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No way to run a government

From Steve Rattner's "Overhaul":

Being vetted can be a full-time job. At Josh's suggestion, I had begun talking to my attorneys in mid-December, in part to ascertain whether public office was feasible for me. Every senior appointee has to complete two massive documents, the SF-86, an impossibly tedious security-clearance statement that requires listing -- just for an example -- every foreign trip an applicant has taken in the last seven years, and the SF-278, which involves the disclosure of every financial interest and obligation. Like most recent administrations, this one had added its own questions, derived from past debacles like Zoe Baird's failure to become Bill Clinton's attorney general after neglecting to pay the so-called nanny tax. I can't count the hours I spent complying, but I do know that the honor of working for the federal government cost me more than $400,000 in legal fees.

The vetting rules were more than a personal nuisance; they hampered our ability to assemble a first-class team. As part of his pledge to rid government of special interests, Obama layered new conflict-of-interest strictures on top of the statutory rules that applied mostly to financial holdings. He targeted lobbyists with rules that barred any candidate who had worked for an organization that would be a party to the matter that the individual would be handling in government. This seemingly logical concept had the unintended consequence of severely restricting our ability to hire anyone who knew anything about the automobile industry, a limitation that fueled the very criticism we were trying to counter,

By Ezra Klein  | October 7, 2010; 9:34 AM ET
Categories:  Books, Obama administration  
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Next: 'The real problem was the status quo'


"No way to run a government"

Well, that's the way the government is run, and not just in its hiring practices. In the future, when recommending that the government FILL IN THE BLANK, please keep that in mind.

Posted by: ostap666 | October 7, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Ah, Ezra is back with some grade-A neoliberal stupidity. We would all be better off if the vetting process ACTUALLY had the teeth that this crooked Wall Street weasel Rattner pretends it does, and if people started catching on to the fact that the the usual suspects, conflict-of-interest-laden servants of the plutocracy, are anything but "first class" (unless he's referring to how they fly).

Posted by: labonnes | October 7, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

"not just in its hiring practices."

Obama is re-hauling the terrible way we hire lower-rung bureaucrats, though. So at least that's getting better ...

Posted by: Chris_ | October 7, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

"This seemingly logical concept had the unintended consequence...."

And so goes the life of a progressive. Lots of dreamy ideas baked up in the philosophy world of a college campus, that falls apart via "unintended consequences" once they try to implement their wonderful ideas in the real world.

Posted by: dbw1 | October 7, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

"....severely restricting our ability to hire anyone who knew anything about the automobile industry."

I find it refreshing that a progressive like Rattner takes aim at himself (I assume) in this comment. By his own admission he may have been even less qualified than you or I to be the 'auto czar'. He told the New Republic that "I came in to this project with less than zero knowledge of the auto industry. Nearly all I knew was what I had read in the popular press."

Posted by: dbw1 | October 7, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Well, maybe if we stop hiring globe-trotting millionaires to run our government then listing your foreign travel and financial interests won't be such a burden!

Posted by: Rockfish66 | October 7, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

My favorite quote of Rattner's is probably this one. Keep in mind this is an Obama devotee:
"In an effort to revive the economy, we engaged in a massive spending program. I get why we did it, and I agree that we needed to do it. But … when Congress allocates X billion dollars for electric cars, or for batteries, or for windfarms, the money ends up in the hands of some government agency which has to decide how to invest it. And I candidly don’t believe that government is the best allocator of resources."

REALLY! The government ISN'T the best-positioned to decide how big gobs of debt-financed cash should be spent, ala the wasteful and largely ineffective stimulus?!!

I can see why stimulus-pimp Ezra Klein wouldn't want to include that Rattner quote in any of his progressives-are-smarter-than-everybody-else pieces.

Posted by: dbw1 | October 7, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

dbw1 doesn't understand economics or the purpose of a fiscal stimulus, which is to increase demand by getting money by any means possible into the hands of people who'll spend it- it doesn't matter whether the spending meets his personal notions of efficiency. He also is totally confused about the difference between fiscal stimulus and corporate bailouts. Typical clueless conservative.

Posted by: labonnes | October 7, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

The vetting process can't be that onerous. Tim Geithner has a job.

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 7, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

This guy spent $400k in legal fees to fill out these forms? Sheesh... I'm a fed. I have filled out that same security clearance form myself. Long and tedious but you certainly don't need a lawyer. I'm also subject to financial disclosure, which means each year I fill out another shorter form that is just as tedious, listing all my assets and interests. No lawyer needed for that either. Is he suggesting that we should drop security clearances and financial disclosure forms for all federal employees?

Posted by: bubba777 | October 7, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

"dbw1 doesn't understand economics or the purpose of a fiscal stimulus, which is to increase demand by getting money by any means possible into the hands of people who'll spend it."

I can only assume you missed my posted quote above from the progressive auto czar that the government is not the best allocator of resources? That's what was wrong with the stimulus. It wasn't 'getting money into the hands of people who will spend it'. It was mostly putting money into the hands of progressives to spend on their dream-world pet projects. Feel free to run to google; you will find no shortage of documentation on wasted money in the stimulus program that did nothing to stimulate anything.

Trust me, I understand economics just fine. It appears you may not even have a handle on the basics.

Posted by: dbw1 | October 7, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I would like to second bubba777. I have the same obligations. The only reason this guy would need a lawyer (and spend $400k on him or her) is if he was rich enough and had enough influence that this would not be an impediment.

There are plenty of us out here who are already vetted that would love to get tapped by the administration. I think this is more like a Prof. Henderson moment. He does not know what he has.

Posted by: JasonFromSeattle | October 7, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

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