Government Agencies Not Doing their Jobs

Government Agencies Not Doing their Jobs

© David Burton 2015

Government Agencies Not Doing Their Jobs

     At a congressional inquiry into the Takata airbag failures airbags that have killed at least eight people and injured more than 100 others, “Lawmakers were . . . sharply critical of the performance of federal regulators overseeing auto safety, citing government investigations that found the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had mishandled inquiries about Takata airbags, as well as the long-delayed recall at General Motors last year of defective cars tied to at least 117 deaths.
     One committee member . . . sharply criticized the safety agency for seeking more government funding while it tries to overhaul its recall and investigative processes characterized as ‘broken’ in a report by the inspector general of the Transportation Department.
     “ ‘This isn’t about resources,’ {the committee member} said of the agency’s request for more money. ‘This is about blatant, incompetent management.’ ” (Ref. 1)

     The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) received a failing grade in a 42-page report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General. NHTSA knew the hammer was getting ready to fall when earlier this month it admitted it has failed the American driving public.
     “Now the inspector general audit has confirmed what many outside organizations--including and the Center for Auto Safety--have complained about for years: NHTSA has been letting auto manufacturers run the show.
     “First there is the issue of consumer complaints. In what can only be considered as pathetic and damning, the report confirmed the very agency charged with evaluating consumer auto complaints wasn't even reading most of the complaints.
     “The report says NHTSA has ignored about 90 percent of the 330 complaints submitted daily from concerned consumers across the U.S. Screeners who do read the remaining complaints don't do a good job and although each person is told to look for problem trends, half said they don't.
     “Secondly, numerous problems have plagued NHTSA and how it handles consumer complaints, including the form used to make a complaint. The audit found many complaints don't include enough information for NHTSA to even know what system or part of a car has the problems.
     “The staff of people who determines if an investigation should be conducted have received little or no training in their so-called areas of specialty. With the addition of the computer chip to vehicles, many of these areas are very technical and complex, yet the people have no training to handle complex subjects.
     “When deciding which safety problems to investigate, NHTSA employees have historically focused on issues that are most likely to result in recalls, even though the people doing this job are not trained for these responsibilities. Furthermore, when it's determined an investigation shouldn't be opened, NHTSA doesn't always document the justifications for its decisions not to open the investigation.
     “The report also concluded NHTSA staff are not properly trained or supervised to handle much of anything, and while a training plan is supposed to be in place, the plan has never been implemented.
     “The audit used the GM ignition switch failures as an example. In 2007, NHTSA considered a request to investigate airbags that failed to deploy in GM vehicles, but the agency decided against the investigation without saying why.
     “In the case of NHTSA not realizing and understanding millions of GM cars had defective ignition switches for over 10 years, the audit gives numerous examples of NHTSA's failures.
     “Just one example comes from June 2007, when GM provided NHTSA with a State trooper’s report that identified the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition switch as a possible cause of a person killed when the airbag failed to deploy. Two people at NHTSA reviewed the report in 2007, but they ignored the link between the ignition switch and airbag failure.
     “Additionally, and incredibly, NHTSA officials admitted they had no idea under what conditions the airbags were supposed to deploy.
     “The report says NHTSA has repeatedly failed to hold automakers accountable for their actions and instead of doing its job, NHTSA applied an 'honor system' to automakers. A good example is Honda and its actions concerning reporting death and injury claims in its vehicles.
     “Officials knew for years there were serious inconsistencies in early warning reports submitted by Honda, yet NHTSA ignored the problems until 2014. After complaints and prodding from the Center for Auto Safety, Honda finally admitted it failed to report 1,729 deaths and injuries for a period of 11 years.
     “It seems the NHTSA honor system didn't work out too well, and Honda was fined a total of $70 million for its failures.
     “The inspector general’s audit makes 17 recommendations for NHTSA to get its act together, something the agency said it will do by June 2016.” (Ref. 2)

     Government agencies must be held accountable for their performance. It is imperative that meaningful performance objectives be established and then periodically reviewed for relevance and currency. Performance standards must be delineated in accordance with these objectives and the agencies and their personnel must be reviewed on an annual or more frequent basis to verify that they are achieving the desired results. Incompetents must be terminated – both at the working and managerial levels – and overachievers must be rewarded. If necessary, whistleblower incentives should be increased. In cases where death or injury results, consideration should be taken for criminally prosecuting those bureaucrats whose action or inactions were either directly or indirectly the cause. Failure to reasonably perform one’s job should be a prosecutable offense.

