Monday, May 02, 2011

hiring competent people: Miss Chanandler Bong edition

Kevin Drum points out that FEMA is acting swiftly in Alabama and getting high marks from state and local officials. For those keeping score, that's FEMA garnering praise under Clinton and Obama, and being ridicule as a dumping ground for incompetent cronies under Bushes I and II.

I've said before that I think one of George W. Bush's biggest failures as a president was his inability (or perhaps lack of will) to hire competent administrators, opting instead to pack various agencies with cronies and fellow travelers. Hence FEMA's helplessness during Katrina, but also the malfunctioning, politically craven Department of Justice and the various foxes guarding the federal government's regulatory hen-houses.

Obama, on the other hand, has been reversing this trend for several years now.

Voters are charged with electing executive officers at every level of government -- mayors, governors, and presidents -- and too often the candidates' views of narrow political issues or overwrought-yet-still-vague 12-point plans distract us from appraising the person's administrative skills, their ability to make smart hires and run a large organization effectively. Every president probably has to reserve some positions for patronage, but some people are just better at putting good people in important places, keeping bureaucratic machinery running smoothly and inspiring competence throughout the administration.

The wife and I have been going back and forth a bit about our upcoming mayoral primary, for instance, and she noticed something interesting about the candidates. My wife kept her maiden name when we married. When the Mike Hamann campaign mails out flyers, they only send us one, addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. X," which she testily points out every time is not her name. When Pete Buttigieg sends them out, we get two, one for each of us, even though we're married, we both live at the same address and we're both registered Democrats. The extra flyer, always received on the same day in the same handful of mail, is wasted extra paper. Only Ryan Dvorak's people seem not to be tripped up by spouses who don't share a last name, always sending us one flyer addressed to both of us using our correct names.

The same thing happens with the phone staff: Hamann's people get flummoxed when they ask for "Mrs. el ranchero" and she adamantly argues that no such person lives here. When the Buttigieg campaign calls for me, I hand the receiver to my wife after I hang up, since we always get a second call from them five minutes later.

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