Letters to the editor

Bashing Bureaucrats

In response to Steve Kelman's questions contained in his Feb. 19 commentary, "Give feds a break": What downside is there to bashing bureaucrats?

Using the federal workforce as a punching bag for cheap political points is offensive. But I would disagree that it is counterproductive. As Mr. Kelman pointed out, federal employee participation is fundamental to improving government employment, policies and conditions, and encouraging America's best and brightest to join and stay in the public service.

Sometimes absurdity can only be appreciated through the wealth of exaggeration. But for now, let's put the TV ratings, sensationalism, creative writing and drama aside and consider whether the taxpaying public truly cares about a $600 hammer. Probably not.

However, the public does care about the human component. Consider:

  • Postal Service employees who "unload" on managers after numerous grievances are ignored.
  • Female soldiers who "wash out" after complaining of sexual harassment by superiors.
  • An FBI agent, "fired" after repeatedly writing to superiors, complaining about the lack of integrity in investigative reports and evidence tampering.

What is common to these situations? Management.

What is the downside to bashing? Who would want to work for an employer that cares so little for its "most valued asset" that it pro-motes incompetence and allows managers to violate the very standards of conduct they impose upon their subordinates?

Bashing serves as a warning to those who value integrity, innovation and respect to "stay away" from federal employment.

The downside is that the quality of federal employment will continue to decline and retain mostly those who stay out of "controversy," stay silent and go along with the crowd because making waves and doing the right thing for the right reason can be hazardous to your mortgage payment.

Having had the benefit of 15 years in aerospace before my federal employment, I speak from a perspective of having walked the walk. I never appreciated Dilbert until after I took my public service oath. I've seen federal managers interfere with criminal investigations and elections and misuse their positions and resources (employees) to cover up for their wrongdoing — only to receive promotions, generous pensions and $25,000 retirement bonuses.

"The fish stinks from the head first." Reform starts from the top down.

When federal employment reform acquires substance, the media hype will fade. Until then, the press is one of the few vehicles available to grab the ear of policy-makers in Congress.

Federal employees need a break. Even more, they need honorable, strong, ethical and respectful leadership and a system to remove bad apples.

Bob Abbott
Johnson Space Center Resident Office at Kennedy Space Center
NASA

No Second Chance

I look forward to reading Milt Zall's column in every issue of Federal Computer Week. I'm a now-retired 36-year veteran of the U.S. Civil Service and find his Bureaucratus columns very interesting.

In the April 16 issue, Zall described a case of two "habitual boozers" who were let go after being given at least a second chance. I, of course, agree with the decision but was disturbed that there didn't seem to be any weight given to the type of job these two boozers held. These guys were two Army helicopter mechanics! I wonder how many helicopters they worked on in their diminished state before they were fired. I'm sure glad I didn't have to ride in one of the helicopters they had worked on.

It seems to me that with the type of job they held, there would be no "second chance." The first time I found an airplane mechanic drunk on the job, he not only would be fired, he would be prosecuted for gross negligence.

Hal Staton

Rule of Three

I disagree with Milt Zall's opinion that the rule of three should be kept [FCW, March 26]. The rule assumes that the examining offices have some magic way of determining the three best candidates for a job. They don't. Candidates are rated based upon the skills they claim in their 171 [application form], resume or the Resumex [skills-match system].

Federal managers need the ability to determine and select the best candidate. I'm in the communications and automation business. The Office of Personnel Management and our local civilian personnel offices do not have the expertise to determine the best candidates for my openings.

Jeffrey Riplinger
5th Signal Command

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