It seems that the Republican Party, the business party, the party of management, has a lot of difficulty managing. Our government cannot execute the basic plays. Let’s look past Katrina, and FEMA, and Michael Brown. Let’s look past the mismanagement of the oil and gas leases out West, the FDA’s bungling over Guidant and its appointment (subsequently retracted) of a veterinarian to head the Office of Women’s Health. Let’s just consider the new Medicare drug program. The Bush Administration can’t even perform a simple thing like getting people off the state Medicaid computer list and onto the Medicare computer list. In 2004 there was a serious shortage of flu vaccine. John Kerry failed to make an issue of it, but the voters should have been alarmed. It was an omen of the bungling to come in New Orleans. This is a government that cannot do even simple things.
It appears that the Republicans when in power have no good managers. In an economy of superstars who make millions, the GOP can’t afford to hire them, especially the ones who are indifferent to public service and gravitate to the Republicans in the first place–or to no party at all. Three decades ago the average pay of CEOs of the hundred biggest American corporations was a mere $1.3 million. By 2000 the average pay had climbed to $37.5 million. One can see why the old Republican well-to-do, like Henry Stimson or C. Douglas Dillon, are no longer in government. By contrast, this summer who will still remember John Snow, who is soon to be our former Treasury Secretary?
What may be more crippling to Bush’s efforts to recruit people is not the CEO pay but the pay of the vice presidents just below them. That’s where the government might look for talent to manage at the assistant secretary level. But it is questionable how many of these managers can afford public service–for a year perhaps, but not for three or four, much less two presidential terms. A friend of mine in a top-rank job at a huge global firm told me of a colleague of his in a rising American company. The colleague was now head of personnel, or human relations. “And do you know what his salary is?” my friend told me. “It’s $5 million a year.”
Five million dollars a year–for a personnel director. It is unlikely this man is going to go home and tell his wife, “I’m ready to work for $120,000 a year because I want to help George Bush reorganize the Census Bureau.”
The proof of the Bush predicament is that he has to hire lawyers–and not even the ones who have experience managing corporate firms. Those are also out of his reach, in terms of income. To head Homeland Security and take on a staggering management challenge, Bush brought in a government lawyer, Michael Chertoff, with scant management experience; recently as a judge he had a secretary and two law clerks. And when Chertoff recruits, he seems to struggle to find anyone besides other government lawyers, also with no serious management experience.
When I was 28 and a young policy analyst at the Energy Department under Jimmy Carter, I met a lot of old hands from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and even a few from the Office of Management and Budget. The old salts, even the liberals, admired the Republicans as managers. “The Democrats come up with the programs,” a grizzled liberal numbers cruncher told me once, “and then the Republicans come in and show you how to manage them.” But he meant Republicans of the Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford era: grumpy old men who were vice presidents at big companies like Ford or General Motors. “Here’s a telling fact,” said a professor friend at a law school. “The biggest increase in rule-making, literally the increase in the pages of the Federal Register, came in the Nixon-Ford Administration.” It was not the center-left but the center-right that brought in the managers who issued all the rules that made the liberal programs work.