Opinion

Robert Gates: When government tries to build something big, it almost always fails

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Charlie Spiering,Veterans Affairs,Robert Gates

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates blamed micromanagement from Congress and the lack of accountability for the Veterans Affairs Department's inability to deal with the heavy backlogs for processing the claims of disabled veterans.

During an interview on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, Gates said the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy was worse than the Pentagon's.

"The Congress has micromanaged Veterans Affairs in such a way that changing anything that has to do with dealing with veterans, requires literally an act of Congress," he said.

Gates also explained that it was important to hold unelected bureaucrats accountable for their failures -- just as he had fired the Air Force secretary and chief of staff in 2008 for problems in the handling of nuclear weapons, noting that the Air Force is still having problems in the same area.

"Part of the problem in Washington is the unwillingness to hold individuals accountable for performance, and I tried to do that," he said. "You've got to be willing to hold people accountable and show that there are consequences for not getting the job done."

Stewart pointed out that the government spent $1 billion trying to get the computer records systems between the Department of Defense and the VA to work together and failed.

Gates said that he tried to outsource the electronic record-keeping to the private sector but met resistance from technical bureaucrats in both departments.

"One of the things I discovered and this may have application in other areas is that when the government tries to build something really big and really complicated especially in the technical world, it almost always fails," Gates said. "This is not new."

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