Accountability, improvement isn’t happening

Federal bureaucrats’ reaction to warnings something bad will happen without preventive action sometimes seems comparable to a man standing on railroad tracks, spotting an approaching locomotive, hearing the engineer’s frantic blasts of the air horn … and just standing there.

When it recently was revealed that computer hackers had gained access to private information about millions of government employees, the news should not have come as a shock to officials in the Office of Personnel Management. They have been warned repeatedly their agency was not meeting even basic computer security requirements.

Members of Congress looking into the lapse heard testimony this week from Michael Esser, who is the OPM’s assistant inspector for audits. Esser told lawmakers many of the people in charge of information technology at the agency had no backgrounds in the matter.

And the OPM failed numerous cyber security audits, Esser added.

If you have paid attention to the aftermath of scandal after scandal in the government, you know what comes next: Esser said that despite those audit failures, no one at the OPM was disciplined.

That has become standard practice in Washington: Admit serious errors were made, promise to do better in the future – then hold no one accountable.

How in the world can anyone expect things to get better with that approach? In Washington, failure is tolerated and sometimes even rewarded.

That has to change.