My father became a businessman, but he was handy, knew how to build things and fix things with his own hands. And he taught me to “use the right tool for the right job.”

NOTE: pick the correct link

We’re not doing that, particularly in government. Part of the reason is that it is not always easy to find someone with exactly the right background to fill a job because some of these jobs are rather complicated.

But a bigger problem is that we don’t always understand the mismatch between the job description and the resume. We can be dazzled by titles and degrees; we play the name game.

Former Secretary of Labor R.A. Acosta appears to have botched the prosecution plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida. Although he had previously worked at the Department of Justice, he was in the Civil Rights Division, which like the Civil Division or the Antitrust Division, doesn’t put a lot of folks in jail. A U.S. attorney’s main job is criminal prosecution.

The other problem is that Acosta went to college and law school at Harvard, where he was a top student. Only someone that smart, could do something that stupid.

We saw local attorney Kevin Sumida, who attended an Ivy League law school (University of Pennsylvania) and who has a very good reputation as an insurance defense lawyer, forget that the video cameras are left on in a federal criminal trial, even during breaks. Could that be in part because he doesn’t have much experience as a criminal trial lawyer going up against federal prosecutors?

I don’t know for sure, but it is a plausible explanation.

Harvard Business School. A degree from an Ivy League university does not mean you are qualified to do anything.

Flickr: Michael A. Herzog

And not to pile on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, but its first executive director had no background in construction project management, despite “big title” credentials. When we add that to the absence of audited financial statements and the consequent failure to create the procedures that would need to be in place in order to get a clean audit opinion, is it surprising that we have ended up in the mess that we now find ourselves in

I’m still chafing at Arne Duncan’s tenure as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. He was never a teacher and had no academic degree in education.

Although as a political appointee he had become the head of the Chicago public school system (not exactly our best education model). And, of course, he had gone to Harvard.

But here’s the kicker: The U.S. Department of Education does not have jurisdiction over curriculum. Mr. Duncan, a non-lawyer, gave us Common Core, an untested program without supporting data, which had never even been approved by Congress. Maybe we should go back to teaching civics in high school, so that folks can identify the difference between the three branches of government?

Wrong Screwdriver

I can’t help but mention Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Harvard law graduate, who refused to give the order to evacuate in the face of an incoming hurricane because he figured the city had been hit a few years earlier. I guess they don’t teach statistics and randomness at law school, huh? That’s the problem with a universal ticket to power that only teaches people how to read cases.

Have you ever tried to put in a screw using the wrong size of screwdriver? Have you ever tried to use a vacuum cleaner that was too heavy and cumbersome for the space you were in?

“Too many of us believe that a Harvard degree is a magic carpet ride.”

My dear old dad was right: You have to use the right tool for the right job, and that applies to people. If we can’t do that, then more and more, we’re going to be turning things over to increasingly sophisticated machines that we can design for a particular purpose.

Too many of us believe that a Harvard degree is a magic carpet ride, when in fact, it is more likely to act as a blindfold, increasing the error rate by inflating the ego beyond what is reasonable and realistic. Maybe the person who takes a magic carpet ride doesn’t develop the character from the school of hard knocks that is needed for leadership.

Maybe the person who starts out at the top doesn’t have the fire in the belly needed for outsized success. Maybe the person who thinks they know everything at age 22 isn’t going to become the best lifetime learner in the crowd.

Maybe we should rethink our values, if a college degree is more Gucci bag and Dior coat, than training for the real world. Newsflash: Most people don’t know who you are and even if they do, they just don’t care.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author