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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

How to Fix Government: Kill the Blob

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Photo from Flickr user doc(q)man

"Government is too big to succeed." That's the headline in a post at The Atlantic by Philip K. Howard. From the post:

America is mired in what philosopher Hannah Arendt called "the rule of nobody." The president's powerlessness to reorganize the executive branch--supposedly his constitutional responsibility--is just a symptom of a core structural flaw. After decades of legal accretion, government is out of anyone's control. Government is run by a giant legal blob, crushing society and public employees under a mass of mandates and bureaucracy.

Under blob rule, no human is in charge. Who's in charge of balancing the budget? No one--the budget is largely pre-committed to programs made in political deals decades ago. Who's in charge of running the school? No one--the principal is crushed by federal and state mandates, and tied in knots by union work rules. Who's in charge of approving the power line to take energy from the wind farm to the urban areas? No one--the bureaucratic process goes on indefinitely, at the mercy of whoever cares to challenge official judgment.

Americans know that something basic is broken. The dysfunction is manifested in the daily choices of doctors, educators and officials unable to act sensibly.  The accumulation of countless skewed choices results in runaway healthcare costs, failing schools and impractical bureaucracy.

We must restore individual responsibility as the organizing principle of government. Putting people in charge again is much more radical than it sounds at first. It requires replacing the unknowable mass of bureaucracy with a simpler framework of goals and pragmatic authority. Real people, not a viscous goo of complex rules, would take back the responsibility to meet our public goals.

It's interesting is that Howard points the finger at the "blob" of bureaucratic mandates and regulations as the cause of the problem--not at public employees themselves. In a way, that's a return to the thinking of the Clinton-era reinventing government movement--that it's the systems, not the people, that are the problem.  

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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