The Oil Spill in the Gulf has yet again highlighted one of government’s major failings – government regulators and bureaucracies are inept. President Obama is being criticized for his reaction to the leak, and some are comparing it to President Bush’s reaction to Katrina. However, a more suitable comparison is the financial meltdown that occurred late in President Bush’s second term. For both presidents there was little that they personally could have done prior to these terrible events, and both had strikingly few options after the event occurred. While they both have to answer questions about the effectiveness of government under their watch, in reality these events aren’t showing a failure of the executive branch, instead they show the massive failure of government regulation and associated agencies.
In both cases the failure of regulators has been so complete that it’s left the citizenry asking, ‘How did this happen?’ After the financial meltdown people wondered what good the SEC is if it can’t figure out blatant financial cons like Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. Ponzi schemes have been around for eons, and shouldn’t be particularly hard to detect for someone with proper education/training. However, it’s the credit default swaps that appear tanked several large banks along with the U.S. economy, yet there was no recognition of this problem by the SEC until it was too late.
The question that most everyone has heard post oil spill is, ‘Seriously, they don’t have a plan to stop the leak?’ It seems like such a no-brainer that if a company drills offshore there should be a plan in case something goes wrong. Not just one plan, but several plans both to prevent disasters, and to mitigate disasters if they do occur. Now we’re over a month out from the initial explosion, and BP is still guessing about what might possibly stop the flow of oil. Again government regulators by definition have failed. Similarly the Minerals Management Service appears to be a joke.
Thus we end up with Government’s Catch 22. There is a need for some regulation, yet the government clearly sucks at regulation. This unfortunately is on both a big scale and on a small scale. I work for a company that was recently visited by an FDA regulator; much of it was the theatre of the absurd. Our file cabinets are now much more clearly labeled, and we provided copious amounts of information about things that have nothing to do with the FDA. Not a huge deal, but somewhat depressing when considering how much money is being spent on useless regulation, and how many serious violations are likely being missed.
There is blame to put on Congress. They are responsible for oversight, and clearly they’ve failed at providing adequate oversight of these agencies. Yet there is an even bigger problem than Congress. As a country our regulatory agencies have failed and continue to fail. We need a better system. First, we need a better selection process for picking the people who run these agencies. Choosing the buddy of someone powerful or choosing someone who has done political favors for an influential person clearly is inadequate selection criteria. Experience and knowledge matter – a lot, if people running and participating in these agencies don’t know their stuff then they don’t belong there. While that sounds obvious, clearly it’s not happening.
My theory is that people with a military background may be better leaders for these agencies. The one person during the gulf disaster that has inspired any confidence (and basically the only person that hasn’t talked in circles) is Admiral Thad Allen. Maybe the structure and the directness that a military commander would bring to an overly political government bureaucracy could help. Congress also needs to wake up and worry less about placing blame after a disaster, and instead provide the proper oversight to these agencies; that could even prevent disasters. Finally, voters have to demand that this problem is addressed. This isn’t a glamorous issue, but it is a critical one. There is a real need for voters to insist that politicians give sustentative answers on how they will make government work again. As a country we’ve created a monster with big regulatory agencies that suck up money and fail to effectively regulate. The fix isn’t obvious, but it is vital.
Senator Coburn Blogger Call – Addresses Fiscal Crisis and Potential for the U.S. to be in the same position as Greece in Four Years. (embedded mp3)