Looking for a handy tool that tracks the major government screw-ups of the past decade or so? The Brookings Institution has the interactive chart for you.
Paul Light, who studies government at Brookings, assembled a list of 41 high-profile government failures that occurred between 2001 and 2014.
He sorted those failures into two broad categories: failures of operations, like the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and failures of oversight, like the disastrous launch of healthcare.gov.
According to Light, congressional gridlock played a large role in allowing disasters to unfold, with Republicans blocking some needed measures and Democrats pretending that problems didn’t even exist.
“Both parties were responsible for the ongoing schoolyard brawl, though each contributed to government’s rising tally of failures in its own way,” Light wrote. “For their part, Democrats did their best to ignore the slow decimation of government capacity, and refused to embrace the need for bold thinking on how to improve its performance.”
Adding in a less-exhaustive list of failures going back to 1986, Light found that government was somewhat more likely to fail during a president’s second term.
“Government produced a total of 29 failures during the George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama first terms (1.8 per year), compared with
35 during the Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama second terms (2.4 per year),” Light wrote. “The differences are just large enough to suggest that government may be somewhat more likely to fail during the last few years of a two-term presidency, perhaps because presidents start to lose focus, appointees begin to turn over, the other party becomes more assertive, and the media becomes more aggressive.”
Light also found that leadership has seemingly gotten worse since the eighties.
“Government had four failures during Reagan’s final two-and-a-half years (1.6 per year), five during George H. W. Bush’s four years (1.2 per year), 14 during Clinton’s eight years (1.8 per year), 25 during George W. Bush’s eight years (3.1 per year), and 16 during Obama’s first five-and-a-half years (2.9 per year),” Light noted. “At its current pace, government still has plenty of time to set a record average before Obama leaves office in 2017.”
That’s not all Light had to say about the sitting president.
“President Obama, who promised to create a government for the 21st century in his 2011 State of the Union Address, never followed through,” Light wrote. “He was either too distracted to concentrate, too bored by the nitty-gritty of management, or too frightened of the Republican backlash to make the effort needed to make big government work.”
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter