Ripon Forum: Fixing the Civil Service

Writing for the Ripon Forum, Common Good Chair Philip Howard argues that the only way to fix Washington is to empower government officials to make sensible choices. He writes:

Americans are angry not just because Washington is too fat, but because it’s so stupid. The failure is imbedded in the idea that government can be a machine. Indeed, the operating philosophy of government is that regulation should be mindless compliance. That’s why rulebooks are a thousand pages, when the Constitution is only 15 pages. …

What replaces red tape? People.

Human responsibility is the only alternative to mindless bureaucracy. Law can set goals and provide guiding principles, but common sense is impossible unless people – both officials and citizens – have the freedom to use their judgment at the point of implementation.

This will not happen, however, unless officials also are also subject to accountability – something anathema to today’s civil service:

No one will give officials flexibility to use common sense unless they are accountable when they fail or are mean-spirited. Now we get to the link between regulatory reform and civil service reform. Accountability is basically nonexistent for federal civil servants. Job performance is irrelevant. Indeed, more people die on the job than are terminated or demoted.

Read Howard’s full essay here to see his prescription for fixing America’s civil service system.