government change

Eliot Ness, Al Capone and Government Change

Every time I read an article like this one describing the improvements government could find if only it were managed better, I am reminded of a quote from “The Untouchables.”  Jim Malone, a savvy veteran cop played by Sean Connery, leads Elliot Ness’ nascent band of Al Capone hunters on a liquor raid.  Ness’ team had already been embarrassed when the police, who are in Capone’s pocket, tipped off the bad guys on the Untouchables’ initial raid.  Ness is skeptical.  He is even more so when Malone leads them to the U.S. Post Office and questions Malone’s judgment, to which he replies: “Mr. Ness, everyone knows where the booze is. The problem isn’t finding it, the problem is who wants to cross Capone.”

So it is in government.*  Everyone knows where the efficiencies are.  The problem isn’t finding them.  The problem is who wants to cross the culture.  Government leaders face multiple forces in their quest to improve service, find efficiencies and impact policy.  In addition, government leaders must demonstrate operational competence to earn the right to change culture.

Eliot Ness and his Untouchables took on a culture more dangerous than anything most of us will experience in our lifetimes.  Government leaders who understand the forces they face and engage the right people to help them manage those forces will be equipped to lead their own bands of Untouchables.  After all, everyone knows where the efficiencies are.


* Author’s note: In no way am I comparing government and its employees to organized crime!  I have worked in and around government for my entire career and at one point had my own band of “Untouchables” that made Georgia’s government more efficient.  Government is filled with dedicated employees who want to serve citizens.  Mobilizing change in government is possible – the first step is the hardest.


– Patrick Moore, May 2018 – [bio]

Patrick Moore