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This Is How the Government Works…Or, to Be More Exact, Why It Doesn’t

For any of you who haven’t been keeping track of all the craziest scandals in Washington–not the kind where Congressmen send crotch pics or dress up like furries [1], but the kind where people get killed–the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) ran a program from November 2009 to to January 2011 known as Fast and Furious. In addition to being named after a terrible series of Vin Diesel movies, the program’s crimes include [2] allowing guns from the United States to pass into the hands of, who else, Mexican drug lords. These weapons have been implicated in a number of shootings, including the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

So you’d think the guys at the ATF who ordered Fast and Furious would be finished, right? Their careers completely destroyed and possibly facing prison time?

Well, that might be the just thing, but government is usually the enemy of justice, not its champion. Here’s what really happened [3]:

The ATF has promoted three key supervisors of a controversial sting operation that allowed firearms to be illegally trafficked across the U.S. border into Mexico.

All three have been heavily criticized for pushing the program forward even as it became apparent that it was out of control. At least 2,000 guns were lost and many turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and two at the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The three supervisors have been given new management positions at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They are William G. McMahon, who was the ATF’s deputy director of operations in the West, where the illegal trafficking program was focused, and William D. Newell and David Voth, both field supervisors who oversaw the program out of the agency’s Phoenix office.

This illustrates one of the many reasons the government fails so consistently and so thoroughly. Everyone accepts a CYA [4] mentality, whenever someone screws up royally, his superiors have to pretend that all the screw ups responsible are actually super competent and fete them with promotions and awards. Remember when President Bush honored George Tenet and Paul Bremer [5] with the Presidential Medal of Freedom after Tenet told us the case for Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” and Bremer horribly mismanaged the early days of Iraq’s occupation? That wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s a pervasive feature of government: pretend your mistakes are actually accomplishments. Even if no one believes you, you might be able to say it enough to convince yourself.

Story via Radley Balko [6].

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#1 Comment By K. W. Jeter On August 18, 2011 @ 11:14 am

Happens in the private sector, too. A lot. “Too big to fail,” right?

#2 Comment By Chris Mallory On August 18, 2011 @ 11:46 am

Too big to fail is a government invention.

#3 Comment By John Payne On August 18, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

It definitely happens in the private sector, although I think it’s less pervasive. However, the big difference is that if you promote incompetents in the private sector, you risk losing profits. The government has an essentially captive market, so it can afford to perform poorly.

#4 Comment By Brent Lane On August 18, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

And to think, my initial reaction to Obama’s election was “well, there’s no way his administration could be as corrupt and incompetent as his predecessor’s.”

I despise being proven so wrong.

#5 Comment By K. W. Jeter On August 18, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

Cui bono, Mr. Mallory? If “too big to fail” was a government invention, who benefited from it? Not the public. The government lackeys who came up with it did so at the behest of the corporate interests who hold the other end of their leashes.

#6 Comment By K. W. Jeter On August 18, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

Mr. Payne, if those “too big to fail” companies were so excellently run, we wouldn’t have had to bail them out, would we?

#7 Comment By Mike Ferguson On August 19, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

The killing of the border patrol agent in Arizona as a result of incompetence in the ATF or even worse an unlawful effort to precipitate further gun control regulations in the border states is a high crime. Sen Cornyn and Sen Grassley must be agressive, as this can not stand.

#8 Comment By Voice of Experience On August 20, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

When you see promotions like this after a high-profile disaster it almost always means that someone higher up the ladder is guilty, and is rewarding the underlings for their silence.

#9 Comment By David Alexander On August 22, 2011 @ 10:58 am

Hey I have an Idea why not just do away with the Government completely let the states become countries and fend for themselves.

#10 Comment By BUck On August 27, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

Promoted…because they showed no mercy. Thats what they are looking for. Somebody to break the rules and not hesitate when ordered.