Readers respond to FCW's unconventional wisdom.
Enough with the business mantra
Regarding the "Throw away that MBA" piece in your Jan. 10 issue, I have waited for decades to see someone address what strikes me as a mindless mantra of madness. This lemming march appears to have largely served only as a facade preventing meaningful change toward a more efficient and effective government.
There are many basic business practices and fundamental leadership skills government officials could use, but unfortunately, they largely don't.
On the other hand, the government has many advantages that most businesses would love to have, but it fails to capitalize on them. How many companies have employees who are willing to suffer and die for the well-being of fellow employees and the company?
Instead, the government continues trying to foist such fiascos as pay-for-performance, which I haven't seen work in the almost 30 years since it first crawled out from under a rock during the Carter administration.
I hope this is the beginning of a groundswell that will help cleanse the government of some of its many inefficiencies, instead of the current cleansing the government does of taxpayer wallets.
Government is not too different
The "Throw away that MBA" piece seems to me to be just the opinion of someone who did not get funding for a pet project to benefit some local constituency. The public good is served when taxes are spent more efficiently and with good stewardship in mind.
I disagree with the opinion that the power structure is too different to make a sound better business practice case. There is no structure that cannot be prompted to improve.
A bankrupt business
The Jan. 10 piece "Throw away that MBA" is correct to an extent.
Government is not a business; it is a nonprofit, service-oriented organization. However, the one thing government needs to do is to provide top-notch, high-quality service to its citizens at minimal cost. Overall, it does not even do that. Based on their nature, governments cannot do that.
If our government ever truly ran as a business, it would have gone bankrupt long ago.
Business practice can help government
Some good business practices would help government also. Here are four such practices.
- Define our business. Sometimes, money dictates outcomes instead of what is best for the job. I have seen this cheap defense in practice and have seen the outcome when outdated and unsupported hardware and software fail.
- Make decisions as close to actions as possible and empower workers. Reporting to a faraway headquarters takes time, money and people away from doing the actual work.
- Realize that business is ongoing. Officials should train young teams to replace older employees. As people retire, jobs are not filled and expensive contractors are paid to do the work.
- Control resources. I have seen outsourcing failures go unreported. When such projects fail, the results are a mess, and the people who know how to do the job are usually gone.
Move files off servers
Your Jan. 10 issue included the piece "Pack rats, beware," which described the problems of increasing storage. The largest challenge is to convince people, both workers and managers, of the need to archive and move old files off the servers.
I work in a financial management organization, which means we must keep records and files for at least seven years. Everyone wants to keep them on the server, but that requires tremendous amounts of storage. In addition, we have to keep the hard copy of all transactions. The result is 15 file cabinets, with more purchased each year.
Few consider this to be a critical problem. They say, "Buy more storage." Yet many of the records are for people who retired or transferred years ago. But some folks still want to keep their files.
Only when file maintenance becomes important enough to warrant the overtime needed to purge the records and files will the problem be resolved.
Better guidance and directives on file management from agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department will help reduce the problem. The adage "What gets watched, gets changed" is still true.
What is personal?
In recent months, Federal Computer Week has run articles on the government's attempts to crackdown on personal use of computers, including "Navy to clamp down on misuse of tech" [Dec. 13, 2004] and "Watching while you work" [Oct. 4, 2004]. But as use of computer-aided work tools increases, it becomes harder to separate what is personal use and what is business use.
When I picked up a pad of paper and a pencil and wrote a note to myself to buy milk and bread on the way home, I was using company-supplied tools for personal use, but who cared?
Now I have a personal digital assistant and I can make a note to buy milk and bread, with a request to page me with a reminder while I'm driving home. I'm using company resources for personal use, and now the company is going to look over my shoulder and tell me not to do that again? Should we go back to pad and pencil?
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