Another Head (or four) Rolls on Taxes

Well, what do you know, a day after the NYT publishes an editorial calling on Daschle to withdraw his nomination as head of HHS, he did just that.

So this makes the fourth (fourth?!) instance of Obama vetting team’s not doing a thorough job: Geithner, Richardson, Killefer, and now Daschel. What’s next? A nominee with close ties to the industry that he’s designed to oversee? Oh wait a minute

Whatever happened to the vaunted Obama vetting team? Clearly, no one’s perfect.

But what is at stake here, fundamentally speaking? In my opinion, what is at stake is the institutional structure of DC. Specifically, the institutional structure of the city makes the phenomenon of the revolving door an attractive and rational choice for people.

It is very hard for a political actor in DC to stay completely pure and free of industry association. Political fortunes being what they are, many Congressional staff will find themselves working in Congress cyclically. Yes, there are rules (probably not strict enough) on the revolving door, but if you work long enough in DC, you will be associated with industry some way or another. After all, an industry job allows a staffer to leverage his/her institutional/policy knowledge and his/her personal connections.

Things might be slightly more stable in the executive branch, considering that most mid-level civil servants are not political appointees. But let’s face it, the private sector pays better, and it is rational for people to choose jobs that pay them more for their skills and knowledge.

How do you deal with this problem? You can try (unrealistically in my opinion), like Obama did, to free yourself completely of lobbying influence. And we all know how that one turned out. You can also issue waivers by appealing to people’s experiences and qualifications, but such a move undermines your credibility.

OR, we can simply pay people better who work in government, which is COMPLETELY unthinkinable, a total anathesma in our country, given our history of distrust in government and the bureaucracy. But is this idea really THAT bad? I mean, if government wants to retain institutional knowledge and policy expertise, then it should expect to fork over the cash. Yes, public service can be a powerful motivation for certain people, but depending on that somewhat dubious moral psychology is not good policy in my opinion. You want to give people incentive to serve the public, and surely the public can get its ROI when institutional knowledge and policy expertise are retained for the service of the public, not the interest of private sector lobbies.

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