Accountability, Reviews and So On: Where Does the Forest Service Fit With Other Federal Agencies

I’m getting a few posts together on a history of the Forest Service and various forms of “accountability”; also thoughts about “why the FS is not as adaptive as it could be” brought up by Chelsea.

In the meantime, I thought it would be thought-provoking to expand our view to “how other government agencies are held accountable”. Now there’s all kinds of accountability as we will see, but here I’m interested in accountability for “getting things wrong, with ultimately bad results for people in our country.”

When the Forest Service made a mistake, they did a stand-down on the practice for 90 days and involved a variety of inside and outside people in looking at what went wrong, and making recommendations for improvement. Which I think we will see in the next week or so.

OK, well maybe the CIA does this when their assessments turn out to be wrong, and we (obviously) wouldn’t know about it.  Let’s start with the Federal Reserve. According to its website,

The Federal Reserve, like many other central banks, is an independent government agency but also one that is ultimately accountable to the public and the Congress.

I ran across this podcast of journalist Bari Weiss with Larry Summers (who has had a very distinguished career doing many things, including being the President of Harvard and Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, but is an expert on economics). The question was “he was more concerned about inflation than others, why does he think he got it right and others got it wrong?” This is right at the beginning of the podcast.  One thing I like about economists is that they tend to be humble about what they know, as daily, annually, or whatever, there is empirical evidence that they are right or wrong.  They also appreciate uncertainties, and have developed ways to think about them.

Here is Summers says.. paraphrased by me.

It’s tempting to blame this (thinking that there won’t be inflation) on politics, but he doesn’t see political motivations among business forecasters. Emphasis on short memories; 40 years since we’d gone through this- many folks had no lived experience of inflation.  Bad statistical modelling.  Motivated belief, people wanted to avoid mistakes of the slow recovery, wanted to believe that they could engage in expansionary policies, the Fed knows best.. reluctant to challenge the views of the Fed. Tendency among pundits and economists to want to make new mistakes.  Everyone who did “widowmaker” trades worried about inflation in the past, didn’t want to make that mistake. All of those contributed to a communal belief system; Keynes said “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”

Bari asked: why does the Admin ask you for advice, if you are critical of their policies?

Summers points out that except for the Trump Admin, he has advised both D and R Admins.  One reason he says is that he never questioned motives; never impugned integrity, focus on what the ideas are. Don’t feel we should take positions of moral superiority except in extreme circumstances.

It’s easier for people to hear you if you respect their sincerity.

Anyway, I’m not a big podcast person, but I think this might be interesting to TSW-ites, especially around the topics of expertise and accountability.

So, the Federal Reserve; perhaps CDC, what did they get wrong and right about Covid?  Should they have a 90 day review? I wouldn’t think they need to involve me (the public) but perhaps include experts who suggested different approaches than the ones they took?

What makes an agency get something wrong enough to generate a stand-down and a review?  How do we tell? Perhaps it should become more common.

Should citizens be able to nominate apparent mistakes for formal review? How can we do this without devolving into a Partisan Rock-Throwing and Defensive Drama where we can predict the dialogue in advance? Somehow the FS appears to have  managed to avoid this, so it can be done. What is their “secret sauce” (a Summers-ism)?

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