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Originally published June 9 2014

WashPo: VA scandal proves widespread incompetence across inept government

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki may have succumbed to pressure by both major parties for him to resign his post, but he will nevertheless leave behind a federal agency that will remain as incompetent as it was when he first assumed his post.

And that's a problem, considering that the influx of veterans from the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have only added hundreds of thousands needing care to a system that was already overwhelmed and understaffed when it was mostly treating aging vets from the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Outside of the Army itself, the VA is the federal government's largest employer. One reason why it is such a dysfunctional agency is one that is prevalent among nearly all federal agencies: It lacks a workforce culture that could help make it successful.

According to the The Washington Post, just 56.9 percent of VA employees say they think they could disclose a suspected violation of law or VA regulations without fear of reprisal. Fewer -- just 46.1 percent -- feel "a high level of respect" for their senior supervisors and leaders. An even smaller number of employees -- 37 percent -- said they are satisfied with the policies and practices of those same leaders:

Quite an indictment, you may say, one that confirms congressional demands for the summary firing of Eric K. Shinseki, the Cabinet secretary in charge of the VA. But the numbers for the government as a whole are barely more encouraging than for Mr. Shinseki's domain: 58.4 percent, 49 percent and 38.8 percent, respectively.

Wash, rinse, repeat

So, in other words, the paper said, citing data from a recently released report by the Partnership for Public Service, the country doesn't have merely a Shinseki problem, but a President Obama problem, a Congress problem and a civil service system that is "in crisis."

As has been reported, the elements of the VA scandal -- confirmed deception about the waiting times for treatment at veteran's hospitals -- is, unfortunately, bitterly familiar. And there is a similar pattern to note: Disclosures of scandal, claims of "outrage" by politicians at the public servants in charge, demands for firings and "accountability," followed by more investigations and perhaps some firings -- until the public's attention drifts to something else.

In reality, nothing really changes about the culture of the federal bureaucracy involved. Take the VA; it has endured corruption and scandal since the earliest days of its creation in the last century.

The howls of protest by lawmakers and experts alike are particularly shrill this time around, because everyone wants to be seen as being "pro-veteran." One proposed solution, to allow any senior VA executive to be let go at will, is equally ineffective, though it may seem gratifying. The trajectory and the pattern has repeated from earlier this century, when similar calls went out for the heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency over perceived Hurricane Katrina failures, or more recently, when it was discovered that some Internal Revenue Service officials and senior leaders disproportionately targeted so-called Tea Party groups, and when the uber-expensive website failed to perform as expected.

Some experts are blaming outdated personnel systems in government. "Name an organization that is succeeding largely under the same system it had in 1949," Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, told the Post. "It doesn't exist."

Obama, Congress neglectful, uninterested

Stier and other critics of the current system say it is cumbersome (an understatement at best) and incapable of recruiting, or competing for, top talent. It is also a system that does not reward top performers or punish poor ones. And some of the resistance to making required changes comes from political circles: Democrats largely rely on federal government unions that oppose such merit-based policies (because union leaders want union members to be tenured in their positions, regardless of performance). Republicans, meanwhile, are suspicious of government altogether.

But as evidenced by the Partnership for Public Service's report, what is also obvious is that the American people have simply, by and large, lost faith in government's ability to do much of anything properly or efficiently. And with each new scandal -- and resultant cover-up -- they become even less enamored with Washington-imposed "solutions." The continued unpopularity of Obamacare is proof of that.

But true reforms must come from the top, and in this case, that means the Executive Branch (since the president controls the bureaucracy). And Obama is not seen as someone who is much into the job.

"I don't see it," Stier said. "The administration as a whole has not led on these issues."

But neither has Congress, which he says is guilty through a "combination of neglect and destruction."

Bureaucracy is here to stay. But how much more of it the country tolerates, and for how long, remains to be seen.


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