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Should a CEO be in charge of the federal government?

By Tina Irgang

Following major wins by Republican contender Donald Trump on Super Tuesday, the prospect of a CEO in the White House is edging closer to reality. But do corner-office skills really translate to the Oval Office?

Given massive debt and partisan dysfunction, many have argued that the government should be run more like a business. As explained by Forbes: “Those popularizing this notion feel this way because they see business as more efficient. This must be the case, so the logic goes, or the entity in question would lose market share and go bankrupt. Only the fit survive. Meanwhile, government agencies face no backlash.”

In business, success ultimately means turning a profit. However, Forbes argues, a successful government is one that provides social value: “The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable.”

While profit can’t be the only consideration in running the government, there are still plenty of best practices for running a business that do apply to government, argues The Atlantic. That includes the need to eliminate wasteful spending, while also delivering the services customers (in this case, the American people) want.

Do CEOs have the right stuff?

Undoubtedly, CEOs of large companies need to have some of the qualities that also make a good president, says Fortune: “They need to be intelligent, knowledgeable about the relevant issues, able to manage a staff and able to communicate effectively to people inside and outside their organization.”

There is precedent of CEO savvy solving problems in an entrenched government bureaucracy. Many would cite former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s record of using data analytics to improve government inspections.

However, Fortune notes that the applicability of business strategies to government has its limits, especially at the federal level. That’s because the government operates in ways that would confound a CEO: “Civil servants outnumber the president’s appointees by margins of about 1,000 to one, and the president can’t get rid of them because they are protected by law. I can’t think of a CEO who has ever managed a workforce where the vast majority cannot be fired.”

Generally speaking, government employees also are more accountable to Congress than the president, because that is where budgets are ultimately determined, Fortune notes.

Ultimately, being a CEO shouldn’t automatically qualify or disqualify anyone from holding office, Newsweek says: “As the U.S. struggles to restart its economic engines and restrain government spending, it would be wrong to let populist passions disqualify an entire class of business leaders from public service. At the same time it would be irresponsible to entrust the reins of government to people simply because they happen to have handled a payroll.”

So, Newsweek says, the real test of fitness for public office is not the title a candidate has held: “It is what sort of personal qualities made them into the CEOs they were — and what that tells us about the public servants they might become.”

Tina Irgang is the production editor for SmartCEO. Contact her at