Accountability: Can We Know What it Is?

By | March 20, 2016

[March 20, 2016]   Today is the first day of Spring but from my vantage point here in New York City it looks like it may be a few more weeks before it arrives.  With the cold weather arrived my American Legion Magazine and the Commander’s message on accountability.  The article was appropriately timed while we debate who will be America’s next U.S. president.1

The Commander’s argument is that the U.S. government has “struggled with accountability,” especially as it applies to our military veterans.  It’s easy to say that leadership means accountability and I’ve written about it many times (see link here).  But what do we mean when we say leaders should be held accountable and what are the keys to knowing it?  Accountability means that leaders are responsible for results in their organization; short- and long-term results.

If a leader fails to accomplish the mission or does so at the expense of organizational core values, then there should be unmistakable consequences.  There are no excuses and none should be accepted.  For example, the American Legion commander notes that after five years and over $1 billion spent to fix the Veterans Administration’s records system, it remains a work in progress.  Yet no one has been disciplined for the failure.  Thus, there is no true accountability to speak of at the VA.

It is no surprise that trust in United States government is at an all-time low.2  The U.S. government sets the rules on how the VA is run and how accountability is measured.  Most veterans I know and those who are familiar with the veterans’ healthcare system cannot explain how a scandal that resulted in the death of veterans could go on for so long, no one was saying anything about it, and then little done when the problems were made public.

The VA is only the canary in the mine when it comes to poor government accountability.  All government agencies, from local to federal, have a system where employees can do just about anything and not be disciplined.  In the commercial world, infractions less than that has occurred at the VA would mean immediate termination of employment and possibly criminal charges.  At the VA and other government institutions nothing of any consequence is done.

I once had a politician tell me he was accountable only once every four years during election time.  Is it time to expand the definition of accountability?  Perhaps but one thing we do need to do for the U.S. government is to make it clear that the current system is unacceptable.  It takes more than writing letters or calling our Congress to complain.

It will take a strong political leader to lead the charge against such scandalous behavior that seems to pass as the norm in government.  So for, that person has not emerged.

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  1.  Expand the definition of accountability by National Commander Dale Barnett:
  2. Gallup Poll on Trust in Government:



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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