Government Run Organizations = Bad. Why?
Last week I took a long-ish road trip with a colleague of mine. We were headed to a little networking meeting that didn’t go as well as I would have liked (you can’t win ‘em all). On the way to and from Chicago (I live in Milwaukee these days) my colleague had control of the radio, so I was exposed to an awful lot of conservative talk radio. The experience was not as unpleasant as I expected as I learned that government in general cannot be trusted to administer any program more complex than cracking open a Big Mac carton. Apparently, anything more than that is destined to catastrophic failure and possibly spontaneous combustion if left in the hands of government bureaucrats.
Assuming that these observations and predictions were not in anyway biased and suspending my own political views, I was left wondering why it is that organizational ineptitude is expected from government agencies. Why do we assume that private concerns will be demonstrably better at just about any function?
I will be the first to admit that I have been on the wrong end of inexplicable stupidity at the hands of several government agencies. I have encountered these less-than- satisfactory outcomes as a citizen compelled to interact with numerous organizations. I have also been privileged to serve as a consultant for another; one that has a difficult and unenviable job. Hell, I even spent one of the most mind-numbing years of my life in the employ of one of the largest federal bureaucracies. Despite these experiences, I fail to see what it is about government organizations that predisposes them to inefficiency and failure.
So far as I can tell, large, complex organizations all have the same potential for success and failure. These outcomes, I considered objectively, are a function of leadership and management. Poor leadership will yield organizational failure. Exemplary leadership will yield organizational success. Most organizations, be the private or public, will fall somewhere in between.
Government organizations do not hold a monopoly on mismanagement. I have been subject to the unmerciful hands of plenty of private organizations. Since I interact with private organizations more frequently, I venture to say that most examples of poor management I have observed hail from organizations attempting to make a profit from our interactions.
Should the federal or state governments handle health care? I am not decided on the matter. Are they capable of doing so? So long as they select brilliant leaders and competent managers, I do not see how they could fare worse than the private sector. The same applies to banking, airlines and the auto industry.