You can't spell "accountability" without "A," "C" and "T." But in Washington, government officials routinely get away with "taking personal responsibility" by mouthing empty words devoid of action. Heads nod in collective agreement that mistakes were made. But heads never roll. The Obama administration has raised this accountability charade to an art form.
At a House Energy Committee hearing on the half-billion-dollar bankrupt Solyndra loan-guarantee disaster, Energy Secretary Steven Chu made a grand pretense of falling on his sword. The neon-green solar energy zealot told lawmakers in prepared testimony that the "final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind." But again and again, Chu admitted, those decisions were made with serial cluelessness about the political jockeying, dire financial warnings, legal red flags and conflicts of interest that "everybody (else) and their dog" knew about (as GOP Rep. Joe Barton of Texas politely pointed out).
While former Democratic chief inquisitor Henry Waxman praised Chu's "reputation for integrity" as "unimpeachable," Chu came across as more Mr. Magoo than Mr. Clean.
Chu said he was "unaware" of the Department of Energy's own staff predictions two years ago that Solyndra would face a serious cash-flow crisis today.
Chu said he was "unaware" of administration pressure on Solyndra to suppress layoff announcements until after the November 2010 midterm elections. "I don't know. I just learned about that," he shirked.
In fact, he used the phrase "I am aware of it now" at least a half-dozen times. If there were a Nobel Prize for Unknowing, Chu would be two-time shoo-in. GOP House Energy Committee Chairman Cliff Stearns summed up:
"We talked about the August 2009 email predicting Solyndra would be out of cash in September 2011. You knew about that, but you didn't seem to know about that.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers concerns about Solyndra, you didn't seem real concerned or weren't aware of it.
The White House emailing your chief of staff regarding their concerns with the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, you didn't seem to know too much about your chief of staff's awareness of that.
The request to hold off announcement of the DOE loan, and request by your agency to Solyndra to hold off on announcing layoffs till after the midterm election, you don't have any recollection of this. So what I am saying is that through all of this you seem to have an unawareness."
In short, Chu took full responsibility for everything he wasn't aware of ... until it was too late.
Sound familiar? It was the leitmotif played in last week's Fast and Furious hearings with Attorney General Eric Holder.
Despite a raft of briefing memos with his name on them, Holder claimed he never received or read them. Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse ran interference, sanctimoniously explaining for all the non-career government attorneys in the audience -- including the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry -- that nooooooo one in the top echelons of the federal lawyers' bureaucracy actually reads memos addressed to them. It's merely a "convention" for junior staff to feel better and more important about themselves.
Taking his boss's lead, former Holder Chief of Staff Kevin Ohlson -- who is seeking a federal judicial slot -- explained away his failure to do anything about the festering Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal. He had "been informed that routine courtesy copies of weekly reports were forwarded to me that referred to the operation by name, but that did not provide any operational details and did not refer to gun walking or anything similar."
Although his name was on the documents, Ohlson just didn't bother to read them because they weren't marked important or sensitive. Imagine an ordinary small businessman or taxpayer trying that one out on the IRS.
Situational unawareness in the private marketplace or on the battlefield will cost you your livelihood or your life. In the Age of Obama, however, such willful ignorance is a job prerequisite. The less you know the better.