Our Oh-So-Broken Government

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; 1:30 PM

President Bush has his signature failures: Iraq, the economy and Katrina, for starters. But really, his is an administration that has performed its duties poorly across the board.

The public reached this conclusion a while ago. As I wrote in a September 2007 column, when the Pew Research Center asked people to choose their own word to describe Bush in 2006 and 2007, the number one response was "incompetent."

In retrospect, this was a predictable result of the fact that Bush and Vice President Cheney intentionally put into key posts people who didn't support the traditional missions of the agencies they led. Competence or experience often weren't as important as loyalty to the White House, rigid ideological commitment to deregulation, aversion to oversight and allegiance to corporate and special interests over consumers and the general public.

Now, the Center for Public Integrity is out with a new report authoritatively chronicling the results. It's called Broken Government: An assessment of 128 executive branch failures since 2000.

The center's Josh Israel explains: "The 2008 presidential race produced its share of philosophical and political disputes, but one broad area of agreement underlined the campaigns of both nominees: The federal government is not functioning as it should. . . .

"Just how bad is this government dysfunction? In an effort to answer that question, the Center for Public Integrity embarked on an examination of the worst systematic failures of the federal government over the past eight years.

"In this, a comprehensive assessment of these failures, we found more than 125 examples of government breakdown in areas as diverse as education, energy, the environment, justice and security, the military and veterans affairs, health care, transportation, financial management, consumer and worker safety, and more -- failures which adversely affected ordinary people and made the nation a less open or less secure place to live. While some are, by now, depressingly familiar, many are less well-known but equally distressing. And though the list is diverse, it also reflects some recurring -- and troubling -- themes. . . .

"'I think we'll look back on this period as one of the most destructive periods in American public life . . . both in terms of policy and process,' Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, told the Center."

Here's a quick look, by the numbers, at 40 ways in which the government failed. Consider, for instance, how 60 percent of EPA scientists report political interference with their work; how Department of Defense weapons acquisitions have gone $300 billion over budget; that 47 people died in mining accidents in 2006 blamed on lax oversight; and that Osama bin Laden has been at large for 2,640 days (and counting) since September 11, 2001 .

Here is CPI's full list.

I last wrote about the center in January, praising its database of 935 false statements by Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials hyping the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the two years after the 9/11 attacks.

EPA Watch

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board writes: "Under the Bush administration, the EPA became overly politicized, sided with corporate polluters, and often ignored findings and recommendations by its own scientists.

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