The study of voter competence has made significant contributions to our understanding of politics, but at this point there are diminishing returns to the endeavor. Voter competence is unlikely to improve dramatically enough to make much of a difference to our politics. By contrast, the competence of officials can and does vary substantially over short periods of time. To understand variations in government performance, therefore, we would do better to focus on the abilities and performance of officials, not ordinary citizens. We elaborate on this argument, emphasizing the “incompetence multiplier”: the way that the properties of hierarchies can amplify the incompetence of those in powerful positions. We illustrate our argument with an extended discussion of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.