Impossible Promises

Incompetence may be organizationally induced by managers’ own exaggerated promises and underestimated costs—manipulative deceits designed to bypass full disclosure. (Padding budget requests may be a commonplace practice, but it is deception nonetheless.) Substituting strategy for neutrality and accuracy, managers are then forced to follow through on the proverbial shoestring. Cutting corners is an illusory response to cutting budgets when making do slides into gross negligence, as well as when planning is shortchanged, corrective steps are not taken, or testing goes undone.

Nothing symbolizes public service’s competence more than the phrase “the eagle has landed,” radioed back from the first manned lunar landing. It took less than two decades to descend from this to the Challenger disaster and then later, the Columbia. An agency commitment to competence as an ethical standard is needed as much as the routine remedies of staff and budget increases.

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