Cronyism and The Business of Government: A Progressive Executive's View

01/05/2006 03:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The recess appointment of Julie Myers and other friends, relatives, and assorted cronies is a good illustration of how this Administration works: The former CEO's shallow and cynical son has inherited his Dad's job, and is running the enterprise into the ground with the complicity of his friends. Don't believe the hype: the GOP isn't the party of good management.

I've been there. As an executive and a consultant, I've seen the wreckage that substandard leaders and their unqualified appointees leave behind. When the new manager walks into to his or her first staff meeting and starts spouting self-important nonsense, the most knowledgeable and experienced employees will exchange exasperated glances. As the new boss keeps generating uninformed opinions and intrusive memos, the best and the brightest will start looking for new jobs -- ones where they can do what they were trained to do. From there, it's only a matter of time before the department deteriorates and the organization's mission is compromised -- perhaps fatally.

The press assured us in 2000 that Bush, as the first Chief Executive with an MBA, would be a "CEO President." In a way, they were right. In the real world, good managers aren't the only ones who get the top job. Sometimes the position goes to somebody who's well connected, or -- as with W. -- the son of a previous CEO. In that sense, Bush is the First Crony.

The appointment of Gen. Myers' niece Julie has received the most attention, in part because of her glaring lack of qualifications. What Harvard Business School professor would suggest that you give somebody who currently supervises 170 employees responsibility for a department with 20,000 employees, despite no apparent managerial talent? Myers recently married Michael Chertoff's Chief of Staff, John Wood (an Ashcroft crony and former law clerk for Clarence Thomas), and we all know how well Chertoff and his managers performed during Katrina. Crisis? What crisis?

But Myers isn't the only bad appointment the President made today. Hans von Spakovsky was appointed to the Federal Election Commission, based on his record of disenfranchising voters to improve Republican electoral chances -- or, as the GOP euphemistically calls it, "voting integrity." Another recess appointment to the FEC was Robert Lenhard, who -- as Arianna points out -- worked hard to overturn the McCain-Feingold Act. (And guess what? He's married to Viveca Novak, too! She's the TIME journalist who may have kept Karl Rove out of the klink.)

It's a Bush pattern to hire managers that have contempt for the functions of the departments they will be managing (i.e., John Bolton at the UN). These FEC appointments show that CEO Bush has targeted the electoral process itself -- as defined by McCain-Feingold and other current laws -- either for 'benign neglect' or intentional dismantling.

From experience, I can feel the sinking morale throughout Julie Myers' department in the pit of my stomach. I've lived through the appointment of unqualified managers. Keep terrorists from slipping through the borders? Treat refugees fairly? Those employees aren't thinking about that today. Instead they're standing around the coffee machine, trying to figure out how they'll do their jobs (or keep them, for that matter) under the supervision of this unqualified manager.

Nowhere is the CEO President's poor management more evident than in the area of national security. According to his own party's rhetoric, security is the #1 management objective of our government. Yet, in addition to Myers, he appointed Tracy Henke to the Department of Homeland Security -- as Executive Director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness.

Ms. Henke's qualifications? Well, like Myers and the President, she has a relative in a position of power -- her brother, Mitchell Daniels, is Director of the Office of Management and Budget. But that's not her only qualification. She's been a John Ashcroft crony -- er, associate -for years. She earned some notoriety for censoring a Justice Department report to remove references to potentially discriminatory police behavior:

She is now in a position to dole out critically-needed funds to cities and local regions -- a process that's been scandalously mismanaged and used for political favoritism under this Administration. Some of our professional security experts are no doubt sitting at their PC's right now, polishing their resumes and surfing the Net for other job opportunities.

So what's a business person to think? What would I say if I were a management consultant brought into this organization? I would say that these appointments compromise two critical goals: national security, and the democratic process. This CEO's hiring decisions show poor managerial judgment. They endanger the future of the enterprise and impede its ability to meet its key objectives.

In today's corporate world, substandard executives like Bush usually don't last -- and if they break the law, they face prosecution (at least in New York). Sure, he'll be gone in a few years, but when mismanagement is this severe you need to challenge the entire Board of Directors. In this case, that's the Republican Party and the broken electoral process itself.

Or so this business person says.