Betrayed by language

Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"

The media has widely reported that the Secret Service recently allowed an armed, deranged person to jump over the White House fence and enter the mansion. The agency director, Julia Pierson, quickly disintegrated in the wake of bipartisan pressure to resign.

I don’t know Ms. Pierson. She may have performed well in prior posts. Perhaps not.

But her use of language during her testimony to Congress betrays her as a bureaucrat more concerned with management than leadership. Consider her response to an inquiry about agency staffing:

“I do know we have provided a human capital strategy to Congress at their request.”

No leader who is concerned with the actual effectiveness of her organization in the real world would resort to deliberately obscure terminology in this fashion. A better response would be clearer and more direct. Perhaps:

“We provided Congress with a staffing plan at their request.”


“We submitted a report to Congress on how we plan to staff the agency.”

Finally, a leader does not lapse into passive voice in matters as serious as this. Ms. Pierson testified that:

“It is obvious that mistakes were made.”

Who made mistakes? What was the nature of there errors? How about:

“We failed to respond to a serious threat to the President.”

The passive voice points a detachment from responsibility and a failure of leadership.