The OPM Hack And Accountability: The Sign On The President’s Desk Apparently Now Reads, “The Buck Stops Where I Want It To Stop”


At a government legal ethics seminar a week ago, one of my attendees told me of the nightmare he and his family were going through because all of his personal data, including confidential information from his FBI background check,and his fingerprints, were now available to those hostile to the US, and potentially hostile to him. He was furious. He trusted his government, and it proved incompetent…as usual, under this President

The data stolen from the Office of Personnel Management affected 22 million Americans directly, and indirectly many more, through their now imperiled families. It took an almost unimaginable amount of pure gall, as well as a complicity and incompetent news media, for President Obama and his supporters to be  claiming status a transformational leader because of a Supreme Court decision that was inevitable and that he had no hand in at all, while two more federal agencies  run by his appointees—Homeland Security is supposed to prevent such attacks— had failed the American people in epic fashion.

President Obama’s primary job is to make the government work. That is the obligation leaders accept when they presume to seek responsibility and power,  and they must be held responsible and accountable when the organization they lead fails its stakeholders, the public.  I just listened to a brief segment on the OPM breach on CNN that didn’t mention the President at all, as if he wasn’t involved in any way. He hasn’t make any public statements about the attack, though it is a an act of hostility from a foreign power. Nor has Obama discussed the murder of a young woman at the hands of a criminal illegal immigrant that his INS failed to deport, though the non-criminal death of Trayvon Martin in a matter having no connection to his responsibilities was deemed worthy of solemn commentary—perhaps because  victim Kate Steinle didn’t look like she could be his son.( Is that unfair of me? Tell me why.)

Obama’s entire administration has been an exercise in taking credit for positive developments—same-sex marriage, Osama Bin Laden’s death, the slooooow economic recovery, the fact that the incompetently drafted health care law he championed wasn’t brought down by Democrat  ineptitude–he had minimal effect on, and ducking responsibility for horrific fiascoes and outrageous incompetence that it is his duty to prevent. (No, I don’t have the energy to start the list. Try randomly typing the name of any Federal agency or cabinet department into the Ethics Alarms SEARCH window.)

The news media’s reporting has made this easy, and worse, the public appears to have no idea any more what the President is responsible for, or why actual ability, character and governing skills are relevant to the job they elected him to do. They seem to think he’s a kind of spokesman, like the Burger King.

There is a reason President Harry Truman had that sign “The Buck Stops Here” sitting on his desk: it accurately and concisely describes what a leader is, and how he should be judged. I means that he has to be trustworthy and competent. President Obama has spent 7/8 of his administration denying that message, which is also the essence of management.

The head of OPM resigned, by the way, following the paths of recent incompetents who were allowed to stay in their jobs until maximum damage had been done: the heads of the TSA, the Secret Service, and the VA. In fact, she, like so many others, was chosen by the President not because of her competence for the job, but because of the administration’s obsession, diversity and group identification. She was more concerned with demographics than national security. She is gone, but many others of equally proven ineptitude remain: I wonder if Obama even knows about them yet? He certainly doesn’t care, and why should he?  Nobody holds him accountable.

After all, in for this alleged leader, the buck stops where it’s politically advantageous for it to stop.


Sources: ABC, CNN Money, Wired, Washington Examiner

16 thoughts on “The OPM Hack And Accountability: The Sign On The President’s Desk Apparently Now Reads, “The Buck Stops Where I Want It To Stop”

  1. It seems that you’re criticizing the President for firing an incompetent agency head after repeatedly criticizing him for not firing incompetent agency heads. Question: when there’s an operational disaster at the hands of an agency head should the president fire them or not?

    • Yes, absolutely. Thus the President should also have fired Holder, Shalala, Tim Gaithner (the IRS), Hillary, Ray LaHood, both Secretaries of State, Sibelius (the second the website crashed), the Joint Chiefs (for the continuing sexual harassment scandal), Arne Duncan (for the disastrous “Dear Colleague” letter), Steven Chu (for the botched Gulf spill recovery), the NSA Chief (for Snowden, and for lying to Congress), the CIA’s Brennan, several times over; Jay Carney,and others. He has been much better at dumping people lately, showing that his learning curve wasn’t completely flat, just absurdly gradual.

      That’s hardly praiseworthy.

      By the way, they should not be allowed to resign, either, as with the GSA hack (double meaning intended). The right message is to fire them. That is more honest,and better management technique. No cover, no face-saving. The President either demands high standards, or he doesn’t.

      He doesn’t.

