Advice to ex-feds: Don't forget where you came from

The federal IT universe is heavily, and increasingly, populated by ex-feds -- people who've taken buyouts or been the victim of downsizing or just deserted for the greener pastures often available in the private sector. Because I'm now an ex-fed as well, I am hardly in a position to complain or to moralize, although I hope that the Jim Flyziks and the many hundreds of other good folks in the federal IT work force stick it out with the government as long as possible. We need good people in the federal government's IT talent base in an era where the need for IT talent has not diminished but where public-private salary gaps are wider than ever. I feel a real sense of admiration for those manning the forts in the government.

I ran into Bob Woods at one of the season's holiday parties. It was just a few days after Bob left his 20-plus-year government career, with its capstone as federal telecommunications czar, to become president of the information technology research firm Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va. Freshly arrived from the bar and feeling in an expansive, philosophical holiday mood, I held my drink in my hand and offered one piece of advice: "Bob, be sure that the government is always 'we,' even when you're in industry. The government should never be 'they' to you."

Treasury Department chief information officer Jim Flyzik, who had joined the group, challenged me to write a column on the topic. Here it goes.

The federal IT universe is heavily, and increasingly, populated by ex-feds -- people who've taken buyouts or been the victim of downsizing or just deserted for the greener pastures often available in the private sector. Because I'm now an ex-fed as well, I am hardly in a position to complain or to moralize, although I hope that the Jim Flyziks and the many hundreds of other good folks in the federal IT work force stick it out with the government as long as possible. We need good people in the federal government's IT talent base in an era where the need for IT talent has not diminished but where public-private salary gaps are wider than ever. I feel a real sense of admiration for those manning the forts in the government.

I have always been a corny sort of person. I will say unabashedly that I put people in federal service on a special pedestal. Clearly, people choose government service for any number of reasons. But academic research shows, and my own experience has confirmed, that government is disproportionately filled with people who have a streak of idealism in them.

Whether it be defending the country, making lifesaving scientific research possible, or succoring the forgotten, a lot of what government does involves some larger purpose, and a lot of it wouldn't get done if government wasn't around.

Feds put up with public misunderstanding and disdain, with pay freezes, with bomb threats -- including one deadly bombing -- and more. Investigations by the inspector general and congressional hearings are often the only reward for idealism. I have said that I wish the average American outside the Beltway could have spent a day or two as a fly on the wall in my office or in other federal offices throughout the country. It would have given them a different view of federal employees. They would have seen people seriously engaged in the business of trying to do the right thing for Americans.

So remember your roots. No matter how long I am out of the government, the government will always be 'we' to me, never 'they.' No matter what type of speaking, marketing, consulting or managing we ex-feds do we should pledge to ourselves never to let our private activities occur at the expense of the public good. We should never stoop to bandy about the kind of contemptuous comments made toward government employees that I occasionally heard from private-sector people (admittedly, mostly bid-protest lawyers) while I was in government. Ex-feds should look for ways to locate common ground between the public good and the private good of the firms for which they work. Where interests irreconcilably diverge, ex-feds should look for opportunities to assist in reaching solutions that do justice to both sides.

There are two reasons for ex-feds now working for industry to heed this advice. One is that, from their firms' perspective, it will give them a better understanding of their customer or potential customer. The second is more important. To remember our government honors those still in government. It honors our country. It is the right thing to do.

Kelman was the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993 to 1997. He is now Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.