People who work in government are normal people (you might be one) but their organization hamstrings them — necessarily. It is not possible for a government institution to compete with a private institution.
Their work takes place in an adversarial arena with legislated transparency. Nobody can do well in this environment. It’s like practicing your disco moves in a glass bedroom; there is no way to look good. By “adversary”, we mean “organized, intelligent bands of predators who have a religious zeal to ruin you forever.” Yes, political Left, this is you. Yes, political Right, this is you.
In private industry, there are adversaries, but you can keep the walls opaque. Those who would love to kill you (professionally) can be kept out and kept relatively blind to the details of your team’s work.
No matter who you are, the closer your job is to an elected person, the more vultures there are from the other party whose hot passion is to demonstrate your evil and take your job away from you. This usually has little to do with factual content. There are plenty of people, in both parties, down to the local level, who are perfectly willing to falsely imprison people from the other party in order to seize their power.
Though the individual job may not be important to the zealots and party activists as a prize, they have made “flipping” the little guys into an art form any mob prosecutor would be proud of. Find incompetence at some level, and leverage it, to dislodge higher ups. This is common, and ugly.
The only protection for the little people is formal procedure. Government workers would be crazy not to formalize everything down to the paperclip requisition. Paperwork, jargon, algorithms — all that we mean when we say “bureaucracy” is the inevitable product of normal people acting in an expected level of self-interest.
It’s a commonplace to note the absence of market discipline. I’ve nothing new to say, except that it can’t be rated too important. Private companies get slovenly and weak very quickly when there is not perceptible threat from competitors. Like the gallows in the famous quote, the prospect of having your livelihood ripped away will focus the thoughts wonderfully. Those of us in private companies who do well will become inefficient if this pressure goes away. We hate it, but it is the source of whatever excellence companies create.
This pressure is wholly unlike the political pressure that ruins work, because it can be responded to rationally, by people working in teams, who can hide their tactics behind closed doors. And there is an external check on the final product — the market — in place of the false and malicious evaluation of the political climbers.
There is no substitute for competitive pressure. Its effect cannot be built into a federal agency by any means whatsoever. You can fill a government agency with geniuses and the lack of competitive pressure will ruin their work.
Career politicians have never felt this pressure. They discount it congenitally.
So the government workers have a massive pressure to be inefficient — the protective bureaucracy — and an utter lack of healthy pressure. They can’t win even though they are good and talented — except by a fiat, from those who possess the guns — the legislators.