Letter to the Editor
The problem with [Milt Zall's] conclusions is that they leave the government
open to the classic ridicule of continuing to try to apply and enforce essentially
unenforceable rules ["Public goods, personal use", Federal Computer Week, Nov. 6, 2000].
When the only substantial "goods" at stake are an occasional few sheets
of paper and a bit of electricity, it is foolish to retain a blanket ban
on use of government office equipment.
I know from personal experience that in private business offices such
rules are usually or at least often rather flexible. Would the employer
rather the employee take the time to run off to a pay phone to make a medical
appointment, check with a child-care provider or arrange to meet a spouse
after work, or would the employer rather the employee simply use the phone
on his or her desk for a few moments?
Likewise, what harm is there in having your home e-mail account open
in the background on your work computer so that you can briefly check for
messages during the day? Or what about logging on to the Associated Press
breaking news site to read about the latest news during lunch? These are
harmless and beneficial little privileges and conveniences that most employers
I know are happy to permit, if they are not abused. Many employers are more
liberal, and I'm sure some are less. (And, of course, the blue-collar world
is often much different.)
Unfortunately, because of the inflexible old rules, the government manager
always has to deal with these little things from a sneaky, unspoken "let's
just look the other way" perspective. The [Office of Personnel Management]
rules simply bring acknowledgement of the way things actually are and
the way most reasonable people want them to be.
Certainly, there are and should be rules against out-and-out theft or
substantial abuse of privileges. And I'm sure there will be abuse. But,
of course, there always has been abuse, and even if Big Brother takes over,
there always will be abuse.
Remember, stopping to chat for a minute with a co-worker could be considered
fostering good working relations and a pleasant workplace or grossly wasting
the government's time and resources. And the new OPM rules are no more a
can of worms than that issue is.
Of course, if you believe most employees are just looking for ways to
rip off the public, or that most managers just need more excuses to come
down on and punish their employees, then by all means go for the old rules.
Then most managers and workers can choose between living more falsely or
nitpicking each other to death.
Come on, Milt, I think reasonable managers and employees agree on this.
Are you on either side? (Besides, those few who really want a can of worms
always seem to find one nearby.)
Social Security Administration