Joe Scarborough: I know someone who might be able to turn the VA around

Via Breitbart, who better to fix the government’s most notorious bureaucracy than the man who ran for president as an expert turnaround artist? Just one problem: Not in a million years, I’d bet, would Romney accept a task as thanklessly Sisyphean as managing the VA. No one — no one — is going to turn the agency around and he surely knows it. So does Obama, I expect, which is why he’d happily offer a Republican like Romney the job if he thought he’d take it. It would make the next two years of VA failures thoroughly bipartisan, with zero risk that the new manager would embarrass O by succeeding where his Democratic administration had failed.

The reason Romney would turn this down cold isn’t because he doesn’t care or because the agency’s underfunded (on the contrary, funding’s ballooned over the last 15 years), it’s because there’s realistically no way to cut a path through the jungle of regulation and bureaucracy that’s grown up around a national system of socialized medicine. As always, as always, government accepts reform only by addition, never by subtraction.

This is the sort of turnaround that a lot of corporate chief executive officers promise: We’ll handle more customers, but faster! Most of them fail, too. And corporate CEOs have a weapon that the president doesn’t: They can fire most of the staff. When looking at corporate turnarounds for my book on failure, I came across a lot of stories of successful turnarounds, and a lot of them started with just that step…

[W]hen you put reforms in place, you can’t just rip out the stuff that’s not working and do something different. What you’re actually reforming is the process, and because many of the current elements of the process are functionally mandated by other government rules, or court rulings, or bits of legislation that your reform effort didn’t amend, you have to layer your reform on top of the system you wanted to reform, rather than in place of it. Many of your reforms simply stack another layer of bureaucracy on top of the bureaucracy that was already causing problems. This is a problem that CEOs don’t face, unless they’re in some heavily regulated business such as banking or oil refining.

Why would a man who once famously said, for entirely sensible reasons, that he likes being able to fire people take a job where he can’t fire people? And bureaucracy isn’t the only problem: Yuval Levin makes a shrewd point here about potential resistance from powerful veterans’ groups if anyone tried to take a scalpel to the VA. That’s counterintuitive because veterans, when polled, are widely skeptical of the VA; fully 72 percent say that vets returning from combat get worse care there than they do outside the system. The veterans’ lobby would, you might therefore assume, be eager for drastic reforms. But overhauling the VA might also mean scaling the influence of those groups way back, which, from the groups’ perspective, might mean that veterans themselves will have less of a say over their care under the new VA. In other words, veterans’ lobbyists may sincerely believe that the current system, flaws and all, is ultimately more responsive to vets than a new one would be. And neither Mitt Romney nor Colin Powell (another name mentioned by Scarborough) nor anyone else is going to win a political battle with an outfit as sympathetic as them. Even Congress won’t risk it. That’s why there’s so little oversight of the agency within the government.

So no, no Romney. Nice try, though. Exit quotation: