A pair of witnesses

Two federal employees, both with decades of distinguished government service, testified before Congress in the week of March 22, and each caused a storm. Richard A. Clarke, until last year President George W. Bush’s chief of counterterrorism, sparked heated debate because his testimony questioned not only the president’s vigilance prior to 9/11, but the wisdom of diverting the focus of the war on terrorism from pursuing Al Qaeda to toppling Saddam Hussein. Later, Richard S. Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare, spelled out the staggering costs of the new Bush Medicare law, costs that greatly exceeded what the administration had been saying publicly. Foster’s figures, compiled last year, were ones the administration had warned him, under threat of dismissal, not to reveal before Congress passed the bill.

No one should envy a government bureaucrat’s plight (except, perhaps, the 40 million-plus Americans who lack health-care benefits), particularly those bureaucrats in the higher ranks of government. Their jobs can include long hours, insoluble problems, limited pay, and little praise. In Clarke’s unbureaucratic and apt phrase, such employees are often given “all of the responsibility and none of the authority.” Even when they appear before Congress, unless directly asked for their personal assessment, they are expected to toe the administration line.

The heartening thing about the testimonies given by...

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