Editor’s Note: See the RegBlog “Valuing Professional Government” series of essays in which “scholars and government professionals review [the] new book by former Chair of the Administrative Conference of the United States,” here.
The key to improving government is to strengthening—and valuing—excellence in the civil service.
During my five and a half years of service as Chair of the Administrative Conference of the United States, I observed closely how bureaucracy functions. What I found during that time is that career officials—the indispensable professionals on which government vitally depends—are being discouraged, ignored, or even displaced. In their stead, federal agencies are relying on a private contractor regime that far outstrips members of the civil service in numbers and, increasingly, in influence. In many respects, we are seeing core officials lose control, at all levels, of the system that administers public policies and delivers government services.
Today, government needs an overhaul, not just a tune up. We need to rebalance the civil service system, while appreciating the limits of the possible. Of course, reversing course in how government programs are administered, after many decades of outsourcing government administration to private contractors, may seem a quixotic venture. But it is also compellingly practical. Too many government failures have their causes in the inability of the permanent government—the civil service—to control the situation.