Smith: When institutions fail their missions

Smith: When institutions fail their missions

June 2nd, 2014 by By Robin Smith in Opinion Columns

Robin Smith

Robin Smith

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

To say that public trust is eroded in critical institutions is an understatement.

The agency that puts fear in the hearts and minds of all citizens, the IRS, has been used as a tool in the hands of a politicians to target conservatives, Christians and pro-Israel groups. This is criminal behavior and was once included in the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

Locally, Chattanooga had an audit produce very questionable billing practices by its subsidized utility, EPB, regarding the price of energy consumed, maintenance for street lights that may or may not have been performed, and charges for expensive street light bulbs that may or may not have ever been actually placed by the utility. Faulty billing approaching $5 million is not an accounting error.

The public response has been clear: Don't steal, don't lie.

The response from local elected officials, with few exceptions, seems muted, however.

An audit, in its truest form, is to ensure that actions have been legal and ethical.

In Chattanooga, trust has certainly been eroded. Talk show host Jeff Styles said on WGOW-FM last week that those running city government don't know what they're doing and have "fired those who were qualified."

Then, you have the systemic failure of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

There's absolutely no argument that a dual scheduling system for sick veterans has been in place for years, a span that includes several election cycles with both Republicans and Democrats in leadership. Yet, the failure to solve the problems of the VA system is damning.

In 2012, a "contest" was announced by the Department of Veterans Affairs that would judge software programs developed to better address the scheduling needs for timely appointments and accuracy in the health care system. The VA announced that "up to three winning submissions -- ones that succeed in creating the best proof of concept software -- could win as much as $3 million each."

Not only was this large amount of prize money employed to improve an ineffective 25-year-old administrative system, it was also a sign of heightened awareness of the problem.

This "winning" appointment scheduling software seems to have gotten patient wait times down. The Phoenix VA, for example, reported that wait time for patients to be seen from Jan. 1 to April 25 was 115 days. Further, 1700 patients were removed from the wait list "to meet federal criteria."

In 2009, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act was signed into law. This bipartisan legislation was meant to keep health care for veterans functioning during government shutdowns and budget battles. This new shield was to prevent unfunded services and lapses in appropriations to ensure care was delivered to veterans in a timely manner.

Good intentions don't prevent institutional and individual failure, however.

Empty promises read from talking points by political candidates don't qualify them as competent, effective, or trustworthy. Leadership must always be validated by results.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm and serves on Tennessee's Economic Council on Women.