The Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

It’s been a while since I read Flash Boys. I’ve been avoiding this genre, but there’s no denying that Michael Lewis books are super entertaining and informative. Even better, this one is about how the government works – not in theory, but in practicality. What do federal employees do? And how has Trump changed their day-to-day? Caveat that the author paints the Trump administration in a horrible light.

1) After the election in 2016, political appointees often didn’t show up, leaving department employees in limbo.

When they finally did show up at the DOE, they asked for a list of employees who had attended meetings on climate change. Then they deleted the email addresses of scientists to make communication more difficult.

2) Almost half of DOE’s $30 billion annual budget is spent on our nuclear arsenal.

In the past 8 years, the department has collected enough nuclear material from various places to make 160 nuclear bombs. It also spends $3 billion a year cleaning up nuclear waste in Hanford, WA.

3) DOE provides low interest loans to promote innovation in alternative energy.

The program is infamous for Solyndra, but it’s also lent money to Tesla, which repaid the loan 9 years early.

4) “A&M” stands for Agricultural and Mechanical.

Land grant colleges were created by the Morrill Act of 1862.

5) The Department of Agriculture overlooks meat, while the FDA is responsible for all other foods.

Cheese pizza is the FDA’s problem. Pepperoni pizza is the USDA’s problem. USDA Prime beef is not a problem.

6) USDA used to limit chicken processing to 140 a minute.

The book talks about a 2017 proposal to increase this limit to 175 per minute. It’s been passed since.

7) The average National Weather Service tornado warning comes 13 minutes before the tornado strikes.

I’ve never really thought about how sudden tornadoes are. I don’t know why my mental model for a tornado was a landlocked hurricane.

8) The National Weather Service is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Department of … Commerce.

The Department of Commerce has almost nothing to do with trade. It’s really the department of data. It runs the census, collects economic data, and sets measurement standards.

9) Wilbur Ross was appointed head of the Department of Commerce.

Ross had lied about his financial assets to get on the Forbes list of rich people. The story writes itself.

10) The five day forecast in 2016 was as accurate as the one day forecast in 2005.

We only recently started performing better than random guessing for the nine day forecast.

It’s sad that government employees are generally not held in high regard, and most of their work is taken for granted. The best they can do is for things to work as normal. When things go wrong, they’re blamed. Add on top of that the constant churn of their politically appointed bosses. And on top of that, their current bosses often have no experience in the field and sometimes even  stand in opposition to their work.


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