Bureaucratus: A tribute

Last spring, the federal information technology community lost an important person. Week in and week out in the pages of Federal Computer Week, from the publication's launch in 1987 until 2003, Milton "Bureaucratus" Zall addressed the bread-and-butter concerns of federal IT workers. Zall broke his spine in a fall and died after a protracted hospital stay.

For years, FCW readers knew him only as the anonymous "Bureaucratus," the columnist who boldly and relentlessly challenged the wisdom of pay-for-performance bonuses, identified the pitfalls of outsourcing federal jobs, questioned the relative merits of federal retirement plans and decried the effectiveness of government reorganization.

Only years after his retirement from a career with the U.S. government did Zall and FCW editors think that it was appropriate to reveal the identity of the writer who, by then, had built a following worthy of Federal News Radio's Mike Causey.

I first met Zall when FCW was housed in close quarters at what Paul McCloskey, FCW's news editor at the time, dubbed "McGuffey Reader-sized desks" in Tyson's Corner just weeks before the publication's March 1987 debut. Zall stopped by to argue the case for a column in our new venture that would deal with the personal and professional issues that affect every federal worker.

I was concerned about FCW's focus. "But you won't be writing about IT," I said.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

Zall was right. From the beginning, he understood the need to acknowledge and address the human angle in a publication primarily devoted to the government's use of technology. Consequently, FCW subscribers read his column faithfully. They related to Zall's timely and honest assessment of sensitive employment subjects. They wrote letters to the editor. In every reader survey or focus group, "Bureaucratus" scored high as a critical component of FCW. The column helped build readership and set the publication apart from what was, at the time, its more established competition.

The column also launched a freelance writing career that Zall developed in earnest after his retirement in 1989 from the State Department, where he had been director of the Office of Internal Control. He eventually wrote for a wide variety of publications, including Consumers Digest, AARP Bulletin, Barron's, The Journal of Commerce, Strategic Finance and Worth Online.

But I think the effort closest to his heart was his FCW column. Witness his family's listing of his name in the March 29 Washington Post obituary: Milton "Bureaucratus" Zall.

Zall identified with FCW readers by offering advice and intelligent analysis and giving them the sense that they had an advocate who appreciated the issues they face.

Holmes served as editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and president and chief executive officer of FCW Government Technology Group until October 2000.


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