The Insidiousness of Cronyism
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is keeping track of the political fallout from Katrina. He says the response to the disaster is part of a larger problem in government.
Former emergency manager Michael Brown--somehow still on the federal payroll as a consultant after leaving his job accused of mishandling the Katrina disaster--played an inning of `the blame game' with a largely Republican House committee yesterday. The bottom line is that the former horse show administrator still thinks he did a heck of a job on the storm and the flood, and criticism, if any, should be leveled at dysfunctional state and municipal officials in Louisiana and maybe the White House, which diverted funds for natural emergencies to anti-terrorism needs.
Let us not linger too long over the Michael Brown embarrassment. He's only one example of cronyism in high places. Another example is David Safavian, the lobbyist with no auditing experience who oversaw $300 billion in federal procurement until he resigned and was arrested, alleged to have lied to investigators about his dealings with superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. The larger story is the deep corruption that occurs when leaders contemptuous of the government they lead use federal positions to reward friends and money-raisers.
A long time ago, in the era of Andrew Jackson, it was called the spoils system; `To the leader belonged the spoils.' It was also called patronage. Starting in 1883, there came a series of reforms culminating in the Pendleton Act, which established civil service and a merit system for persons competing for jobs.
But in time, presidents found way to evade the merit system. At the start of every administration, the Office of Personnel Management publishes the Plumb Book, listing some 3,000 jobs that the president can fill without regard to civil service merit rules. That's how you get a horse show commissioner entrusted with the lives of millions of Americans facing emergencies, and that's how you get a former lobbyist overseeing billions in federal contracts. In 1980, when a series of scandals rocked the Reagan administration, The Washington Post coined a phrase for it, `A big bowl of sleaze.' That characterization could be dug up today. This is Daniel Schorr.
MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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