John Klossner's Ink Tank

Top 10 signs you have a Rising Star on staff

Klossner_cartoon_handshakeThe annual Rising Stars awards, which honor up-and-coming information technology professionals who work for government agencies and contractors, were recently announced, causing craziness in the cubicles, pandemonium in the parking lots, and euphoria by the espresso makers. But now that the confetti has been swept up and the rented tuxes returned, all thoughts turn to next year’s awards. Could a future Rising Star be among us? Awaiting change from our vending machines? Surfing the web on our Wifi? Swiping their smart cards on our security systems?

The following list offers a few clues that one of next year's Rising Stars may, indeed, be in your midst:

10) His suit coat matches his cargo shorts.

9) He asks what the high score is in systems integration

8) She delivers all white papers in 140 characters or less.

7) He sleeps in the office to ensure that the coffee maker goes on at the correct time.

6) When running a meeting, she presents all attendees with an iPod "meeting mix" playlist.

5) She creates a Facebook group called "People who want to be in a Facebook group with a Rising Star."

4) He single-handedly ports the agency financial management system to a Wii format.

3) He expresses the desire that the first Bush administration had "taken out PowerPoint when they had the chance."

2) She shares her fantasy of becoming Secretary of State in a Jon Stewart administration.

1) She wants to know why they can't text the award to her.

Klossner Rising Star

Posted by John Klossner on Sep 27, 2010 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Inherently governmental remains inherently confusing

Klossner schoolbus courthouseWhen I was a kid I remember encountering a game on the school bus -- which is where all our real social learning took place -- that was called, if I remember correctly, "picnic." (Many of the details of the game have been affected by the trauma I'm about to describe. Also, the fact of it being a kids' game, with different names, rules and versions existing throughout the land, combined with my ability to remember the name of the assistant gaffer on a 1952 movie but not remember what time my daughter gets home from school -- even though it has been the same time for 5 years now -- makes some of the details I'm sharing questionable. Just go with the gist of what I'm describing.)

The game took place by the first person saying "I'm going on a picnic and I'm going to bring X and Y.” Now, if the person's name was, say, John Klossner, they'd say "...I'm going to bring jelly beans and komodo dragons." This would go around to every person playing, and when it came around to John Klossner again he would say "...and I'm bringing jumping jacks and kiwis." And so on.

Those of you who have played this game, or have a natural affinity for children's-game logic, have probably figured out that the trick here is to bring items that begin with the same letters of your first and last names. In fact, the game -- again, as I remember it -- was based on people being able to "join" the picnic once they figured this out and could bring the correct items. (On a personal note: It was a handicap to have a "K" name in this game, as I ended up sounding like I was from Tasmania or had a bag full of marsupials with me.) I was not one of these people. I finally had to have the rules explained to me, but not before being subjected to a lot of 10 year-old derision. After that I was allowed to play, as they then had to search out another person who wasn't in on the "rules." But then that person would figure it out immediately, and everyone would be reminded of how I did not.

I am in the same position with the discussion about "inherently governmental," the term for defining what jobs should be confined to federal employees, and not private contractors. Generally speaking, these are (from an FCW article on the subject) "function(s) that (are) so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by government employees." This discussion is taking place as Congress is pressuring the administration to better define "inherently governmental," the administration is trying to insource government jobs and reports are coming out that agencies are relying too much on contractor workforces.

Similar to my school bus experience, I am not sure what the rules are here. But there is one difference: In that childhood game, many of the other players knew the rules, and the entertainment came from watching someone try to figure them out. I get the feeling that nobody in the "inherently governmental" conversations knows the rules or, more accurately, everyone has their own set of rules. (There may be a children's game that serves as a better analogy, but none come to mind.) As the previously cited FCW article notes, there has not been an agreed-upon definition since 1992 when, if memory serves me, discussions were held via Pony Express.

I am fascinated by the "inherently governmental" discussions. Can government tasks ever be clearly defined, with differing governing philosophies being debated and, as is currently the case, successive administrations operating with differing plans for the role of the private sector in government?

This leads me to a few questions:

* Is defining "inherently governmental" an inherently governmental job?
* If a private contractor fells a tree in a national forest, does the sound made go on the public record?
* If an agency decides to outsource, is the acquisition process "inherently governmental?"
* If a contractor is invited to an agency office party, do they have to get a federal employee to respond for them? And…
* If I'm going to a federal agency, should I bring the Justice Department and a koala bear?

Klossner contractor cartoon

Posted by John Klossner on Sep 23, 2010 at 12:19 PM0 comments

How not to recruit potential employees and influence people

There has been much discussion lately about how to attract the best talent to the federal workforce. As the perfect storm of an aging employee base and a bad economy make government positions look good in terms of security and availability, newer talent is checking out government jobs. Federal recruiters, however, might not want to recommend prospective employees browsing the comments sections of federal technology news sites.

The following comments (which have been edited for style and length) were all found in a brief review of the web site. And, I note, not all found at one or two stories; these comments were spread throughout the site. (For a more thorough account  -- and more detailed comments about -- this situation I recommend this story):

* The supervisors here are sycophants who are only interested in their careers. It's the bottom end of not providing direction to their people, who are expected to learn from each other. And we have to because our managers spend all of their time on the phone and especially on e-mail with their managers. To a person, our requests for help are ignored. Our managers brag about BSing their managers with missives on e-mail, saying nothing but responding to every e-mail to make sure their name is seen (as if they are running for office).

* My experience is (more or less) a third of folks (management and labor) are amazing and functional well beyond pay and expectations. Another third are limited, work-reward clock-punchers. The last third are untrainable and unfireable.

* As a programmer, I have deadlines, not work hours. Since the deadlines are not self-imposed, I'm always dancing to someone else's tune. I manage two weeks of time unplugged yearly -- over the winter holidays when project-side staff are all doing their party face time. Outside of those two weeks I haven't had a "real" vacation (or weekend) in over a decade. On the upside I can start work at 3 a.m. or put in time over the weekend. I can be productive in spite of commute and meeting time constraints -- all while still spending a precious few evening hours nightly with my family.

Klossner cartoon Aug 18 2010

* I've seen one too many occasions of "hiring teams" not hiring the best qualified but hiring friends that don't meet the job requirements. Essentially it's an unfair hiring process. I've also seen personnel that applied for IT positions, and once hired, they were converted to another job series. This is what gives the government a bad rap.

* Federal employees frequently do have a lot of education and certifications; however, the federal human resources processes do not necessarily match skills and education with job positions. Federal HR needs some revamping.

* If the DOD is like the agency that I work for (who is modeling themselves after the DOD) they need to cut management. We have more layers of management and more keep getting added without adding any workers.

* Most of the existing staff employees are already overworked and under water.

* Becoming a civil servant does not automatically make you stupid, but the current political system encourages this behavior and must change.

* I don't mean to paint all government workers with the same brush -- some are fantastic. But not many of them.

* There are contracting personnel put in jobs who have not a clue about true contracting processes. These individual are put in position because of favoritism.

* It's fascinating how before there was an Internet, nobody needed access. Then only a limited number of personnel were given a Web browser. Now everyone has a browser, and some screw around all day. Maybe they should go back to monitoring productivity and seeing who is reading the newspapers and Facebooking all day.

* Most middle-level managers want to demonstrate they are in control.

* Maybe if you removed 1/3 of the federal workforce the 2/3 remaining would become more efficient and managers would improve as well. Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha Ha ha ha ha ha what a funny fed I am.

* My boss never speaks to me anyway, so how is it any different if I work at home.


Posted by John Klossner on Aug 18, 2010 at 12:19 PM3 comments