Besides writing best-selling books, Michelle Obama and her husband, have been reading. They were so impressed by the research and interviews, the applause for good governing found in the pages of Michael Lewis’ book, “The Fifth Risk”, they bought the right to dramatize the book and work with Netflix, bringing revelations on governing to network television.

The government employs two million people and seventy percent are involved in national security. All take their marching orders from four thousand political appointees. What could possibly go wrong?

We live with the possibility of a financial crisis, a hurricane, a terrorist attack or a rogue virus, but writer Michael Lewis set himself the task of exploring a very real and present risk, project management.

“Who’s in charge and is he or she responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions,” he asked? Suppose, for example, a political appointment leads to a decision to delay repairs to a tunnel, filled with lethal waste, until it collapses?

What have we not learned that could save this country? Let’s start with the Department of Agriculture, knowing six months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, thirteen jobs, senior positions, had not been filled.

Not a major problem, perhaps, unless the concerns of the Office of Natural Resources and Environment are neglected. That arm of the Department of Agriculture includes the US Forestry Service. The US Forestry Service deals with nearly two million acres of forests and grasslands, including the threat of wild fires.

Coverage of heart-breaking losses in California begs the question of unknown risk. Are we gambling with long-term destruction using short-term solutions?

Don’t expect a former lobbyist who wrote editorials criticizing the Department of Energy to head the very organization he dismissed. Yet, today, that is a reality. Thousands of employees are expected to follow leadership which includes word passed down from the president.

Federal employees are not to use the term “climate change,” leaving the linchpins in government to ponder long-term risks while practicing ‘head in the sand’ procrastination!

Granted, we are prone to give civil servants a ‘those who take the middle ground’ status, but “The Fifth Risk” is a book, reminding us with no research money from the private sector, government employees in the Department of Agriculture found a way to test chickens, thousands, and identify carriers of the lethal bird flu.

One retired department head from the Department of Agriculture told writer Michael Lewis he has two fears. He worries smart, committed young Americans will turn their backs on futures of government service and he sees a ‘shrug your shoulders’ lack of interest in school lunches nutrition.

Public schools are no longer required to serve milk not artificially sweetened or free from fat and white bread is now the starch of choice. These decisions come from the mountaintop of leadership in a country where obesity in children is a serious national problem.

You can see why Donald Trump’s transition team leader, Chris Christie, was mopping his brow when he called to ask the campaign manager to send someone with experience in governing to a meeting with presidential candidates’ staff members.

Sheepishly, the campaign chairman admitted, “We don’t have anyone with experience in governing.”

So, who would know the Department of Commerce, though it cannot engage in business ventures, is in charge of the United States Census? A Fifth Risk chapter reminds us a little known department, The National Institute of Standards and Technology sets our standards for measurements, no small matter in major construction projects.

The Department of Commerce and its arm of science and technology collect “climate and weather data back to records kept at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson!”

If the Netflix and Obama project of bringing “The Fifth Risk” to television gives good governing overdue recognition for keeping us safe, respect is due.

Now, we must muddle through the temptation of choosing charisma over competence when we vote. To understand the inner workings of government and respect a mantle of leadership, we do not need ‘show biz’ personalities. We need candidates with intellectual curiosity and empathy, that unseen emotion offering solace and words of comfort for those who are voiceless.

Judy Elliott is a longtime resident of Marietta.


Recommended for you