Rule number 12 of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals advises readers to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” In politics, this is standard operating procedure – think about how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was the face of Mediscare tactics by Democrats in 2011 and 2012, or how the Republican National Committee has started a “fire Harry Reid” campaign this year.
Well, as the 2014 elections get closer, conservatives have a new target to personalize and polarize as the face of the Obama administration’s incompetence and corruption: New White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan, who was sworn in today.
Who is Donovan? Like most bureaucrats, his name is unknown to the vast majority of Americans. I had barely heard of him until earlier this month, when he was approved by the Senate to head up the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by a majority of Republicans and all voting Democrats. It was quite a promotion for a man who has headed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) since 2009.
However, it was a promotion that never should have happened. As I noted last night in an investigative piece on Donovan, his tenure at HUD has been characterized by organizational incompetence. Furthermore, Donovan’s testimony to the Senate Budget Committee showed a complete lack of understanding about the federal budget and needed entitlement reform.
From my piece:
[Senator Ron] Johnson asked Donovan if he found agreement with how the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — which Donovan now heads — described the Social Security Trust Fund in 2010. As Johnson summarized the OMB report, “you have an asset in the Trust Fund offset by the liability, netting to zero value for the federal government.”
Donovan’s answer was to regurgitate political talking points. Specifically, he said that “it’s important for seniors to understand that those are full faith and credit obligations of the U.S. government…” He then said that — emphasis added — “if [the Trust Fund and liabilities] are offsetting, I believe…that the Trust Fund is a useful tool for the American people and seniors to understand transparently the long-term costs of Social Security.”
Donovan followed this non-answer with several nonsensical responses to Johnson’s next question, regarding how the Treasury would redeem Trust Fund assets in the form of Treasury bonds. He appeared to not know the proper answer: that taxes would have to rise, benefits would have to be cut, or more debt would have to be incurred.
Donovan’s lack of knowledge is not surprising in a federal bureaucracy that sees well over $100 billion in improper payments each year and hundreds of billions of dollars in duplicated programs. However, the head economic analyst for the White House should probably know more than the average person about Social Security, which along with Medicare is one of the federal government’s biggest fiscal challenges.
Speaking of Medicare, it’s not just Social Security that appears to challenge Donovan. In a floor speech, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) noted that Donovan has “not written any papers or given any talks or lectures that specifically lay out a comprehensive plan for Medicare or Social Security.”
One could forgive Donovan his lack of economic and budget knowledge if, say, he was a competent leader. After all, good leaders aren’t necessarily experts – often, they hire experts, and simply handle the running of a business, non-profit, or government entity.
However, Donovan’s management record is one that speaks of poor leadership and corruption. Not only is the HUD Inspector General investigating the hiring of an outside consultant who was for three years paid from an illegally-accessed fund – whether approved by Donovan or a subordinate is not yet certain — but Sessions’ floor speech brought to light that HUD failed its annual audit in 2012 and 2013.
HUD was one of two departments that failed their annual audits in 2013. The other was the Department of Defense – which means Donovan’s organizational leadership ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the 24 department leaders who were audited. Yet the Senate saw fit to promote him to head up one of the most important offices in the executive branch.
Unfortunately, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) did not respond to my request for comment about the gaps in Donovan’s knowledge and leadership qualities. As such, I can only surmise that a majority of Senate Republicans and all voting Senate Democrats willingly ignored their duty to provide “advice and consent” regarding presidential nominees.