Grading Uncle Sam

Posted: Dec 20, 2002 12:00 AM
Compared to last year, Americans are only slightly less satisfied with the performance of the federal government - which isn't all that bad. Government workers continue to receive high marks on courtesy and professionalism but score lower marks on the timeliness of delivery of services, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for federal agencies, which fell to 70 in 2002 from a record-high 71 last year. Dissatisfaction with Medicare and the Internal Revenue Service account for most of the drop. The most improved government agency: the Federal Aviation Administration, its score rising nearly 9 percent from 59 to 64. DISTRIBUTING BILLIONS More than $2 billion was raised - the highest-profile philanthropic endeavor in American history - to address the needs of individuals and communities impacted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The tremendous largesse, charted in the latest quarterly report of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, was funneled to direct relief organizations, like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, and to existing and new entities, such as the United Way and the Twin Towers Fund. Now, 15 months since the attacks, David R. Jones and David Campbell, top officers with the Community Service Society of New York (the society distributed almost $5 million to nearly 3,000 families), have undertaken the task of assessing whether charitable organizations were successful stewards of the valuable resources the American public entrusted to them. In a nutshell, here is what went right: Significant emergency assistance funds were raised, significant resources were distributed, and charitable organizations cooperated in providing aid. What went wrong: Collaboration was insufficient to meet community needs, philanthropies failed to act as partners with affected communities, and funds were raised, but for what? ("disaster relief," the men wrote, is an ambiguous term at best). Unfortunately, it was concluded, news organizations focused on the negative aspects of the Sept. 11 relief effort, and "what stands out is the absence of stories about the speed with which disaster-relief infrastructure was created and the amount of assistance that was provided. "Why is this issue important? If donors feel that their contributions were used poorly, they will be less likely to contribute to future important charitable activities." The two men now advise charitable organizations to invest in media-savvy public relations. "If we do not take the time to tell our story," they point out, "even amid crisis, others - not friends - will tell it for us." GORE'S INDEX? Number of U.S. presidents since 1860 whose party controlled both houses of Congress by the third year of their first term: 12. Number whose bid for re-election failed: one -- Harper's Index, January 2003 EMPIRE STRIKES OUT Is the United States, in its bid to rid the world of terrorism, emulating the British and Roman empires? Yes, says the Cato Institute's Ivan Eland, and it's Americans - not terrorists - who are in danger. Today's world bears little resemblance to the one Britain and Rome presided over, he explains, making U.S. inroads in the international arena risky politically, diplomatically, economically - and physically. "Indeed, the British and Romans were the targets of assassinations, arson and other forms of anti-imperial backlash, but that activity was typically small-scale and took place far away from the mother country," Eland says. "In contrast, forms of backlash against the U.S. role as 'globocop' today could be large-scale and long-range and may be directed at America's homeland, as shown by the attacks on September 11." Eland says an imperial approach to foreign policy is a bad idea because it would likely deplete this country's military resources and economy, "hastening the decline of America as a superpower." GAY IN SPIRIT The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has announced its nominees for the 14th Annual GLAAD Media Awards and among them is the National Catholic Reporter for exposing attempts to scapegoat "innocent gay priests" in the Catholic Church sex-abuse crisis. Wait a minute, doesn't the Catholic Church frown on homosexuality among its clergy, not to mention its flock? "I think one has to be very careful when reading even the most rigorous and strict readings of Catholic Church teachings which would say that the church does not oppose homosexuality, it opposes sexual activity," Tom Roberts, editor of the Catholic publication, tells this column. "In the case of clergy," he says, "there are some in the church who are jumping on the clergy (pedophilia) abuse crisis, which we've been covering for 17 years, to make the case that homosexuals should not be admitted to ministry. "The bottom line is, if you are celibate, you are celibate, whether you are gay or straight," says the editor, not buying a contention that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to abuse children. "We have made those points editorially." Still, the Vatican confirmed last month that it was drafting new guidelines as to whether homosexual candidates for the priesthood should be barred. Some news reports have speculated that the ruling will come out against admitting homosexuals into the priesthood.