      • That’s also a strangely narrow reading of the post, Bob. Its main point is that a President whose oversight of the government has been negligent or incompetent at best shouldn’t be called resurgent by a lapdog media while something like the GSA hack is being revealed. He appoints these incompetents. He’s the advocate of big government, but doesn’t take steps to ensure that his works as it should. The GSA’s failure to have adequate security for its data was Obama’s job to scope out and prevent, not to lock the barn door after the horse has been shot dead.

        • I agree that Obama has not paid nearly enough attention to running the government, and I have blog about the and I have been quoted in Los Angeles Times to that effect. I agree with you that he is all about and competence to stay in office. Where I park with you is I would not criticize him for getting rid of an incompetent.

          You’re also right about firing vs allowing people to resign. However us government aficionados understand that there is resigning and there is being resigned. The OPM head didn’t resign, she was resigned.

          • I didn’t think I was criticizing Obama for firing an incompetent, and I don’t think I did. I do hold him responsible for 1) hiring so damn many of them 2) not doing anything about it until after disasters rather than do enough oversight and supervision to prevent or mitigate them 3) the press covering such disasters as if the President was an innocent bystander and 4) the frequency with which the boobs have NOT been fired.

            You and I know that she was resigned, but the public doesn’t, and it should.

  2. In addition to displaying the administration’s incompetence, this episode displays our government’s terrible grasp of cybersecurity. Large networks of sensitive data, like that of the OPM, are possible to secure and defend, but you have to actually care about defense. For decades, our government has focused only on offense, finding better ways to penetrate and wiretap and infect computers. It’s like charging into battle butt naked and assuming you’re safe because you have better guns than everyone else.

    This should be a wakeup call, but I don’t think anyone in the .gov is listening. Expect more breaches in the near future.

    • Yes, but this administration wants to share as much information across agencies as possible. Look at how many agencies are accessed just to get a health insurance quote on the federal or state government healthcare exchanges. Lois Lerner gave the DOJ and FBI a 1.1 million page database of information from her targeted 501c organizations that contained confidential taxpayer information so they could try to prosecute them. Look at all the personal data they have collected on everyone, and how many agencies (with how many people) are allowed to access it. You cannot secure widely-accessible data. Their zeal in tracking everyone for security reasons has resulted in insecurity. Their cavalier attitude towards privacy and competency has resulted in disaster.

      Do you know what are in those files they lost? They have given our enemies the names of everyone who works on a sensitive project, everyone who has any security clearance, (with the possible, but not confirmed exception of CIA and NSA agents ), their backgrounds, every wrongdoing that they could be blackmailed for, and all the information you would need to steal their identity. We gave them the list of all the people they should try to recruit, all the people they should try to blackmail, and the blackmail material too!

      • I don’t dispute a thing you’ve said. Our government is creating high-value targets for blackhats and spies, and doing precious little to protect these targets (meaning: our data). More disastrous leaks and breaches will happen; some may have already happened (the OPM hack actually took place in 2014, but they didn’t find out until April 2015, and they didn’t tell us until June…).

        The real trouble is that the problem isn’t unique to our current administration. The NSA has been deliberately weakening crypto standards since at least the Clinton administration, and probably long before (see: the Crypto Wars). Weakening crypto inevitably leaves us and our allies more exposed to leaks and hacks, yet our own government has been doing it for decades. What are we to do against such well-established bipartisan stupidity?

        • And as with other bipartisan negligence like the debt and the crumbling infrastructure, each new administration is more accountable than the one before, because the problem is that much worse for the longer neglect. This is especially true of cyber-security.

          • Oddly enough, I hadn’t considered the ethics/responsibility angle. I was just gloomily fixating on the stupidity of it all. But you’re right, of course: it is Obama’s job to fix this thing. I consider Obama especially accountable because he promised to be the anti-Bush, and rolling back the encroaching Security State is what we all wanted the anti-Bush to do.

            But even if we set accountability aside, improving our cybersecurity by making encryption easier is the safe, smart thing to do. It’s the profitable thing to do. It would even be good for publicity. Why isn’t Obama doing it? Does he not like good PR? Is he actually trying to sabotage our country? Maybe he’s just really, really dumb? I don’t get it.

            • He is not dumb, and he is not trying to sabotage the country. My guess: He is an ideologue, that’s all, and one crippled by his narcissism and near total lack of leadership ability. Like a handful of other Presidents, he is isolated from a healthy range of views and advice and is influenced by too many individuals who either aren’t very bright, or who have a warped view of reality, or worse, an adversary relationship to the US. Obama needs a Jim Baker…or ten of them.

              • Have you read “The Cult of the Presidency”? It nicely describes how presidents get isolated from a healthy range of views, among other things. And we all need access to a healthy range of views; I only know about the need for good implementations of strong encryption because I heard about it from Bruce Schneier and Mike Masnick.

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