Favoritism in the federal workplace: Wishful thinking or cold hard truth?

FCW readers take issue with a recent blog post suggesting that favoritism is not as prevalent as many feds think

Cynicism abounds in the federal workplace, but FCW.com blogger Steve Kelman remains skeptical about favoritism.

He noted in a recent post at “The Lectern” that more than 70 percent of feds surveyed by the Merit Systems Protection Board believed that promotions were based on who they knew not on competence or hard work. But Kelman, who isn’t buying the theory of rampant favoritism, sees basic human psychology at work. “Most people turned down for promotion genuinely believe they are above average and deserved to be promoted,” he wrote. So if someone else gets the job, it’s only natural to look for an explanation, and the most obvious is favoritism.

Here is a sampling of what readers had to say in response. Some comments have been edited for length, style or clarity.

Favoritism? No Duh.
"You are incredibly naive if you think favoritism is an illusion. The most blatant occurs when contractors become govies and then hire other contractors as each govie slot opens, whether or not the new appointee has any expertise in government operations or management decisions."
— Anonymous

"Duh, water is wet, sky is blue, managers play favorites. Some places are just a little more blatant about it than others. The government is no exception. The personnel rules in place just give them a few more hoops to jump through, but any system can be gamed. In fairness to the managers, they may not even be aware they are playing favorites. They are just exhibiting the human tendency to hire/associate with those they feel more comfortable with."
— Anonymous

Favoritism? It's Academic.
"In my agency, the only thing that matters in being considered for promotion is academic achievement. A proven track record of competence and productivity means absolutely nothing. We have reached the point where most of our younger employees do not care how well they perform on the job because they know that in terms of their future, their performance means absolutely nothing. Instead, they focus on fattening their academic portfolio and leave the actual work to the poor chumps who still believe that we are being paid to actually do a job."
— Anonymous

The Root Problem: Bad Management
"I recall an old saying that stated that if you wanted a promotion, do a poor job. If you are dependable, loyal and do a good job, your immediate supervisor will want to hold onto you."
— Anonymous

"Were it a simply a matter of favoritism, I could live with it. What I can't live with is management's consistent failure to document and dismiss poor performers. In my 33-plus years of service with a defense agency, I noticed a trend of 'enabling,' where managers and co-workers were suckered in by employees who feigned illness (among other things) in order to gain sympathy and play the system."
— FedUp

Another Skeptic
"The survey asked the wrong question. What it should have asked is: The last time you were promoted, was it mainly due to favoritism, competence or hard work? I'm sure the answers would have been quite the opposite of those they actually got. Clearly, surveys like this one are worse than useless."
— Ken

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Wed, May 8, 2013

Favortism is beyond obvious in my office. Only certain folks are allowed to telework, get away with arriving late, taking excessive leave (Fridays and Mondays), and recieving awards. I'm tired of the lunches, the dirty looks, the outcasted feeling, and don't deserve it. I am a seasoned Fed, and deserve respect. I would file a grievance, but know it wouldn't get anywhere. This goes all the way up the chain.

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 John

I followed everything to the T. In the end after all my statements, investigations, interviews, and lack of discretion on there part they came back and said I missed a deadline at the beginning of the initial phase when the EEO favoritism was filed. Really! I had 20 years of military service to back my job experience for that promotion.

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 anonymous :p Indiana

Kind of makes me feel better to know it's not just my workplace! I've got 22 years of fed. service (5 years private industry), and I'm well-educated and a good worker. I'm not complaining for myself - I've done pretty well, and I am pretty sure favoritism isn't part of it as I'm not one of the "in crowd" - but there is plenty of favoritism here. Hiring/promoting friends, neighbors, friends of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.

Thu, Sep 15, 2011

Favoritism is just another law on paper only. Just like no fear, just like EEO. It is all on paper only. When it comes to actually applying this law, nothing happens and if you are the one complaining most likely you will get punished. The law is weak if it is not enforced properly. The Union "used" to be power, but unfortunately, all they do now is get together, eat , and discuss how they "cannot" help.
In my workplace, my supervisor goes on leave and reports it as TDY because he is going with his supervisor whom he plays golf with every Sunday. Who do you report that to? Oh and on top of that all the big heads go and play golf with them on Sunday. So your complaints are pretty much wasted, and if you complain they will come after you, oh sorry I forgot that power point slide about the no fear act..yea that will scare them all..

Mon, Mar 8, 2010

ICE is really bad about favoritism. Even if you work for them,have an education, and experience, they still only hire those with "connections" to someone in the local field office.

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