revenue Service was that it was a case of "horrible customer service," in the testimony of the scandalized former director Stephen Miller.

So it's no coincidence that Obama himself personally kicked off the White House's "new management agenda" Monday in the State Dining Room, attempting to make the case for more government innovation—at the same time he's calling for more government. "I directed the Cabinet to develop an aggressive management agenda for my second term that delivers a smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government for its citizens," Obama said. His view of redesigned government was also premised on more executive authority, calling on Congress "for the authority to reorganize and consolidate the federal bureaucracy."

The speech conveniently ignored the reality of the bureaucracy's all-too-evident limitations, with the president taking credit for any small signs of improved efficiency under his administration. (He touted a relaunched HealthCare.Gov site, ignoring his administration's inconvenient news that the online verification systems won't be ready in time.) All while pitching a grand vision where entrepreneurs can be enticed to work for the government, helping to fix the myriad challenges. It's similar in many ways to O'Malley's message, but without the track record of results.