Sunday, February 24, 2008


By Scot M. Faulkner

Rowman & Littlefield, $27.95, 345 pages


In academia, according to an old adage, “the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

That thought comes to mind when reading large parts of “Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution.” Scot M. Faulkner, the chief administrative officer of the U.S. House of Representatives during the first two years of the Republican takeover (1995 and 1996), has produced a book that is a combination memoir, political tract and cautionary tale.

Mr. Faulkner, a management specialist with a long history of working for Republicans in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill, laments how his party squandered many opportunities to make long-term changes in the culture of Washington, D.C. During his two years running the House’s non-legislative operations, he implemented reforms in areas of accounting, procurement and employment practices that were widely praised by management specialists and even some Democrats. He criticizes many of his reformist allies in Congress for not having the stomach to make even more changes..

Because his role was primarily to make the trains run on time, much of the book veers off onto arcane subjects. There is excessive use of management jargon and all-too-detailed descriptions of fights over parking spaces and computer systems and other housekeeping matters.

In criticizing one of his rivals — House Inspector General John Lainhart — he the author notes that “he (Mr. Lainhart) and his staff became more assertive in second-guessing the reforms. Some of this arose from his bias for internal control over management.”

Passages such this guarantee that the book’s appeal will mostly be to management geeks who love politics, a rather limited audience one suspects.

One is amazed that at a time when congressional Republicans were focusing on moving through an extensive legislative agenda, they spent so much time and personal/political capital on seemingly small operational issues.

Then-Congressman Bill Thomas, California Republican, who chaired the committee that oversaw House operations and was another of Mr. Faulkner’s rivals for power, regularly made often expletive-laden statements to protect his turf on matters such as control of the mailroom or allowing lobbyists to have special access to parts of the Capitol.

Mr. Faulkner contends that then-Speaker Newt Gingrich gave in to Mr. Thomas (and fired Mr. Faulkner) because Mr. Thomas had some damaging information about the speaker. Mr. Faulkner does not elaborate extensively on this and one suspects that his ouster was the result of an array of personal and political factors. The chief administrative officer’s position is designed so that the occupant encroaches on many people’s fiefdoms and Mr. Faulkner may well have stepped on one too many toes.

The accounts of these behind-the-scenes maneuverings break up the normally textbook-like tone of the narrative. The book also provides helpful lessons about the best and worst ways to manage a large organization, especially one populated by people who are especially adept at playing politics.

While Mr. Faulkner makes his living as a management consultant, as a long-time foot soldier in the conservative movement, he also has an abiding interest in policy and the long-term welfare of the GOP.

The last part of the book is lecture on how the GOP — and some conservatives — lost their way. He focuses on ethical lapses, fiscal irresponsibility and too much influence of special interests. His diagnosis is not much different than other critics on the right, including presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

What distinguishes Mr. Faulkner’s take are his remedies, some of which are surprising coming from a conservative Republican. He favors public financing of campaigns and allowing taxpayers to vote on their federal spending priorities when they file their taxes. Other suggestions, such as limiting the scope of the federal government’s programs and relocating the capital outside of Washington, D.C., are what one might expect from someone on the right side of the political divide.

Unfortunately, Mr. Faulkner’s political analysis gets lost in a larger book that focuses on arcane, though important, management analyses. As a result, many of the best parts of “Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution” won’t receive the attention that they deserve.

Claude R. Marx is an award-winning journalist and author of a chapter on media and politics in The Sixth-Year Itch, edited by Larry Sabato.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide