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Washington's rare moment of reform – for itself

From the IRS abuse to a rise of sexual assaults in the military, Washington is taking time to fix its own problems. A bipartisan effort for reform should apply to fixing the nation's problems.

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President Obama waves as he leaves the Ohio State University spring commencement in Columbus May 5. In his address, he said 'the institutions that give structure to our society have, at times, betrayed your trust.'

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Little noticed in the political “scandals” piling up for President Obama is one bright spot: Washington has finally taken time out from fixing the country’s problems to fixing its own. To most Americans, that’s long overdue.

From security lapses in the Benghazi attack to the rise of sex assaults in the military to the IRS abuse, Democrats and Republicans are singing a similar tune about reforming major parts of government. Partisan politics may still intone an off-key note, but at least the incessant gridlock over competing visions of what government should be doing for America has been temporarily usurped by an emerging consensus on what government should do for itself.

“If we’re being honest,” Mr. Obama said in a May 5 commencement address, elected leaders should admit “the institutions that give structure to our society have, at times, betrayed your trust.”

Indeed, public trust in government is at a near-record low of 26 percent, according to a recent Pew poll. In exit polls during last November’s election, more than half of voters said government is doing too much.

Obama’s words, like those of other civic leaders with some humility, reflect the proverbial advice of “physician, heal thyself.” The State Department, for example, has admitted to “systemic failures” and “management deficiencies” leading up to the terrorist attack on American diplomats in Libya last September. A Treasury probe of the IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status found “ineffective management oversight.” And Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told the troops: “The Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

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