Failing Government Managers Are Never Fired, They Are Just Moved (Or Even Promoted)

After the scandalous management practices in the Phoenix VA which were proved to sacrifice patient well-being, and even patient lives, in favor of artificially pumping up managers' metrics and bonuses, someone with experience in the private sector might have expected the agency to clean house.  Hah!

First, Congress rewarded the failing VA with more budget and headcount, the very things that motivate most government managers.

Now, the VA has assigned what appears to be their worst manager from a tiny, overseas branch of the agency to run the sensitive Phoenix office.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has named a new director to its beleaguered Phoenix VA Medical Center, and the decision instantly came under fire because the appointee left a previous hospital leadership post after it got the lowest satisfaction rating of any facility in the VA system.

RimaAnn Nelson, who most recently headed a tiny VA clinic in the Philippines, is expected to take charge of a Phoenix VA Health Care System that was the epicenter of a national crisis over its treatment of veterans. She is the seventh director during the past three years to enter a revolving leadership door at Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center....

Nelson, who began her career as a nurse, was sent to the Philippines in 2013 after a series of incidents under her leadership at the VA St. Louis Health Care System. The Daily Caller, a non-profit, investigative news organization, said the incidents included two closures of the hospital due to medical safety issues, and potential exposure of HIV to hundreds of veterans.

How is this person even still employed, much less being rewarded with a larger, more responsible post?


  1. Cardin Drake:

    Gangster government. In the private sector, everyone would have gone to jail for doing what they did. In the government, they didn't even have to pay back their ill-gotten bonuses.

  2. me:

    Cough. I work in the private sector, and I see many managers that are in positions that make you wonder how they ever achieved such leveling. When they fail spectacularly, they are promoted or move on to other projects... sounds familiar?

    The secret is simple: in order to be promoted, you have to be in cahoots with your management chain, and after those folks have gotten you promoted, admitting that you're a mouthbreather would reflect poorly on them. So the result is that the cliques of mighty idiots self-promotes until the business fails.

    This is a human politics issue, not a private vs public sector one.

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    In the private sector it's mostly the Peter principle that drives it. You do your current job well you get promoted. Rinse and repeat until you are in over your head. Government on the other hand straight up rewards incompetence.

  4. Conqueror of All Foes Cheese:

    The St Louis VA hospital has been a sinkhole since at least 1967 when I went there for treatment twice -- the first and last time at the same time. The story is too long, but it convinced me I'd be better off anywhere else. Haven't been to one since. Friends and relatively assure me it's no better today.

  5. Not Sure:

    "This is a human politics issue, not a private vs public sector one."

    I would disagree. If a private sector business doesn't address your concerns as a consumer, you can go elsewhere. Public sector? Not so much.

  6. irandom419:

    But according to IBM, failure is an education and should make you smarter.

    “Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you.”

  7. slocum:

    But private businesses that behave that way can and do fail and be replaced by better run companies. In the meantime, while that's playing out, customers have other options (in fact, customers choosing other options is how badly run businesses fail). And badly run businesses sometimes figure this out and throw the bums out before it's too late. You're right that cronyism is human nature, but market discipline provides correction for that tendency that is absent for government agencies.

  8. jimc5499:

    "How is this person even still employed, much less being rewarded with a larger, more responsible post?"

    Easy. She's a woman and a minority. Plain and simple.

  9. Bruce Zeuli:

    I remember reading that the VA mangers that provided the most honest/accurate assessments were also those most likely to be disiplined. Maybe in this case we want the manager with the poorest track record running things. Can't know for sure, but in an organization that rewards deceit, the manager who fails the most might be the manager who reports the truth the most.

  10. mlhouse:

    Exactly. And, if private companies promote incompetents then the shareholder/owner value will decline. There is an incentive to not hire and promote incompetents. In the public sector, not so much. They just get bigger budgets and more head count to cover for their problems.

  11. Dan Wendlick:

    Omega Company effect. Suppose you had a location where the problems were so intractable based on staff performance, procedural issues, and resource availability that it was likely to be a career-ending assignment. If you find out you're being considered for it, you basically have three options - start working your internal political networks to get out of it, assigned somewhere else, for instance. The second option would be to quit; in the government sense, get a job in the private sector, assuming that your performance has been, or can be made to seem, acceptable over time. The third option is to take the job and pray that somehow you can succeed in it.

    Given the turnover and dynamics at work here, it seems like a number of candidates likely have taken the option 1 and option 2 routes, leaving only people without the requisite internal political clout or skills and performance to take the job, like someone whose previous experience was mismanaging a clinic halfway around the world from headquarters..

  12. MJ:

    This sounds an awful lot like the Dance of the Lemons that afflicts many of the country's worst public school systems. Something of an adverse selection effect.

  13. ToddF:

    Civil Service and union rules, both of which have to go. You'd think Democrats would be leading this effort as the incompetent public class America suffers under is the biggest impediment to more government services Democrats supposedly desire.

  14. Not Sure:

    The incompetent public class is also a big supporter of the Democratic party. Given that, guess what happens?

  15. CapitalistRoader:

    How is this person even still employed, much less being rewarded with a larger, more responsible post?

    She knows where the bodies are buried. So instead of being fired she got a promotion. Quid pro quo. Lois Lerner got a similar deal: Resign, take the Fifth, and we'll let you keep your fat government pension.

    Federal agencies operate similarly to organized crime syndicates. There are no public shareholders with financial leverage to reign them in nor are there any competitors to keep them on their toes.

  16. Ike Pigott:

    Reading all the previous comments, there are many competing theories. All of them do have a common component: Culture. The culture of the VA is defined be the issues that make public sector work fail so often.

    I have no idea whether she is awful, or games an awful system, or is actually honest which is punished in an awful system. What I do know is the system is so awful that it renders professional evaluations meaningless.

  17. G6loq:

    A slow moving, deleterious Bozo explosion through the system ....

  18. TruthisaPeskyThing:

    Competition is the best regulator that society has ever created.

  19. dagamore:

    one of the biggest reasons that bad government workers are promoted, is that it is often the fastest way to get rid of some that either cant work, or does not work well with in the current group they are in.

  20. Herb:

    From the government's point of view she is the perfect person to send to Phoenix.

    The ungrateful vets of Phoenix had the nerve to complain about the quality of care and embarrass the VA. You think the VA wanted to let that go unpunished.

    The problem with these people isn't that they are failure but that they are success by a very sick set of standards common to government.