Peter Principle

Up to Date

By now I’m sure you are aware of the operation Fast and Furious debacle. In case you haven’t surfaced from Dancing With the Stars, Survivor or Two and a Half Men long enough to catch some headlines, let me offer a quick refresher. Between the fall of 2009 into late 2010 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms launched an operation to permit otherwise-suspected straw buyers to purchase weapons in the United States then transport them to Mexico , to build cases against Mexican drug cartels. The operation ended in December 2010 with the death of a US border agent, Brian Terry. Two of the guns known to have been purchased in the operation was found at his murder scene. Out of 2000 guns released by the ATF only 600 of them have been recovered. Leaving 1400 unaccounted for. Probably into drug cartel hands.


The Los Angeles Times reported last week that William G. McMahon, William D. Newell and David Voth, three key supervisors in the Phoenix-run investigation that went awry, were promoted to management positions at the ATF’s Washington headquarters. The agency’s acting director, Kenneth E. Melson, told the Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff that the jobs were not considered promotions because no one got a raise. AFT said in its statement: “Media reports inaccurately characterized personnel changes “as promotions.”

Shut Up and Color

At first I was outraged when I read this. But then after a couple of drinks and a couple of days I looked at it in a different light. In the military there is the inside joke that when a high ranking commander gets fired, especially failing a major Inspector General inspection, that he gets a headquarters assignment. Now this isn’t a fast track assignment. It’s an assignment to quietly finish a career. Too close to retirement to get separated. They are given a desk and a position with no authority. They get a box of crayons, a coloring book, maybe a phone and are told to shut up, color and don’t make waves. I

have seen this happen to senior enlisted. We called them ROAD sergeants. (Retired On Active Duty) This may be the case on these ATF agents.

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I don’t know. But that’s how bureaucracies work. Let them retire because to fire them would create unwanted attention. If this is the case, it would have worked if not for those pesky kids at the LA Times.

2 thoughts on “Peter Principle

  1. Rob O.

    Yeah, the Peter Principle, or “promoted to level of incompetence,” is alive and well in the civilian world too. You need only reflect back on the recent massive banking and automobile industry bailouts to see how rampant this is.

    By the way, you owe it to yourself to read The Gervais Principle for a razor-sharp view of the corporate world. Yes, it’s a very dense read, but also very worthwhile!


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