Part 2 – Federal Government Accountability Is Broken

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 addressed why accountability is critical for organizational performance.

While negotiating with the Soviets, Ronald Reagan famously said that we must “Trust but verify.” Many thought the statement was contradictory, but Reagan understood the nature of trust. People subject to accountability behave in a trustworthy manner. Those who face no accountability, often don’t.

Our government is intended to have checks and balances (i.e., accountability) to maintain trustworthy behavior. Government functionaries watch each other. Inspectors General audit government operations. The three branches of the government hold each other accountable. Elected leadership watches all of it, and voters watch the elected leadership. With all that layered accountability, why does an unacceptably high percentage of America no longer trust the government to implement the will of the people? Is it because “Trust but verify” has failed the verification test?

As we covered in Part 1, organizational performance is dependent on mission clarity, service focus, and accountability. Yet despite our layers of accountability, public servants have radically deviated from their mission to serve the public. The Department of Transportation is trying to make our roads less racist. NASA is doing Muslim outreach. The CIA is distracted from gathering information on international threats, while it gathers information on political threats (using Five Eyes foreign assets). The DoD has shifted from implementing policy, to setting it (as Gen. Miley did when assuring China that we’d no longer use nuclear deterrence).

Perhaps the most shocking and public change of mission happened at the DoJ during the Obama administration. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that he was President Obama’s “wingman.” With that simple declaration, the DoJ was redirected from “equal justice under law” to “guarding the six” of its political benefactors.

These mission deviations were all detected, but none were corrected. Why did the autopilot fail to bring the ship of state back onto the correct heading?

When engineers design a product, they study failure modes. By understanding what can go wrong, they incorporate risk mitigations and improve product reliability. To that end, what are the accountability failure modes that allowed government course deviations to go uncorrected?

Government employees are expected to hold each other accountable to operating within the Constitution, governing laws, and department policies. To facilitate that, we have made it a crime to retaliate against whistleblowers [Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8)]. In recent years, whistleblowers have come forward to report malfeasance at numerous federal agencies (IRS, FBI, CIA, etc.). They have all suffered retaliation. A recent Inspector General report noted systemic problems in whistleblower protections at the DoJ. Officials at the DoJ are promising corrective actions, but their changes will no doubt involve more government bureaucracy – without prosecuting the law breakers in the government. Government growth will increase power, without increasing consequences for bad actions. Accountability through whistleblowers failed.

Unfortunately, IGs are powerless to take corrective action themselves. IGs identified alleged criminal activity in the FBI (Adrew McCabe) and the IRS (Lois Lerner) and referred the matters for prosecution. In both cases, the DoJ declined prosecution. AG Sessions terminated Andrew McCabe’s employment, but when Merrick Garland assumed office; he cleared McCabe’s record, reinstated his pension, and gave him a half a million dollars for his trouble. The accountability of internal audit failed. “Guarding the six” of servants to the Democrat party has become the norm.

The three branches of government are given Constitutional tools to hold each other accountable. Congress is authorized to conduct oversight and impeach government officials if necessary. But Congress’s power to perform oversight was tested by the Obama administration when it conducted the ill-fated Operation Fast and Furious. The operation facilitated the illegal transfer of firearms to Mexican cartels, supposedly to track their movement. Things went horribly awry, resulting in the death of one federal agent, and many civilians.

When Congress demanded to see documents related to the program, AG Eric Holder refused to comply. Holder became the first AG in history to be held in contempt of Congress – a felony. However, Congress has no law enforcement authority. It referred the matter to the DoJ for prosecution, but Eric Holder declined to prosecute Eric Holder. Now Merrick Garland is refusing to comply with oversight demands – illustrating that the accountability of oversight has failed.

Congress could have impeached Eric Holder. But ironically, our political polarization makes removal from office by impeachment virtually impossible. The country is so evenly divided – and party loyalty so great – that achieving the two-thirds vote of Senate needed for removal is unachievable, even for the most egregious violations. Further, as we learned with the Mayorkas impeachment, the Senate has given itself permission to violate the Constitution and simply ignore an impeachment case sent by the House. The accountability of impeachment is broken.

We send elected leaders to Washington to ensure that government operations are consistent with our wishes. But politicians have become permanent residents of Washington – a town in which no Republican has ever won more than 22 percent of the Presidential vote. Now our elected leaders represent their new residence to us. Politicians can either benefit from the town business that favors them (as Democrats do), or tread lightly around a bureaucracy that will attack them (as Chuck Schumer promised it would). Elected accountability has failed because the Washington bureaucracy wields more power than those sent to control it.

Voters are allowed to hold their elected representatives accountable every two years. But gerrymandering has turned congressional seats into lifetime careers. The Federal government has teamed with media outlets to censor critical information, and disseminate disinformation. Americans are denied the information needed to make informed electoral decisions. Finally, election tampering has undermined the notion of self-governance. Any attempt to improve election integrity, is met by lawsuits from the DoJ. According to Rasmussen Reports, a shocking 20 percent of those who voted by mail in 2020 admitted to cheating. One out of every four valid mail ballots were cancelled by illegal votes, facilitated by government tampering.

Now, the DoJ engages in lawfare to target political opponents. Announcing any intent to deal with the corruption of federal agencies, will be met with bankrupting legal expenses and possible jail terms for creatively invented crimes. Elections fail to provide accountability when they are no longer a reflection of the electorate’s will.

To summarize:

  • Whistleblowers are only protected if the DoJ protects them.
  • Government violators of law are only prosecuted if the DoJ prosecutes them.
  • Congress has no power of oversight if the DoJ doesn’t enforce its authority.
  • Politicians can’t lead a bureaucracy that is empowered by the DoJ to ignore leadership.
  • Elections are no longer an accurate reflection of “the will of the people” when the DoJ undermines election integrity.

Unlike commercial companies who are kept honest by their customers, the federal government has shed its accountability to its masters. Politicians lack the ability take corrective action, the DoJ refuses to prosecute criminality, and the public has good reason to distrust its own government.

In part 3 we will examine critical failure points and how to fix them.

Author Bio: John Green is a retired engineer and political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Idaho. He spent his career designing complex defense systems, developing high performance organizations, and doing corporate strategic planning. He can be reached at

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