     Airport security is another example of a government agency failing to do its job, in this case the federal agency is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). “An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, [Emphasis mine] ABC News has learned.
     “The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.
     “According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints. [Emphasis mine]
      - - -
     “More recently, the DHS inspector general’s office concluded a series of undercover tests targeting checked baggage screening at airports across the country.
     “That review found ‘vulnerabilities’ throughout the system, attributing them to human error and technological failures, according to a three-paragraph summary of the review released in September.
     “In addition, the review determined that despite spending $540 million for checked baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training since a previous review in 2009, the TSA failed to make any noticeable improvements in that time.” (Ref. 3)

     Another federal agency that has been found to be seriously failing in its mission is the Internal Revenue Service, the much despised IRS. Most recently that agency was accused to have improperly targeted conservative groups. Six investigations were started to look into the allegations.

     “But there is a bigger question about America’s least-loved federal agency that rarely gets asked: Is the IRS, which collects 90 percent of the nation’s revenue, up to the basics of its job?
     “The surprising answer is that it often is not. A {Boston} Globe review of dozens of government reports and audits, as well as interviews with key officials, found a series of fundamental problems:

  • “The IRS makes billions of dollars in potentially fraudulent payments because it lacks the ability to check whether many returns are accurate before refunds are mailed.
  • “The IRS relies on tax preparers to file accurate returns on behalf of taxpayers. But many preparers are not required to receive training and can be declared a tax professional by paying a $64.25 fee to the IRS. . . .
  • “The IRS is increasingly impenetrable to taxpayers with questions and complaints. The agency is so short-staffed it cannot answer nearly 40 percent of phone calls, and it has failed to meet its own 45-day deadline to respond to millions of letters per year from taxpayers. . . .
  • “The decision by Congress to cut the agency’s budget over the past four years by more than $1 billion, designed to save money, has had the reverse effect. The loss of about 10,000 employees, more than 9 percent of the workforce, has shrunk collections by $8 billion. In other words, the budget cut increased the deficit.
      - - -
     “You compare it to what other countries are doing and it’s a joke . . .
      - - -
     “Last year, for example, more than 109 million telephone calls were made to the IRS. Many calls came from taxpayers trying to respond to the agency’s questions about their returns. But only 61 percent of the calls were answered by a live adviser. The rest got a recording or were given what the IRS bureaucracy calls a ‘courtesy disconnect.’
      - - -
     “The service was not much better for taxpayers who responded to IRS queries by sending letters. Of the 8.4 million letters sent last year by taxpayers responding to IRS efforts to adjust their taxes (usually upward), 53 percent had not been answered by the agency’s deadline of 45 days.
     “It is even worse for those who take the trouble to visit one of the agency’s walk-in centers. The IRS used to answer more than 1 million questions annually at such centers. This year . . . , the agency has announced it will only answer basic questions at the centers and will discontinue their practice of helping the poor, elderly, and disabled with their taxes.
     “The IRS is viewed by most Americans as the agency that collects taxes and sends refunds. But one of its biggest problems may be that Congress has given it another job: de facto social welfare agency.
     “. . . When the federal government gives out food stamps, it taps a large bureaucracy that investigates whether an applicant is qualified to receive the benefit. But when Congress decided in 1975 to create a massive program to help lower-income working parents, it believed it could save money by running it through the IRS. That program was called the Earned Income Tax Credit. . . .
     “But the earned income credit is also widely cited as evidence that the IRS should not be required to run a huge social welfare program. The most recent Treasury audit found that 22 percent of the earned income credit money paid out in 2012 — totaling $12 billion — was done improperly. More than $130 billion in such improper payments were made in the past decade. Most of that money has not been recouped by the government, according to federal reports.
     “The 22 percent rate of improper payments is one of the highest for any program in the federal government; it is, for example, about six times the rate in the food stamp program.” (Ref. 4)

