I think this description by a former ambassador of hiring practices in the State Department during the reign of Little Lord Pontchartrain explains so much about the last eight years (italics mine):
“YOU know you have arrived when you get interviewed by the 29-year-old instead of the 22-year-old,” the 57-year-old foreign service officer said to me with a laugh. It was late 2005, and this three-time ambassador had just been interviewed for a top post at the Department of State.
Her interviewer was part of a large corps of 20-somethings — some were in their early 30s — who ran the Office of Presidential Personnel. Many of them were sons or daughters of supporters of President George W. Bush. Others had connections through congressmen. With few exceptions, they had one thing in common: very little experience and a very big attitude.
Another top foreign service officer called me after his interview to be ambassador to a volatile African country. “The problem was,” he told me, “the kid interviewing me could not pronounce the name of the country I was being interviewed for. It made for an awkward interview until he just started saying ‘the country we are considering you for.’”
….For two of these [three] jobs, my appointment was preceded by an effort by a 20-something in personnel to place an unqualified friend in the job. (In the third instance, the State Department went out of its way to avoid the personnel office by appealing directly to a senior assistant to the president.) For one of the jobs, two State Department officials, John Bolton and Anne Patterson, had to intervene.
In the worst cases, the “kids” — as many of us called them — would search for a candidate and eventually conclude, like Dick Cheney when he was the head of George W. Bush’s vice presidential search team, that they were the best candidates for the jobs.
As we all know, this led to problems:
There was small bit of outrage in 2005 when a 30-something personnel employee picked herself to head the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security. (Her tenure included the publication of a photograph online of her standing next to an employee, who was costumed in blackface and a prisoner’s uniform, during a Halloween party that she hosted.)
Similarly, the inexperience of Monica Goodling, the former liaison to the White House at the Justice Department, contributed to the politics-based hiring of career lawyers and helped create a demoralizing scandal from which the department still has not fully recovered. But there were many other such stories that stayed below the radar screen.
This isn’t to wail on 20-somethings (I’m not that old myself) because this is really an issue of integrity. Unqualified people of any age should not take jobs that involve making these kinds of personnel decisions.
I think one thing we should learn from the last eight years is that there is no perfect, incorruptable system. With enough corrupt people, any system can be broken. Who makes decisions matters. Integrity matters–and that comes from the top.