Welles: Fiscal year follies

A new fiscal year, with a change in leadership in the offing, brings new questions and fears. Regardless of past accomplishments or foibles, a new presidential administration can turn everything on its head.

Recent trends have caused many federal employees to feel shackled to jobs that are constrained by tight budgets, increased reliance on contractors, and more management oversight and restrictions. What will the new fiscal year bring?

You don’t need a crystal ball to know some of the developments likely to occur. On the one hand, not much will change until the new directions become clear. That can mean downtime for some, while those in mission-critical programs will be as busy as ever.

On the other hand, there are whistle-blower rumblings in some programs about attempts to solidify Bush administration initiatives before officials leave. Some of these efforts bring projects that have public support and interest to their natural conclusions. But employees fear that changes made by less-committed leaders — changes that erode past progress — are becoming embedded.

The surge of retirements of federal workers with long years of service and experience will continue at the end of 2008. Agencies might be cautious about hiring except in critical areas. Still, the offers of hiring incentives such as telework could increase.

As veteran employees leave, there could be opportunities for remaining workers to step into higher positions on an acting basis. It could also mean short staffing, growing backlogs and more pressure on employees trying to get the job done.

The thesis of a recently published book on private-sector employees has important implications for federal workers. In “Love the Work, Hate the Job: Why America’s Best Workers are Unhappier than Ever,” author David Kusnet observes that a growing number of employees believe they care more about the quality of their products and services than their bosses do. Kusnet, visiting fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, was a speechwriter for President Clinton.

Kusnet explains many federal employees’ fears about their work. Feds are noted and often lauded for their fierce dedication to the principles of public service and the missions of the agencies they serve. They love what they do and understand their customers’ needs.

But they hate where they work, he said, because of leaders whom they believe lack commitment and missions that are shortchanged. “Federal employees are committed to what they are doing but circumstances do not always permit them to do their best work. In times of a weak economy, there are greater needs and tighter budgets,” he wrote.

“With a change in leadership, resources might be redirected to those who need a helping hand from government, and public service might be more respected than in the past,” Kusnet wrote.

The start of a new fiscal year offers an opportunity for some dialogue about what lies ahead. In the process, constructive ideas can surface on ways to maintain high-quality services during a time of transition.
Welles (judywelles@1105govinfo.com) is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week.

About the Author

Judith Welles is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md.

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