Buck doesn't stop with civil servants

Friday May 17, 2013

As a former general counsel of the then Civil Service Commission (today’s Office of Personnel Management) I was double disturbed by the allegations of misconduct leveled at the administration this past week. Disturbed by the substance of the allegations and disturbed by the administration’s approach to the allegations.

In regard to Benghazi the administration apparently replaced some mid-level government civil servants, the attorney general has pleaded ignorance as he had recused himself early in the Justice Department’s snooping on the "fourth estate" (although the recusal apparently allowed him to defend the action placing the leaks as very serious to national security thereby allowing for "modification" of the press’s First Amendment rights in the name of a "balanced" policy), and in regard to the IRS the initial impulse was to place the blame on low- level IRS civil service employees (as the Eagle headlined "Poor bosses blamed in flap," May 15, P. 1). Only later were higher-ups in the IRS asked to take some responsibility. No former or current cabinet officer is yet to be reprimanded or criticized.

This blaming of the lower ranks of America’s hard working dedicated and apolitical Civil Service does a disservice to the thousands of dedicated public servants who labor on behalf of all of us on a daily basis. The president is vested with the executive power and as chief executive he heads the executive branch of government; as commander in chief he heads up the military services.

Over the last many administrations, presidents of both political parties have been quick to take credit for actions of dedicated public servants that place government in a good light but when there is blame we can expect the cabinet officers and the president to bypass their responsibility to properly manage the government service. I am not suggesting that the president himself was responsible for any wrongdoing, but I am suggesting that as wrongdoing appears to have occurred on his watch he must take responsibility.

Harry Truman will be remembered for many things -- not the least of which was his recognition that "the buck stops here" meaning at the president’s desk. The president would do well to take the same approach and review what needs to be done at the top to get things running correctly at Treasury, State, the VA, the military services, etc.



The writer who had previously been denied a political clearance by the Nixon White House for appointment as U.S. counsel at an international commission, was a non-politically appointed general counsel of the Civil Service Commission in the closing days of the Nixon administration, during the Ford Administration and for the first 10 months of the Carter administration.


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