Government officials running up a tab in Las Vegas and cavorting with prostitutes in Colombia. It's like the Bush years all over again — all you need is to throw a few lobbyists in the room.
But it's Obama's watch now. The back-to-back GSA and Secret Service mini-scandals, along with the newly-leaked photos of our soldiers posing with Taliban remains, remind us that sometimes public servants behave badly and it's not a partisan affair.
It's also not a case of a few bad apples. During the Bush Administration, I wasn't satisfied when lower ranking soldiers or middle management bureaucrats took the blame for actions that were sanctioned, encouraged or overlooked by their bosses. Leadership sets an organizational culture, and leaders need to answer for why their subordinates imperil America's reputation or go to extremes on the taxpayers' dime.
While we may not hold President Obama accountable for each of these incidents, how he responds to them is a test of his leadership. It seems as though action was quickly taken in all three incidents and that the administration is looking to rectify rather than cover up. It will be important to see what happens after the immediate reaction: Who will bear the responsibility? Just as critically, how can the leadership of the military, the GSA and the Secret Service ensure that the culture in each organization evolves to avoid repeating these mistakes?
The Obama Administration has been surprisingly scandal-free. When birth certificates and Solyndra are the biggest debates, it shows that the team tends to run an above-board operation (the corruption of legal lobbying excluded, that is). It frees critics to focus on policy and approach rather than sensational scandals, which is probably a good thing for public discourse.
These cases shouldn't be disregarded because they are exceptions; that's all the more reason to tend to them. When government doesn't work under a Republican administration, it actually furthers the conservative argument that government is dysfunctional. Progressives contend that government is critical, so Democrats need to enforce a higher standard among those who serve the public good. We need to set the highest bar possible to ensure that our public servants live up to that duty.