A Big Step Toward Working Government

Washington Matters

A Big Step Toward Working Government

One of the most appalling practices in Washington is the phenomenon of putting inexperienced and unknowledgeable people into positions of power because of their political connections. It doesn't happen very often with top jobs because of the public spotlight shined on those posts. But there are hundreds of other important jobs that go to party loyalists and contributors and their families.

Former Ambassador Thomas Schweich wrote a mind-boggling guest column for The New York Times today describing the disheartening gauntlet of ignorant and young political appointees that he and other career foreign service officers had to pass through before being cleared for a new post. And sometimes they didn't pass. Schweich recounts how one potential ambassador was vetted by someone who couldn't pronounce the name of the country in question and how he, himself, was nearly passed over by a 20-something gatekeeper who tried to give the job to an unqualified friend.

This pattern led to some of the worst excesses -- and biggest disasters -- of the Bush administration. Schwiech points out that one of the key players in the firing of career prosecutors for political reasons (all of them demonstrably competent and non-ideological) was a young zealot with no government experience but plenty of connections. And one reason the initial reconstruction and transition in Iraq went so badly was that career government experts in the Pentagon and State Department were passed over in favor of unqualified candidates with the right ideology or connections.

We can only hope that any impulses President-elect Obama and his crew have to reward friends and supporters will be curtailed in order to staff the government with competent professionals.