In his first inaugural, [Ronald] Reagan said that "government is the problem" and he has since kept up a steady patter of anti-government employee rhetoric even though it has long been his own government. A few days ago, a recently retired associate director of the Office of Personnel Management, writing in The Wall Street Journal, argued that we could even afford to lower federal pay scales because, and I quote, "[we] should be content to hire competent people, not the best and most talented people. A good case can be made," he said, "that those individuals are needed in the private sector where wealth is produced rather than consumed."
I believe this negative view, now so popular and destructive, is dead wrong; wrong in fact and wrong in principle. The deterioration of government service flows from public leadership that has persuaded Americans that government is not only unimportant but part of the problem.
This is dangerous nonsense. Is "adequate" enough for the faculty and researchers at our wonderful university? Is "OK" enough for those who will direct the next shuttle mission? After Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, what level of competence do we want inspecting our nuclear plants?
The simple fact is that there are many indispensable governmental functions which require the most talented in our society to perform them. That is why we must stop all of this ignorant anti-government and anti-public-servant rhetoric and get on with our nation's business.