Letter to the editor
I'm not sure that money is the main retention problem in government. For me, it is an advantage of government service that I do not find myself working around a lot of backstabbing mercenaries. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go back through the archives at Forbes magazine and read "The Gladiator's Ball."
Truthfully, happiness boils down to the ability to live within one's budget, and pay is a lot less important to people than other factors, such as one's relationship with co-workers and bosses, and certainly the biggest factor is recognition. Unfortunately, for technical workers, government leaders are sometimes considerably more derelict in these latter categories than in the category of pay, as bad as the pay may seem.
It is a simple fact that government is still run by bureaucrats who frequently have little understanding of technology, let alone what it may mean in terms of competitive advantage or services for taxpayers.
A younger generation is seeing technology change business and the world. But in government, frequently those who gain the highest positions and greatest recognition are not those we see as the most innovative. The popular, in government circles, seem most often to be those who are less competent but who make fewer waves.
The aversion of government to change can be seen clearly as the average age of government employees and managers moves upward rather than accepting new blood and new ideas. This aversion creates an environment that is hostile to the best minds of our current age. Moreover, even when the topic is not high-tech, one must interact with people in federal government who are often incredibly incompetent. Good employees will not stick around if they can't get things done and can't find good help within their organization.
Let me back that statement up with a personal example. The government currently owes me more than 10 months of back pay related to a 1999 divorce. I first reported the error in June of 2000. In order to simply obtain agreement for reimbursement, I had to escalate my claim all the way to OPM before I could find someone who understood the common enough issues of insurance beneficiaries related to a divorce and who knew the rule that premiums paid needed to be refunded back to the date of the divorce.
In the private sector, a human resources manager would be quickly unemployed if found to be ignorant on such a common matter. In my case, I not only found managers ignorant, but I found a network of people who should have been professionals who were united in their stubborn refusal to correct their own errors. While OPM provided its guidance regarding the correction in December, I'm still waiting for reimbursement almost two months later.
Add to this the fact that none of my supervisors made any effort to assist me until it got to the deputy assistant secretary's level, and you have a picture of an organization bereft of competent leadership.
I'm not a run-of-the-mill government employee. I'm an employee who has aggressively pursued technical competence, becoming certified not only in basic PC technology, but also in the Internet, Microsoft networking and as a technical trainer. I just finished teaching Microsoft Windows 2000 Active Directory Services for a leading state university. Currently, my hourly rate for teaching night classes for the university is nearly twice my government compensation level, and the going rate for full-time contract trainers exceeds even that. With 24 years of government service, I can retire at any time on a deferred annuity retirement, or a regular retirement with the early retirement penalty.
Today, as I write this, the e-mail system where I work in the Bureau of Consular Affairs is down for the second day in a row. Several years ago, I tried to promote the notion that we needed a formal disaster recovery plan, and we still do not have one. States' shortcomings in the arena of, security are legendary, and you may guess that policy-makers are just now learning that disaster recovery is a key part of a responsible security plan.
I just read that Barnes & Noble, with its Compaq PC and Windows 2000 architecture, had zero downtime for the past year. In contrast, we have been comfortable for years with a mainframe that has had to go down once a week for routine maintenance. Should it be any surprise that we are just now waking up to an e-mail system that sees several days of outages in a single quarter? Yet, this is an institution that — rather than reward those who do pursue excellence — penalizes us when we fail to get along with those who are responsible for such measurable shortcomin
This is the reality of government employment, as I have known it.
It's not the money. It's a question of the feasibility of success and going where the future is. It is a question of where I will find people who want more of my capabilities and contributions rather than seeing the truth about engineering shortcomings as troublesome.
An organization that does not understand the need of Internet access for its employees in this age may not have legitimate justification for its existence.
I will go where the future is and where I find success. As a taxpayer, I will resent that I will suffer the consequences of a government that cannot engage the technology of today. But as an individual, I will be spending a bit less time on crucifixion row.
Name withheld upon request