Thursday, July 10, 2014

who should get fired?

When there are problems in government programs, who should get fired? There are many answers, but no easy ones. Some cultures, like the Japanese, place blame on the person at the top. So does the U.S. Navy, removing the ship captain when it goes aground because of a crew error. By contrast, the U.S. Air Force tries to locate a precise source of the error and not hold higher officers accountable.

In an interesting article for the Atlantic, Norm Ornstein worries that proposed bills aimed at overcoming problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs go too far in allowing the firing of career civil servants with little or no due process. He cites the history of civil service as a response to the patronage basis of the "spoils system" and the 1940 Hatch Act as a response to politicization of some government jobs during the New Deal. He also notes that job protections have been eroded in many states.
But in recent years, a majority of states have moved to expand at-will hiring and firing, to erode civil-service protections, and to give more leverage to governors' political appointees.
Activist governors, Democratic and Republican, pushed for more control over the past decade-plus, and the trend has accelerated in the past few years in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Throw in the assault on public-employee unions in Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states, and the pattern is clear: a move away from a merit-based civil-service system to one with substantial additional political control.
I do worry that political appointees-- who deserve to be held accountable much more than career subordinates -- might abuse their firing power to intimidate subordinates loyal to the law but maybe not their boss' party.

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