The Rise and Fall of the US Government



Washington Monthly
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Working from Francis Fukuyama's recent book Political Order and Political Decay, the author examines what he see as the decades-long decline in the capability and capacity of the US Government to meet its citizen's needs.

A key argument of Fukuyama's book is that nations that fail to build professional, meritocratic systems of public administration will be unable to deliver the peace, prosperity and public services that people want from government, regardless of whether they are able to democratically elect their leaders.

Fukuyama argues that the United States was a modern, effective state, but it has been 'decomposing' since the 1970s due to a number of factors including:

  • Wealthy individuals and interest groups are able to excessively influence public policy through campaign contributions and lobbying
  • Lack of investment in a well-resourced, well-trained professional bureaucracy
  • Lack of autonomy in government agencies to develop and implement policy
  • Excessive checks and balances that create a 'vetocracy', where those that benefit from the status quo can block any change.

Surprisingly for someone generally identified as a conservative, Fukuyama argues that the U.S. federal government is not too strong, but in fact too weak.

Dilulio takes Fukuyama's argument somewhat further. He includes a graph that shows the number of federal public service employees has remained flat at roughly 2.25 million since 1960 in spite of the U.S. federal budget growing over five-fold in real dollars in that time. The U.S. Congress has masked this massive increase in spending and scope by paying three types of proxies – state & local government workers, for-profit businesses and non-profit organisations – to administer an enormous array of policies, programs and regulations.

These organisations continuously lobby for more programs that they can administer, with as little oversight as possible. Meanwhile, as the principal in these relationships, the capped and under-trained federal public service are 'beset by grant-seeking and contract-mongering special interests' and can't effectively manage this ever-expanding army of proxies.

Dilulio ultimately calls for a radical re-think on the federal bureaucracy. He wants to see non-essential proxies de-funded, the hiring of up to one million additional civil servants, and a decline in the micro-managing of the bureaucracy by Congress.


Thumbnail image: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr.

John DiIulio Jr.

University of Pennsylvania

Published Date
February 1, 2015