TOPIC: Charles Peters: Speaking His Mind

Charlie Peters on why states’ problems are often national ones

Charles Peters

Understanding Government’s founder, Charles Peters, is also the founder of — and still a columnist at — The Washington Monthly.  In his regular column, “Tilting at Windmills,” Charlie talks about how problems in individual states are really national problems, repeated around the country but often left unsolved in each individual case.  Here’s an excerpt: (more…)

Charles Peters on the bureaucratic survival instinct

If there is one truth about bureaucratic culture that I am most desperate to get across, it concerns the survival imperative. Especially as government organizations mature, dedication to the performance of mission tends to be replaced by dedication to the survival of the official and of his agency. This means that protection of the agency’s budget becomes paramount. Otherwise the jobs of its officials are threatened. Next most important is growth of the budget, because it will increase opportunities for promotion.

The best way to avoid budget cuts is not to anger the groups that can make trouble for the agency with the congressional appropriations committee. (more…)

Charles Peters on how to march our way to a smaller budget

The number of people in military bands now exceeds the number of foreign service officers serving in the State Department in Washington and throughout the world. The Marines alone have thirteen bands, with some 730 musicians. The Army, according to the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, is spending $4 million to construct a new home in Alabama for the forty members of the Army Material Command band. This seems a bit excessive, since that command has a grand total of only 5,000 officers and enlisted men spread throughout the world. There are, Pincus adds, thirty-six other Army bands, plus eighteen Army Reserve bands, and fifty-three Army National Guard bands. And remember, we haven’t even gotten to all the Air Force and Navy bands serving in the United States and abroad.

Reprinted by permission from The Washington Monthly

Charles Peters on the Bhopal Lesson

A caution about BP: it is essential that we not forget, that we hold their feet to the fire on the cleanup, and that we do not let up until those responsible for the disaster are brought to justice. Consider what Union Carbide and the company that later acquired it, Dow Chemical, got away with after the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, which killed over 3,000 people immediately, and several thousand later. (more…)

Charles Peters on FDA standards and why headlines matter

Charlie Peters has always said that to find the nugget of news inside the average news story, look to the last paragraph.  In this case, he recommends you at least make it to the fifth:

“Avandia Gets Equivocal Vote from FDA Panel. Fewer Than Half Want Diabetes Drug Pulled over Safety Concerns.” If this subhead from the Washington Post leads you to assume that more than half the panel approved of Avandia, it was significantly misleading. Here’s what you would have found if you had stuck it out through the story’s fifth paragraph: of the thirty-two members of the FDA panel who voted, only three favored allowing Avandia to continue its present sales practices unaltered. (more…)

Charles Peters asks, “While we’re at it, how much of a salary cut would work for you?”

I have frequently expressed concern that the White House has been as deficient as the media in its lack of curiosity about what’s going in the bureaucracies that it oversees. Further confirmation of my fear comes from a recent headline in the Washington Post: “White House Orders Agencies to Identify Trimmable Programs.” It seems to me that the White House should know by now what these programs are—or at least have acquired enough sophistication about the ways of Washington to know that the agencies themselves are the least likely to concede that any of their functions is less than absolutely essential.

(Reprinted by permission from The Washington Monthly)

Speaking his mind: Charles Peters says “Government: Fix, don’t nix”

Reprinted by permission from The Washington Monthly:

Even liberals are now waking up to the danger of the United States becoming another Greece—a country where the public sector is consuming far too much of the nation’s economy. What worries me is that the awakening will encourage blind anti-governmentism that cuts all programs without regard to their merit. Some can be cut, but many functions of government are crucial, demanding improvement, not elimination. (more…)

Speaking his mind: Charles Peters on “Massey’s Canaries”

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Monthly:

“We’d be marked men” if we complained about safety problems, a miner at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine recently told a congressional committee. He describes a fear that haunts many miners: blowing the whistle could cost a man his job, and with it the ability to support his family.

Still several miners and family members found the courage to tell the committee, in the words of the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr., of a culture that “put production ahead of safety and where violations were corrected only after company guards warned that inspectors were on their way underground.”

Speaking his mind: Charlie Peters on “Crossed-fingers management”

(reprinted with permission of The Washington Monthly)

A few issues ago I noted the tendency of White Houses to devote little or no attention to the vast bureaucracy underneath, crossing their fingers and hoping any disaster down below can be avoided on their watch. The fiasco with the Mineral Management Services is the latest example of the danger of inattention at the top. (more…)

Charlie Peters on Made-to-Order Intel

Suspicions that most of us have had about the CIA under George W. Bush are confirmed by a recent study by the Brookings Institution.  It finds that analysts at the CIA were rewarded for having their reports included in the President’s Daily Brief and that their findings were more likely to make it into the brief if they were perceived to be of the sort that attracted presidential interest, meaning in Bush’s case items like “evidence” that Iraq had WMDs.  One carefully worded Brookings conclusion, as reported by Walter Pincus of the Washington Post:

Focusing on producing PDB items that would draw favorable comment from Bush could have skewed ‘topic selection and treatment in the analytic community.’

Translated from Brookingspeak, this means they gave Bush what he wanted to hear.

Reprinted from The Washington Monthly by permission.