Harvard Business Publishing has this great service that I've enjoyed for the last few weeks called "The Daily Stat". The signal to noise ratio so far has been good, and I hope it stays that way. The November 11 stat was a summary of a rather long analysis by Paul C. Light on the bnet Business Network.
The Harvard Stat was two paragraphs long (or in my parlance less than one screen of email), and Paul Light's paper was 10 pages long; needless to say I read the former! Ironically, the article is about how US Federal Cabinets have grown in the last century:).
In summary, in 1935, FDR had 51 Cabinet appointees, and in 2001 Bush had about 500. It took Kennedy 10 weeks to get his appointees sworn in. George W. Bush took almost 38 weeks to do this! This put him 257 days into his first 100 days, which according to most is the peak performance during a Presidency.
It's like we've grown from a simple A-frame house of cards to this gigantic condo of cards.
Why so big? Is it about the growing complexity of government or just plain patronage? Has the world really gotten that complicated? And even if it has, at what point does the government get so complex that it simply can't get anything done?
I would think the last two Presidents have shown us that the bigger the government gets, the more difficult it is to find people who have the integrity, commitment to public service, and willingness to be subservient to a larger mission than their ego. There have been a bunch of incidents of unethical behavior:
- How many Congresspeople have been suspected and eventually found guilty of some kind of ethical, social, or personal breech of trust and faith?
- How many Congresspeople were guilty of this behavior but didn't get caught?
- How many in the Executive Branch were found guilty of bad behavior (in the Justice department alone)?
- How many in that branch have either not been caught or have simply flouted any attempt at uncovering a breech of ethics or law (can you say "Dick Cheney")?
And this is just poor judgment and bad decision-making. What about just plain ineffective performance? The travesty that is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina comes to mind. It blows me away that in many ways the 2004 Tsunami that affected Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand (among other countries), all of which have a less developed status according to the World Bank than the United States have done a better job of recovering from the almost 230,000 casualties, and incalculable physical devastation.
But it only takes one visit to New Orleans (Paul Miller - AKA DJ Spooky, someone I'm proud to call a friend visited New Orleans a while back for Weekend America) to see how abysmal this country's track record has been in not only helping people restore their lives but also helping make that iconic city safe from future hurricanes.
Big government has never equaled effective government. I contend that the biggest reason for the humongous Cabinets that we have now is purely patronage - Clinton and Bush had WAAAAY more people to pay off than any prior President, the Lincoln Bedroom is only so big, and there are only so many nights in a presidency. I wrote about a new approach to campaign finance and timing - it would potentially avoid such problems.
I'm hopeful that our new President is able to see through all this, appoint an appropriately-sized Cabinet that has integrity, and is transparent and accountable. While he did raise a record-breaking amount of money, we can also hope that his backers did so because they had a higher purpose in mind than just a free nights lodging.