Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Madder than hell

I can think of no phrase more likely to emphasize the powerlessness of a senior government official than to say, "I'm madder than hell," about something that has gone wrong under his or her watch.  President Obama makes a habit of this:

Here's the quote about the VA:

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough says President Obama is very upset about reported cover-ups at veterans' hospitals and long waits for treatment at VA facilities that have drawn widespread scrutiny.

"The president is madder than hell. I've got the scars to prove it," McDonough said in an interview with CBS News's "Face The Nation" that was broadcast Sunday.

About the botched website:

"Nobody's madder than me that the website isn't working as it should."

About the IRS review of conservative nonprofits:

"It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," he said.

The President continues to confuse his role as chief executive with his previous role as US Senator.  As a legislator, you have the freedom to cast aspersions on the executive branch.  As CEO, in contrast, you own the executive branch.

Your job in this kind of situation is to apologize sincerely to those affected and the public as a whole; calmly acknowledge that bad decisions were made; offer appropriate short-term remediation to those affected; to convene--with a review panel of respected people from both parties--a plausible root-cause analysis as to what went wrong and why; and to announce the changes that will result.

There is an analogy here to the medical world, when an error is made that hurts a patient:  Disclose, apologize, compensate, determine the root-cause, implement solutions for the future.

Some might ague that the body politic is too virulent to allow this kind of reasoned approach.  My response is that the opposition will always make a fuss anyway, and there is no point in feeding into their portrayal of anger by adding your own.  It just makes you look powerless.


David said...

Completely agree. I was thinking. "You are mad again that someone in your administration screwed up? Seriously." How about taking responsibility and fixing the problem?

Anonymous said...

TOTALLY - spot on - no leadership!

Barry Carol said...

While I agree with the root cause analysis approach, the solutions may prove much harder to implement than in the private sector.

There are a host of potential issues in the VA scandal. First, there may be a bureaucratic culture that demands that metrics set at the top must be met at all costs and bad things are likely to happen if they aren’t met. Some VA hospitals with large concentrations of veterans nearby may be overwhelmed with vets needing services while others may have so much excess capacity they should probably be downsized or even closed and replaced with urgent care clinics but the political process makes it incredibly difficult to close a hospital. Some regions may need to add more primary care doctors to reduce wait times but don’t have the budget authority to do so. It might be perfectly appropriate for managers to focus on different issues in different regions but the bureaucracy insists on a one size fits all approach. In light of the bureaucratic rigidity and a civil service culture that makes it extremely difficult to fire people who are not political appointees, the president’s options to effect change are probably much more limited than they should be. The same is likely true for VA Secretary Shenseki.

Robin said...

This is also a good overview on the whole VA situation.