Monday, December 16, 2013

Does Government Have Any Accountability Ability?

Does government have any ability to be accountable for anything?

That is a question I ask often.  And I can't say I see much evidence of that ability within government anywhere I look.

Look no further than this statement from Secretary of Health and Human Services last week in a blog post on the HHS web site about the failed launch of the Obamacare website.

"I believe strongly in the need for accountability, and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars." 

She said that right after she also made this statement.

"The launch of was flawed and simply unacceptable."

Of course, Sebelius was responsible and should have been accountable for that flawed and unacceptable launch.

So what is she going to do about it? Is she going to resign?  Is she going to fire the people who were responsible at HHS?  Is she going to withhold payment for the work done by the outside contractors?

No. After all, this is government where there is no accountability ability anywhere you look. However, there is a plenty of ability to make announcements, do investigations and reviews, create new positions and order additional training.

This is a summary by CBS News of how Sebelius views "accountability".

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post early Wednesday that she is asking the department's inspector general to investigate the contracting process, management, performance and payment issues that may have contributed to the flawed launch of
In addition to the inspector general review, Sebelius said she has ordered the hiring of a new "chief risk officer" at the Medicare agency, which also oversees the new programs created to expand health insurance coverage under Mr. Obama's law. That official will focus on making sure technology programs work as advertised.
Sebelius also said she's ordered a retraining of her department on best practices for outside contracting.

Another recent example of government's utter inability to enforce accountability involved Lois Lerner, the IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, who allowed her department to target groups that didn't agree with the Obama administration.  After pleading the Fifth Amendment in testimony before Congress she was placed on paid administrative leave after she refused to resign. It appears that firing anyone is also not within the ability of government.

After four months of paid leave Lerner ultimately retired with a full pension and benefits compliments of the same taxpayers that she harassed in her position at the IRS.

However, the Sebelius and Lerner stories have nothing on John Beale, the EPA's preeminent expert on climate change, who was in the news today for bilking the government out of nearly $1 million in salary and other benefits by failing to show up for work for months at a time (at one point for 18 consecutive months).  How did he do this? He told his boss (the EPA's top administrator and others at the EPA) that he was engaged in intelligence work for the CIA.

I am not making this up.  This is from an NBC News Investigations story published today.

Until he retired in April after learning he was under federal investigation, Beale, an NYU grad with a masters from Princeton, was earning a salary and bonuses of $206,000 a year, making him the highest paid official at the EPA. He earned more money than Gina McCarthy, the agency’s administrator and, for years, his immediate boss, according to agency documents.
To explain his long absences, Beale told agency officials -- including McCarthy -- that he was engaged in intelligence work for the CIA, either at agency headquarters or in Pakistan. At one point he claimed to be urgently needed in Pakistan because the Taliban was torturing his CIA replacement, according to Sullivan.
In fact, Beale had no relationship with the CIA at all. Sullivan, the EPA investigator, said he confirmed Beale didn’t even have a security clearance. He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Nor was that Beale’s only deception, according to court documents. In 2008, Beale didn’t show up at the EPA for six months, telling his boss that he was part of a special multi-agency election-year project relating to “candidate security.” He billed the government $57,000 for five trips to California that were made purely “for personal reasons,” his lawyer acknowledged. (His parents lived there.) He also claimed to be suffering from malaria that he got while serving in Vietnam. According to his lawyer’s filing, he didn’t have malaria and never served in Vietnam. He told the story to EPA officials so he could get special handicap parking at a garage near EPA headquarters.

John Beale, EPA
It Seems He Was Not Accountable For Much Of Anything At The EPA
Photo: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Two congressional committee are now looking into the issue and are also looking for answers from Beale's boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, for her management of Beale.  An Inspector General's report questioned the EPA's lack of internal controls that facilitated Beale's fraud.  That seems to be the understatement of the year!  Especially after you read some more of the report.

For example, one of the reports states, Beale took 33 airplane trips between 2003 and 2011, costing the government $266,190. On 70 percent of those, he travelled first class and stayed at high end hotels, charging more than twice the government’s allowed per diem limit. But his expense vouchers were routinely approved by another EPA official, a colleague of Beale’s, whose conduct is now being reviewed by the inspector general, according to congressional investigators briefed on the report.
Beale was caught when he “retired” very publicly but kept drawing his large salary for another year and a half. Top EPA officials, including McCarthy, attended a September 2011 retirement party for Beale and two colleagues aboard a Potomac yacht. Six months later, McCarthy learned he was still on the payroll.

There is a lesson here in all of this that I hope we all understand. Our Founding Fathers surely understood it.

When you ask men and women in government to be accountable for themselves you are asking for an awful lot.  You are asking for even more trouble when you let government get too big.  It is too easy for a John Beale to take your money, a Lois Lerner to take away your rights or a Kathleen Sebelius to be in a job in which she has proven to be totally incompetent when government gets too large.

The only way government can be held accountable is by the People. And that becomes harder as government gets bigger and it gets further away from the People.  The Founders understood this and wrote a Constitution that attempted to limit the power of the federal government and also established two-year terms for the U.S. House of Representatives to insure that the People could hold their government accountable.

The People have that ability to hold government accountable. It is about time we started using it. No one else is going to do it for us.

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