The 2008 presidential race produced its share of philosophical and political disputes, but one broad area of agreement underlined the campaigns of both nominees: The federal government is not functioning as it should. A McCain ad began, “Washington's broken. John McCain knows it,” while one of Barack Obama’s spots warned, “The truth is that while you’ve been living up to your responsibilities, Washington has not.”
In fact, the executive branch is proving unable to meet many of its most basic obligations to the American public. And the public appears to be increasingly uneasy. National polls show that less than 30 percent of Americans approve of President George W. Bush’s job performance, among the worst numbers since pollsters began tracking presidential approval in the 1940s. A mid-November Gallup Poll showed that 87 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the way things are going in America today.
Just how bad is this government dysfunction? In an effort to answer that question, the Center for Public Integrity embarked on an examination of the worst systematic failures of the federal government over the past eight years.
In this, a comprehensive assessment of these failures, we found more than 125 examples of government breakdown in areas as diverse as education, energy, the environment, justice and security, the military and veterans affairs, health care, transportation, financial management, consumer and worker safety, and more — failures which adversely affected ordinary people and made the nation a less open or less secure place to live. While some are, by now, depressingly familiar, many are less well-known but equally distressing. And though the list is diverse, it also reflects some recurring — and troubling — themes.