A reader writes:

You said in response to a reader's dissent that you only want to fire "those who failed to see the clear data in front of them and take appropriate action".  Whaaa?  These last two weeks you've been on the war path against Napolitano, not some anonymous analyst who you assume made a bad decision.  Are you saying Napolitano herself had the "clear data" in front of her, and failed to take action?  How do you know this?  What evidence do you have of this?  To me it sounds like you are totally backpedaling.

Yeah, I have, I guess. My core belief is that someone should be held responsible and accountable and that actual consequences for that should follow. My first impulse - that Napolitano should take the fall - was one expression of this, reflecting the British notion that the minister involved should resign whether or not he or she was directly responsible for the debacle:

Peter Carrington was Foreign Secretary in 1982 when the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina. He took full responsibility for the complacency and failures in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to foresee this development and resigned.

That was my first impulse. But I understand this is culturally British - and even a relic as British politics have become less principled since. So my "off with her head!" initial response was ill-advised, even dumb in retrospect.

But once we have very specific instances of failure, after a thorough investigation, it seems to me good management to hold individuals accountable. In the private sector for the most part, profound failures of this sort that could have led to the deaths of hundreds of people would lead to resignations and firings. I don't see why the government should have lower standards of accountability.  In fact, because government as a monopoly on these types of things, I think government's standards of accountability should be higher. And I think the increasing incompetence of government is partly due to the fact that failure simply bears no cost to the individual.

We run the government the way the teachers unions run schools. If no one can be fired for being useless, there is precious little real mechanism for improvement. And if liberals want government's reputation to actually improve, they might listen to ornery anti-government types like me. If Obama actually fired some people for incompetence, it would also wake up independents who are growing suspicious that he is too much like Bush on debt and competence.