Not ready for prime time!?
Let’s take defense as an example. Who is at the head of defense in the United States? You have at the top of the mountain, the President. Few presidents are trained military officers. Next down you have the Secretary of Defense. Same thing, few SoDs are trained military officers. The same thing applies in agriculture, state (external or foreign affairs), health, etc.
Am I implying that the only ones who can lead the policy side of a ministry must be professionals of that sector? Clearly, that would mean that the senior-most officer would become the Secretary of Defense. It would mean that only someone who understood agriculture, who had in some way worked in that field, would be eligible for the post.
That will never happen. Politics drives policy and the body politic will never allow another, potentially non-partisan to lead.
I have a clear cut solution, co-management. At present, what usually happens is that every ministry has a leading bureaucrat, someone who has been there for years and who has risen through the ranks. The problem is that these highly qualified employees (that’s what they are) have little decision power. They are implementors or managers at best. Granted, in some rare cases, the Minister or Secretary will listen and heed the advice of said expert, but in most cases they will lead their ministry based on partisan policy, not pragmatic knowledge.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. In some cases co-management could work, in others that will never succeed. However, if our leaders would accept their role with true responsibility, they would at least take the time to seek out truly qualified — or as qualified as possible — candidates. They would not appoint their loyal supporters to a ministry because they ‘owe them one’. As proof that this happens is the incalculable number of secretaries or ministers, especially in Europe, who have rotated from one post to another. I know of more than five who have at any one time in their career been at the head of defense, finance and one other ministry. Please tell me that defense and finance are two different skill sets!