Obama Administration

Federal Workers May be 'Bone-Headed,' But Government Is Not the 'Enemy,' Claims President. You're Screwed Either Way.


Obama gazing
White House

Speaking at a town hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota, President Barack Obama defended, sort of, government employes who have been embroiled in a series of scandals and shenanigans—not all of them, by any means, the fault of his administration. Basically, he said that government workers may "do bone-headed things," but that doesn't mean "government is the enemy or the problem."

What's interesting is that the president felt compelled to argue that the federal behemoth's minions are stupid rather than malicious, when all he'd been asked is if they could expect regular paychecks.

His comments came in response to Katie Peterson, a 29-year employee of the Defense Contract Management Agency, who noted, "there's been a few rough patches with three years of pay freeze and sequestration and furloughs. And we're just kind of wondering what you foresee for the next fiscal year for government workers."

Obama then went into an extended and slightly off-subject riff on the merits of government and its staff.

Well, let me make a couple of points.  First of all, folks in the federal government, the overwhelming majority, they work really hard doing really important stuff.  And I don't know why it is that—(applause)—I don't know when it was that somehow working for government—whether the state or local or federal level—somehow became not a real job. When you listen to some of the Republican rhetoric sometimes you think, well, this is really important work that we depend on.

OK. We've all heard the president's "government is good" schtick before, even to the point of denigrating private initiative ("you didn't build that"). But soon the response gets a bit…defensive?

historically, it's been the private sector that drove the economy, but it was also a whole bunch of really great work done by agricultural extension workers and engineers at NASA and researchers at our labs that helped to create the platform and the wealth that we enjoy.  And so this whole idea that somehow government is the enemy or the problem is just not true.

Now, are there programs that the government does that are a waste of money or aren't working as well as they should be? Of course. But I tell you, if you work in any company in America, big company, you'll find some things that they're doing that aren't all that efficient either. Are there some federal workers who do bone-headed things? Absolutely. I remember the first week I was on the job I talked to my Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, who's older and had been there a long time. I said, do you have advice for me, Bob? He says, one thing you should know, Mr. President, is that at any given moment, on any given day, somebody in the federal government is screwing up.  (Laughter.)  Which is true, because there are 2 million employees. Somebody out there—if 99 percent of the folks are doing the right thing and only 1 percent aren't, that's still a lot of people.

Yeah, but companies "that aren't all that efficient" can't make their customers keep paying them so their doors stay open. And "federal workers who do bone-headed things" have the means to turn lots of people's days to shit, awfully fast—and they've done so with astonishing frequency.

That's sometimes literally true, as with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees who crap in the hallways of their own buildings. Yeah that's who you want raiding your business because you're supposedly befouling the environment.

And shitty days a-plenty, generally in a less literal sense, resulted from Veterans Health Administration officials cooking the books on waiting lists for care, denying treatment to vets even as they guaranteed themselves glowing performance reviews.

Even if we suspend all rational judgment for the moment and accept that it was mishap and incompetence, not malice, that caused the loss of potentially sensitive emails sought in the investigation of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official for politically motivated targeting of non-profit groups, how is that supposed to be reassuring? Is the IRS now going to accept dog-ate-my-homework excuses from records-shy taxpayers at audit time?

Is bone-headedness contagious? Because EPA officials apparently contracted the same strain, with similar consequences for their electronic storage of potentially awkward communications.

When all is said and done, it doesn't matter whether government officials intentionally choose to be your enemy, or just fuck things up through bone-headed stupidity. If you're on the receiving end, you're screwed.

NEXT: John McClaughry on Decentralizing Detroit

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  1. not all of them, by any means, the fault of his administration.

    Why, JD, are we so eager to give the people who have been in charge of all these “bone-headed” employees for nearly six years now a pass on being responsible for what their employees do?

    Stuff that surfaces shortly after an administration takes power, sure. But six years on? C’mon. If six years, why not eight? Why hold any administration responsible for anything the government does?

    R C Dean

    1. The buck stops somewhere else.


    3. Do you write at samizdata RC? It looks really interesting.

      1. I did briefly. Kinda fell off my list (complicated; job change involved.) I still use the email address when I want a real dead-end email that doesn’t even junk up my spam folder.

        1. Its awesome.. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out http://www.Fox81.com

    4. not all of them, by any means, the fault of his administration.

      By definition, they are the fault of the administration.

    5. RC Are you ‘puppeting or was this a quote from an RC post at another site?

      1. He just changed his handle. I do it infrequently as well.

      2. Yeah, its yer old pal R C Dean. I’m tagging my old handle on as a signature for a day or so for continuity.

    6. If the prez is going to compare his “company” to the private sector, you should hold him to it JD.

      If the lowest level employee commits a massive fuck up the entire company is held liable – in the court of opinion and court of law. The CEO or owner of a company is ultimately responsible for the actions of his employees. He gets to reap the profits, but must bear the burden.

