About the Business of Government

John Donahue and Max Stier, both experienced government employees/appointees, penned an excellent article in Washington Monthly summarizing the enormous challenges facing President-elect Obama as he attempts to get the government working properly again.

It is no surprise that the past eight years have not been kind to the efficiency or morale of government agencies and departments, and there is much work to be done.  I’ve argued this point before.

Using the framework of the biannual Human Capital Survey (which is pretty much like any other attitude survey conducted in the private sector) they highlight mission-critical departments that have horrible morale.  Some examples:

The president-elect has vowed to do something about the spiraling costs of health care. But he won’t get far without reforming Medicare and Medicaid. […] The agency that manages these two programs is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. It ranks 186th out of 222 units within the various cabinet agencies in the Partnership for Public Service’s latest rankings. […]

And what about FEMA? […] On the list ranking departmental subunits, it’s 211 out of 222. […]

The Federal Aviation Administration, which grounded thousands of flights this spring after agency whistleblowers went public with charges that they’d been discouraged from cracking down on maintenance problems at Southwest Airlines, ranks 204th out of 222.

The authors offer several reasons for this poor state of affairs, most of which relate in some fashion to the notion that federal employment has lost a lot of its cachet and respectability relative to the private sector.

There are, however, some reasons to be hopeful.

First, remember the huge uptick in public mood once Barack Obama won the election?  There’s every reason in the world to think that would be magnified among federal employees who, besides being (mostly) citizens of this country, probably also feel a sense of hope about their work situations getting better under the new administration.

Those who feel the most fervent about the mission of their agency would, of course, have been the most demoralized when they watched their expertise bypassed, dismissed, or dictated by the Bush Administration.  For these people, the sun truly will rise on January 20th.

The downward spiral most agencies experienced during the Bush Administration was surely reversed on November 4th, and the upward trend is picking up steam.

Second, quite possibly the only silver lining of this incredible financial mess the US (and the rest of the world) finds itself in is that very few people are likely to leave a perfectly good job unless there is something clearly better beckoning them.  Yes, federal agencies can be bureaucracy-bound and inclined to reward employees who avoid making waves even if they also avoid making any positive contribution.  In this respect, the federal government is not much different than any other large organization.

But working for the federal government offers a great pension (for those on the civil service system) and terrific healthcare options.  Both of these benefits are becoming increasingly rare in the private sector.  And the Baby Boomers who are nearing retirement get an extra 2% of their salary added to their pension for every year they work past their date of eligibility.  In these uncertain times, that looks like a pretty good deal and may help keep some of the more experienced and competent people around to help put their agency aright.

With all that said, however, it is clear that virtually every agency and department will be hiring experienced and qualified people to clean up and run the government.  For those who are job-hunting, this would be a terrific time to look into working for the federal government.

One Response to “About the Business of Government”

  1. Some Americans once trusted failed FAA Acting Administrator “Bobby” Sturgell to act like he was a regulator and prevent Americans from flying in cracked, dangerous planes. Then, after many months of FAA intimidation seeking to silence those desirous of telling the truth, the ram broke the dam. Whistle-blower courage and Congressional and FBI probe forced “Bobby” Sturgell and his FAA to admit that their malfeasance allowed hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of passengers to fly in cracked and defective Southwest and other aircraft. Bobby Sturgell’s defense, was denial – he continued to self-tout that he led the “Safest Period In Aviation History”. Yet approximately 3,500 souls and climbing have died on “Bobby” Sturgell’s own FAA “watch”. The NTSB statistics are here:
    Trust “Bobby” Sturgell just as much as you ever trusted Baghdad Bob, Chemical Ali, and Saddam Hussein. The men are each other’s moral equivalent. Bobby Sturgell has the same credibility as Baghdad Bob, the same respect for the sanctity of human life as Chemical Ali, and the same political future as Saddam Hussein. And now, each have been thankfully kicked to their governments’ respective curbs. I call THAT justice.
    John J. Tormey III, Esq.
    Quiet Rockland

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