Why do federal programs fail?

sweet2dalick asked this question on 7/9/2000:

Why should nwe not be surprised when government programs fail? Why is this the case?

madpol gave this response on 7/9/2000:

Actually, when you consider how our government works the amazing thing is that some government programs succeed.

You have to remember that every government program that involves spending money has been looked at had alterations suggested by 437 US reps, 100 senators, the President, at least two politicial parties, and several special interest groups--each with their own responsibilities, perspectives and agendas.

The only goal of some programs, such as historical sites and weapons the military didn't request is to keep constituents happy and generate jobs in a member's district, those always succeed, regardless of result.

Other programs, such as welfare, social security and the Post office, are often sabotaged by the party in power for ideological reasons.

Still other programs, such as most crime bills and the War on Drugs fail because they really aren't intended to do anything effective, but rather to reflect a certain viewpoint or score points with the voters by showing that government is doing SOMETHING, even if it isn't appropriate.

Still and all, many programs are successful. The interstate highway system works beautifully. Most people on Social Security get their checks every month with no problem. The Apollo program reached the moon ahead of schedule and under budget. The military continues to provide a strong defense, despite low pay, rotten benefits and being saddled with weapons systems that often range from useless to downright silly. And most overnight delivery services send the bulk of their overnight packages to their local offices via the much maligned US Postal Service's Overnight Mail.

I can only attribute these successes to the fact that Americans are just contrary enough to do their jobs even when they aren't expected to and the odds are against them.

sweet2dalick asked this question on 7/9/2000:

Why should we not be surprised when government programs fail? Why is this the case?

stevehaddock gave this response on 7/9/2000:

Once again, we tend to rank our governments more by their "misses" than their "hits". Governments oversee literally thousands of programs, from local to international in scope. When you get up in the morning, shower and have a glass of orange juice and a newspaper, you have to remember the water supply and the quality of food are something that are either non-existent or lethal for 2/3 of the world's population.

Many government programs fail because their goals aren't clearly in mind when the legislation giving them existence come to mind (is anti-drug legislation there to keep people from using drugs or to punish those that do?). Others fail because the structure is in place but no money supply was planned (think PBS and why you have to sit through 10 hours of pledge drives a day). Others outlive their usefulness (the Rural Electrification Administration was formed when most rural people didn't have any chance of getting phones or electricity, now about 99% of rural dwellers have these facilities - but the program lives on).

Sometimes though, bad people sabotage good programs. Subsidy programs to keep family farms solvent turned out to benefit agricultural businesses. Reconstruction failed primarily because many rich white southerners refused to obey laws that required equality with blacks (many turned violent in the process).

However, here is my main list of culprits.
- No set goals for program
- No continuous supply of money for program
- Two programs with conflicting goals (anti-cigarette campaigns and tobacco subsidies) a.k.a. the compromise programs.
- No popular support for program (why do we have anti-marijuana laws when polls show most people don't want them anymore and most people have tried it at least once, including presidential candidates and presidents - starting with George Washington)
- No clear committment by the government (think the Vietnam War)
- Active sabotage by special interests

JesseGordon responded:

... [concentrated interest vs. diffuse costs]

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