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.)

Bruce Glover

Social Security Administration

Richmond, Calif.

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December 05, 2000

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