Diary

Government Growth Upsets Work-Life Balance

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About four years ago, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency committed a classic Washington gaffe: He let the truth slip in a moment of inadvertent honesty. As the Associated Press reported,

In a rare public appearance Wednesday, CIA Director Porter Goss said he is overwhelmed by the many duties of his job, including devoting five hours out of every day to prepare for and deliver intelligence briefings to President Bush.

“The jobs I’m being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal,” Goss said. “I’m a little amazed at the workload.”

Recently, the Washington Post reported on the similarly overwhelming responsibilities of Attorney General, Eric Holder:

[F]ormer colleagues around the District … say they are watching him age before their eyes.

Always lean, Holder has dropped weight from his lanky frame, as he eats less and climbs five steep flights of stairs to his office in a routine that leaves younger aides breathless. His dark hair is graying, and his forehead displays new lines. He travels constantly, sometimes boarding an airplane three times a week even as he fends off a persistent sinus infection and a bad back. He struggles with working long hours away from his three children and his wife, prominent D.C. physician Sharon Malone.

“Under normal circumstances, the attorney general is one of the hardest jobs in government,” said Reid Weingarten, a prominent D.C. lawyer and longtime friend who sat directly behind Holder at his marathon confirmation hearings in January. “There is a constant stream of impossibly difficult policy, case-related, bureaucratic and personnel decisions crossing your desk every minute.

The result of such work-life imbalance is predictable. To continue the quotations, recall a scene from the West Wing, wherein Leo McGarry, the White House chief of staff, explains to his wife why he forgot their anniversary:

LEO: This [my job] is the most important thing I’ll ever do, Jenny. I have to do it well.

JENNY: It’s not more important than your marriage.

LEO: It is more important than my marriage right now. These few years, while I’m doing this, yes, it’s more important than my marriage.

Sure, you can argue that Goss is a lightweight, that Holder should delegate more, that Leo is a workaholic. Each statement is true. Yet the fact remains that as government grows, so do the responsibilities of its top officials.

One solution is to hire yet more bureaucrats, entrenching and perpetuating the status quo. Alternatively, we can rethink the scope and size of the state, and pare back both so that those who run our country can at least get a good night’s sleep.