     Are you like me when it comes to those annoying telemarketing calls? I long ago signed up with the government’s Do Not Call Registry, but doing so has apparently done little or nothing to stop the flood of telemarketing robocalls that came to my phone each day. The "Do Not Call Registry” established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2003 does not appear to be working. Complaints about telemarketers have continued to climb and as of 2012, stood at an all time high of almost 4 million.[5]

     Apparently I am not alone with my dissatisfaction with the FTC. “Many people who have been on the ‘National Do Not Call Registry’ for years say at some point it started to feel like it just wasn’t working.
     “{Unfortunately,} ‘The federal law only applies to interstate commerce . . . so they generally can’t go after telemarketers calling from within your own state,’ says . . . the Federal Trade Commission.
     “{And for} those that do violate the federal law, enforcement far from automatic.
      - - -
     “In fact, the FTC has only taken action against 600 illegal telemarketers since the list’s inception in 2003.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 6)

     To stop unwanted telemarketing phone calls it has been suggested that t hat the FTC take the following actions: “Residential telephone service customers could be given a special number to key in (for example *99) during a Spam call to automatically file a complaint. That would be considerably easier than entering a complaint on the Do Not Call Registry’s website, so the number of people who would voice their concerns might increase from 1% to 20% or more.
     “If the government aggressively prosecuted any offender who {was the object of} perhaps 5,000 such complaints, even with a modest $10,000 fine, these calls would dry up almost overnight.” (Ref. 7)

     I recently re-listed my phones on the Do Not Call Registry. Did that do any good? Apparently not - I still get calls from parties that want to reduce my credit card interest rate, sweep my non-existent chimney, clean my rugs, get me a free cruise, get me an alarm in case I fall and can’t call anyone, etc., etc., etc. It would appear that the FTC is too busy to administer the laws and perform the functions with which it was entrusted.

     The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are supposed to do what its name implies – control diseases and their outbreaks. They recently failed in their mission.

     The one thing Americans expected the CDC to do in the case of the recent Ebola outbreak was “to run to the location with spacesuits, procedures and protocols. The CDC has ONE JOB: To send teams to outbreak locations to ensure everyone knows what to do and how to protect themselves and others. Yet, after all the happy talk assurances that ‘We got this,’ the CDC admits it did not do that.
     “The nation’s top disease-fighting agency acknowledged . . . that an American nurse might not have been infected with Ebola if a special response team had been sent to Dallas immediately after a Liberian man there was diagnosed with Ebola.
     “Sending teams to infected areas is the least of what Americans expect of the CDC. Sending a team in the event of an outbreak is a basic.
     “The Left and the CDC can crybaby all day long about (phantom) budget cuts, but if the CDC isn’t going to do the LEAST of what’s expected from them in this circumstance, we don’t need a CDC.” (Ref. 8)

     America expected the CDC, with its $6.9 billion annual budget, to do the one major job trusted to them – they failed.

     Another agency that has recently been charged with failure to do its job is the Office of Personnel Management, which was found to have neglected basic cybersecurity practices when personal information of almost every government employee was stolen from their computer files.

     “The agency that allowed hackers linked to China to steal private information about nearly every US government employee and detailed personal histories of military and intelligence workers with security clearances failed for years to take basic steps to secure its computer networks, officials acknowledged to Congress . . .
      - - -
     “Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee spoke in unison to describe their outrage over what they called gross negligence by the Office of Personnel Management. The agency’s data was breached last year in two massive cyberattacks only recently revealed.” (Ref. 9)

     Identifying additional government agencies that are not doing the jobs with which they have been tasked could continue almost indefinitely. But, to conclude this article, I will identify only one more such governmental body – the Veterans Administration (VA).

     “At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.
     “The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.
      - - -
     “The Phoenix VA's "off the books" waiting list has now gotten the attention of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington, whose chairman has been investigating delays in care at veterans hospitals across the country.” (Ref. 10)

