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Why government fails, and what we should do about it

Lee H. Hamilton | 8/11/2014, 6:11 a.m.
As election season approaches, I’ve been pondering a crucial issue about the role of government in our society.

—They could avoid rushing to announce programs, strive to get it right rather then get it quickly, and pay as much attention to follow-through as to the launch. Think about long term, not the next election, and make sure the mission is sharply defined.

—They could devote far more attention to how government will recruit, retain, and train the smart, highly qualified workers we need to carry out ever-more-complex programs. And they could vow to reduce the number of political appointees in favor of filling most positions on the basis of merit.

—They should certainly flatten the chain of command and reduce the layers of bureaucracy within federal departments and agencies, so that it’s easier for top administrators to see what’s taking place on the front lines.

—In the case of Congress, it needs to ensure that vigorous oversight of programs becomes a habit, not the rarity it is now.

All of us want government to fail less often, whatever our political stripe. So here’s my suggestion: As election season approaches, insist that your favored candidate work harder on making government more effective and efficient.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.