Tilting at Windmills

May/June 2012 Under the radar

By Charles Peters

The latest example of White House inattentiveness comes courtesy of the General Services Administration, which managed to create a scandal by squandering $823,000 on a conference of its employees at a luxury casino outside of Las Vegas. Why, you may ask, should the White House bother keeping an eye on the GSA? Because it does the purchasing and leasing for the rest of the federal government, and does so far from the media limelight, corruption is a constant danger.

In a properly functioning administration, the Office of Management and Budget serves as the president’s eyes and ears, providing early warnings of trouble down below in the executive branch. I had hoped that the OMB under Jack Lew would do a better job at this than it did under Peter Orszag, who seems to have devoted himself primarily to making sure he looked good in the books being written about the Obama White House. But the first signs are not auspicious—there was no early warning of trouble at the GSA.

The Sherrod case, by the way, is another example of the tendency of the White House to become involved in an agency’s affairs only when the agency gets in the news. The sole exceptions are State, Treasury, the national security agencies, and those that are involved in carrying out programs sponsored by the administration.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.