     Simply stated, “U.S. veterans are dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals.”
      - - -
     “It is unclear whether anyone responsible at the VA has been fired, demoted or even admonished for the delays in care and treatment. Some of the people responsible may have even received bonuses in recent years for their work, despite the delays in care or treatment for the veterans.
     “According to the document obtained by CNN, 10 veterans are confirmed to have died in the South Carolina and Georgia region alone. And the document shows 29 vets or their families were sent the disclosures, notifying them they had serious ‘adverse events’ because of delayed care. And according to the document the problems go far beyond Georgia or South Carolina.
     “In the Florida region, five veterans are dead, and 14 vets or their families were sent the disclosures, notified that they suffered ‘adverse events’ because of delayed or denied care or diagnosis . . .
     “In the Rocky Mountain region, two veterans died, and four families were sent the disclosures or notified. In the Texas region, seven vets or their families were sent disclosures about adverse events and serious injuries suffered because of delayed care.
    - - -
     “. . . as many as 7,000 veterans were on a backlog list -- waiting too long for colonoscopies or endoscopies -- at VA facilities in Columbia, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia.
     “. . . Even with the delays in care which have led to deaths and serious injuries, . . . not a single person has been fired or even demoted, and in fact some of those responsible may have even gotten bonuses.
      - - -
     In August 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a campaign speech to veterans specifically addressing wait lists, denied care and poor treatment of vets. He promised his administration would be different.
     "’No veteran should have to fill out a 23-page claim to get care, or wait months -- even years -- to get an appointment at the VA,’ said then-candidate Obama.
     "’When we fail to keep faith with our veterans, the bond between our nation and our nation's heroes becomes frayed. When a veteran is denied care, we are all dishonored.’” (Ref. 11)

     The speech turned out to be an empty promise.

     Big government is failing. Many of big government’s agencies not doing their jobs. The reasons are many and varied, but the failures are undeniable. When companies in the private sector fail to meet the expectations and needs of their customers, these companies cease to exist. Unfortunately, such is not the case in regard to governmental bodies, agencies and administrations. Incompetence within the government does not necessarily constitute grounds for reprimand or dismissal. Nor does the discovery of such incompetence or poor performance in a government agency guarantee that the deficiencies will be corrected. Is privatization a partial solution to the problem? Should there be some form of competition between governmental agencies to drive them toward a higher degree of performance, efficiency and service? Should more severe punishments be meted to those agencies and individuals who fail to do their Jobs? Shouldn’t we acknowledge and better reward those agencies and individuals who provide superior service?

     Perhaps private companies should be hired by the government to review the performance of government agencies. These private companies could be financially rewarded for uncovering gross incompetence and highlighting exceptional performance. Apparently, having the government monitor its own performance is the same as having the fox guarding the henhouse. The public is not being well served and lives are even being lost.

     One last comment. What I have written here highlights the failures and problems that have been uncovered within a number of government agencies. Many other problems undoubtedly exist. But, the successes of government agencies are not reported in the media – success stories don’t sell! And, there are many government employees who are performing their jobs extremely well and doing what is expected of them. That too goes unreported for the same reasons. It is the underperformers and slackers that need to be ferreted out. It is those agencies that are underfunded or tasked with responsibilities beyond their ability to perform them that must be identified and their deficiencies appropriately corrected. This will only occur when our elected officials take the appropriate actions to implement these reforms. And, it is the responsibility of the voters in this country to demand that those we elect do just this! Those elected officials who fail in this critical responsibility need to be replaced in the next election!

  1. Lawmakers Spread Anger in Recalls Over Airbags, Bill Vlasic, The New York Times, 23 June 2015.
  3. EXCLUSIVE: Undercover DHS Tests Find Security Failures at US Airports, Justin Fishel, Pierre Thomas,
    Mike Levine and Jack Date, ABC News, 1 June 2015.
  4. IRS is America’s feared and failing agency, Michael Kranish, The Boston Globe, 17 February 2014.
  5. Fighting Telemarketers: When Do-Not-Call List Fails, These Strategies Work, Alan Farnham, abc NEWS,
    21 January 2014.
  6. Does It Feel Like The ‘Do Not Call’ List Isn’t Working? This May Be Why, CBS San Francisco,
    20 November 2014.
  7. Does the 'Do Not Call' List Even Work?, Jim Handy,, 27 February 2013.
    15 October 2014.
  9. Congress says hacked federal agency 'failed utterly and totally' to protect data, Reuters, The Guardian,
    16 June 2015.
  10. A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list, Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin, CNN,
    23 April 2014.
  11. Veterans dying because of health care delays, Scott Bronstein, Nelli Black, and Drew Griffin, CNN,
    30 January 2014.


  25 August 2015 {Article 234; Govt_63}    
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