Just the phrase “Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration” is enough to put most people to sleep. But read the story. It’s got money: this is a $13-billion program that ran off the rails and is likely to suffer huge cost overruns beyond that sum. It’s got scandal: that $13 billion has been wasted, according to one report, on a “dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.” And it’s important: the lapse in satellite coverage will “threaten life and property” around the world, a review panel warned.

So, if I was running the Washington Post or the DC bureau of any major news organizations, I’d put a reporter on this project: Find the five most obscure but important government programs that are so screwed up and so important that a new Romney or Obama administration had better jump in and fix them immediately. The way to start is to read the reports of all the independent inspector generals who work in every government agency. That’s apparently what generated this Times story about how in three or four years we may have even more to worry about when another Hurricane Sandy looms offshore.


Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.