    7. But six years on? C’mon. If six years, why not eight?

      I’m beginning to feel the same way about obstructionist republicans stopping Obama from ‘getting his team together’.

      It’s near the end of the third quarter and, given the team you have been playing with, I’m not very optimistic more players on the field will assure your victory.

  2. …but that doesn’t mean “government is the enemy or the problem.”

    Spoken like someone who has spent his entire life working for or gaming the public sector.

  3. if you work in any company in America, big company, you’ll find some things that they’re doing that aren’t all that efficient either.

    How many of those companies have SWAT teams?

    1. One of my former hospitals took advantage of a provision of Texas law to have its own police force.

      Not a full-blown paramilitary goon squad (at least, not when I was there), but armed security, sure.

      R C Dean

      1. Why the handle switch?

        1. I kinda like the new one, so why not?

    2. Apropos of nothing:

      Canadian Pacific Police Service

      The Canadian Pacific Police Service (CPPS) is a private police force enforcing safety and policing along Canadian Pacific Railway properties and rail lines in Canada and the United States, including limited sections of the Milton line of GO Transit in the Greater Toronto Area.

      I don’t know if they have an ERT/SWAT team.

      1. See also The Pinkertons.

        1. The Pinkertons would definitely have a SWAT team if they were still in the RR security business the way they were a century and a quarter ago.

  4. When that bone-headed employee says I owe $XK more taxes and he’ll use a gun to get it, he’s an enemy.

  5. No, government is the problem. Saying that, however, does not mean everyone in government is bad or that government doesn’t do some necessary things. Government qua government is not the problem so much as THIS GOVERNMENT is the problem. I along with most critics of this government am not an anarchist. I recognize the need for and the role of government. The problem is that we have made this government so large and expected it to do so many things and solve so many problems that it has gone from a necessary but important evil to an unnecessary and menacing one.

    Government, since it has to live by the rule of law and serve the people who created it, will always be inefficient. But it will always be necessary because inefficient or not there are a few things that only it can do. When you get away from those things, all you have left is the inefficiency and ravenous nature of it.

    1. How dare you! This screwdriver makes a fine hammer, and I can mix drinks with it too!

    2. Switch “government” with “large groups of ‘organized’ people” and agreed!

      1. erp, should’ve read down more.

  6. “But I tell you, if you work in any company in America, big company, you’ll find some things that they’re doing that aren’t all that efficient either.”

    Or so you’ve been told.

    1. It is true. But so what? I don’t pay for those companies and if they are run poorly enough, they eventually die. Neither of those things are true for government.

      JD is apparently such a half wit he can’t understand the implication of his own observation. If all large human organizations, government and private alike, are prone to inefficiency and incompetence (which is probably true) maybe giving the government so much power and making it so large and a part of every aspect of life is a bad idea.

      1. John, it was a response to the presidential quote in the first paragraph. My point was that he doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of private sector work experience.

        1. I am sure he doesn’t. But what he said was largely true. Anyone who thinks large corporations are not inefficient and often idiotic has never been around them. But, that doesn’t make the point he thinks it does.

    2. How did that straw man end up on the kill list?

      1. It is not so much a straw man as a fallacy. The fact that all large organizations are often inefficient doesn’t excuse this organization’s inefficiencies.

        1. Just today I had someone online claim the missing IRS emails aren’t a big deal because “every big organization is going to have IT problems”.

          1. Used to be left/right at least agreed nominally that freedom of speech is sacred, but not anymore.

            Now it seems we can’t even agree that the IRfuckingS is our common enemy.

            1. Now it seems we can’t even agree that the IRfuckingS is our common enemy.

              Massachusetts held a referendum to abolish the state income tax, and it failed to pass.

          2. When you screw up in the private sector, you get less money. When you screw up in the public sector, you get MORE money.

            Mark my words, the VA and the IRS will get more funding when these crises are off the front page, notwithstanding the grandstanding and bluster spewing from the hypocritical lips of our esteemed congressmen.

            1. Sure. And that means we should not expect government to do so much.

        2. Mmmmm…having worked for a couple of fortune 500’s, I will assert that much of the inefficiency in big business is caused by government. Many companies have floors of people to figure out what the heck the healthcare law means and how to deal with the EPA. That’s all stuff that is unimportant to their agenda and things they wish they didn’t have to be experts in.

    3. He read it in the newspaper.

      /Too lazy to check if someone else further down the line made this comment.

  7. “When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter whether government officials intentionally choose to be your enemy, or just fuck things up through bone-headed stupidity. If you’re on the receiving end, you’re screwed.”

    The important point is it isn’t Obama’s fault. How could he have known?

    1. They country is just too big to govern. We need a man who can make a plan work. You know, we need to be the Chinese for a day.

    2. Oh, he knew. But what was he supposed to do about it?

      If it weren’t for all those damned conservatives and corporations out there, who mystifyingly seem to oppose the confiscation of 50% (or more) of their income by a government that is swallowing up more and more of the economy every month, he could comply with the constitution. But said evil bastards have given him little choice.

      God bless him for his good intentions.

  8. Now that is alt-text worthy of a hurrah!

    1. All alt-text that’s not merely a description of the picture is worthy of a hurrah.

    2. It is awesome. Unlike Doherty’s lack thereof up page a bit.

      1. Doherty is the worst.

  9. At this point I would be fine if President Not My Fault just went on vacation for the next two and a half years. He hasn’t made a decision lately that has benefited anyone -including himself- and I think we would all be better off if he started his retirement early.

    Leave Uncle Joe in charge, he couldn’t fuck anything up any worse than Obama has already, and think of the entertainment!

  10. I’ve heard the “if the Good Tsar only knew what his ministers were doing to soil his good name” argument from progressives before, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it articulated by the Tsar himself.

    1. “If only there were some faster way to get information than the daily newspaper, I’d be solving all these problems as they arise!”

  11. Ten words I least want to hear: “I’m with the government and I’m here to help you.”

      1. Or, as Will Rogers said, “Thank God that we don’t get all the government that we pay for”.

  12. But I tell you, if you work in any company in America, big company, you’ll find some things that they’re doing that aren’t all that efficient either.

    This is why we have the individual mandate for buggy whips.

  13. Here’s a hint, Katie: go get a job in procurement at a private company in a profitable industry.

    1. Are you crazy? People in private industry sometimes get laid off, or even fired!

  14. What difference – at this point – does it make?

  15. If a person or group always act against my interest, it doesn’t matter whether they are personally targeting me or not. They are my enemy.

  16. Somebody should tell Obama that while Barney Fife was not anyone’s enemy, Andy till only let him go around with one bullet and an unloaded gun because his bumbling was a still a danger to everyone.

    Now that I think of it, government inefficiency even in Mayberry – Andy probably couldn’t fire Barney because of the union.

    1. With one bullet, Barney probably couldn’t kill a dog. Nowadays the Barneys get M-16s.

      1. And flash-bang grenades.

      2. And why shouldn’t they? How else will they stop peaceful people from violating the state religion of bodily purity?

        Alcohol, you ask? Tobacco (never mind, bad example)? Sugar? Soybean oil? Well…uh…DRUGS!!!!

  17. Sure Big Companies are have their share of incompetence too. And so does Big Government. And now the two are merged together more than ever before. And you don’t have an alternative to Big Government. And you don’t have an alternative to the Big Corporations you are mandated (many times) to buy your services from, or are the only few options in a non-mandated sector but usually very necessary. And little market force involved, no alternatives, no Free Market forces. It’s all merging into a Gilliam-esque Brazil-ian singularity. And we have assholes like Obama perched at the top thinking everything is hunky dory and going to plan. And any queasiness felt about the whole thing is a form of insanity. Only in an insane world is sanity insanity.

    For all of the above, small companies haven’t cornered the market on efficiency either. But the whole notion of free association and property rights etc is you get to CHOSE with whom you associate, and when the frustration builds to a point of wanting exit the association, in a free association the departure is without violence. This isn’t the case with Government. And a sanguine dildo at the top of the heap not realizing that doesn’t help. The Top Men in Rome weren’t knifed and drug off to the Tiber with hooks because everything was going brilliantly.

    1. Spot in with the Brazil analogy. Brazil is exactly what I think of reading this article…http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nSQ5EsbT4cE

  18. Wow, are they workin really hard at really important ‘stuff’? You talk like a moron you POS, and condescending to boot.

    1. Come on now, mickeyg, cut Comrade Barry some slack. We had a great run with this capitalism and freedom stuff. Now, the time has come to repeat the biggest and very public mistakes of the USSR.

      But THIS time it will be different, because…CORPORATIONS, and…and GLOBAL WARMING, and…and YES, WE CAN!

  19. Simon’s Law:

    It is unwise to attribute to malice alone that which can be attributed to malice and stupidity.

  20. Call me old fashioned but I lose respect for the author and article when profanity is used.

    or just “fxxk” things up”

    1. If you get butthurt that easily, Bert, you shold probably seek ediication elsewhere.

  21. With all that extensive private industry Obama has I’m sure he is the utmost authority (in his own mind) for finding private business inefficiency.
    Comparing government inefficiency with private inefficiency is beyond moronic, but really who could expect any greater from this lazy ass in chief.

  22. I don’t know when it was that somehow working for government?whether the state or local or federal level?somehow became not a real job.

    I don’t know when it was that getting paid by someone or some entity other than government?whether the individual or corporate level?somehow became not serving the people.

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