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Remember that Continental Express commuter jet crash in Buffalo last year that killed everyone on board?

The investigation is over, but the back story just keeps getting uglier. Talk about government agencies that systematically try to stop people from doing their job (of keeping us safe).

How would you feel if someone you loved died because an airline cut corners, and the agency required to regulate them looked them made their employees look the other way?

An investigation recently concluded that the crews were regularly forced to operate on too little sleep, and the captain had failed several check flights but been kept on anyway. A little icing, the wrong move by the under-trained and overstressed pilot, and down she went, killing all 49 on board plus one on the ground.

Today the NY Times has another article about an inspector who reported systematic misbehavior by the carrier (Colgan, Continental's subconstractor) a year prior to the accident. Turns out he was repeatedly disciplined and demoted for doing his job, leaving the carrier encouraged to continue with its shabby business as usual.

All they have to do to fix this stuff is listen to the professionals who work in these agencies, who try and try to get it right. What a difference a new administration makes, once management is changed, all the way down.

The same principle applies across the board -- to security from terrorism, natural disaster, financial and economic collapse, even climate change. The answers are obvious to the good people in the trenches trying to do their jobs. It's not rocket science. You support them in doing the job, or you sabotage the work from above and ruin as much of it as you can.

We are a resouceful and conscientious poeple. We try to do right. It's amazing what we can do. Until we're maliciously directed otherwise, undermined, and punished for trying. Oh, and paid peanuts. Even then, most keep trying -- or we wouldn't even have a system left to repair, by now.

Obama's biggest legacy will be in the people he puts in charge, at every level and in every department. That's why the speed and preparedness of the transition team was so encouraging. It's less about what he and the West Wing do day to day that we hear about, than the standards he imposes for the machinery of government at all levels.

There's plenty of trouble yet to be rooted out and corrected. And it will only stay corrected so long as there is good leadership at the top. Let the bad guys back into power, and they will start tearing it down again immediately. But at least at the moment there's some sunshine disinfecting places that we couldn't see before, as these articles belatedly reveal.

Originally posted to samizdat on Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 11:18 AM PDT.

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