It has been more than two weeks since there was a breakdown in our national security apparatus that resulted in an attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. With so many questions still unanswered, many are left wondering what responsibility the President carries on the successes or failures of his executive branch to protect the American people.
This past Thursday, the President attempted to answer this question and contain the fall-out by stating to reporters that, “the buck stops with me.” We have heard this same statement from previous presidents, but what does it mean?
Having worked for the executive branch for three decades I can testify that the buck does stop with the President. He and the office have an enormous effect on how government employees behave and perform their functions.
While it is true that some presidents command more respect and are therefore more effective leaders, typically, federal employees pay careful attention to any president's policies and public pronouncements. And, if he has staffed the various agencies with the people he trusts to implement his policies, they in turn will install and enforce the preferred attitudes in the agencies, rewarding those who march in step and punishing those who resist the new order. Nowhere is this truer than in our national security and law enforcement agencies.
One reason current federal employees in these agencies pay careful attention to what the commander-in-chief wants is because they have seen the repercussions of displeasing Obama’s White House. This past fall, in a bold move to satisfy their hysterical and fanatical anti-Bush base, President Obama’s Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA interrogation abuses, despite a warning from seven former CIA Directors not to begin such an investigation.
By initiating inquiries into the actions of career federal employees and seeking to nail them for acts real or perceived, simply to satisfy an irritated voting block, the Obama administration has demanded that government agency employees tow his personal world view and ideological line.
For federal employees in charge of guarding our national security, where is the incentive to take a chance or to be aggressive in an atmosphere where the Obama administration has already targeted those who have?