Letters to the editor

FirstGov a Fine Index

The feature article on FirstGov ["A work in progress," FCW, July 23] missed the point about the value of the portal. Its role, as it is currently defined, is simply to be an index that covers 100 percent of the .gov and .mil domains. It is comprehensive, and it is reliable. It is designed to help citizens quickly locate what information is there, not to become the source of the information, nor to be a censor.

Think of it as an online card catalog for a very large library. The more effective it is, the more time a visitor will spend browsing the books than skimming the card catalog.

Also implied in the article is that somehow FirstGov is responsible for the plethora of irrelevant and poorly maintained information that departments, agencies and programs have published on the Web.

The shortage of valuable content on federal Web sites is the responsibility of those who publish the information, not the index that locates them. The fact that AOL's Government Guide has chosen to include less than 0.2 percent (two-tenths of 1 percent!) of all federal Web pages in the content it provides its users should be a wake-up call to everyone spending taxpayer funds to build and operate these sites.

Creating valuable content and providing virtual views of the government that correspond to citizens' needs and interests are essential to achieving a citizen-centric government.

FirstGov is doing an excellent job of helping citizens find what's there. Now it is time to focus on improving what is there to be found.

Bill Piatt
Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc.
(Piatt is a former chief information officer at the General Services Administration.)

Fuming Over Appointees

Thank you, Paul Brubaker, for single-handedly raising the blood pressure of perhaps a million or more dedicated government employees who've progressed through the civil service ranks only through their own hard work, diligence and perseverance. Your comments on political appointments ["Vetting, minus the pain," FCW, July 23]—to use your own word—were just plain "dumb."

You gripe that the appointment process—a "time-consuming, paperwork-intensive marathon"—would "frustrate even the most dedicated public servant" and that appointees hesitate to complain because "that could be detrimental to their careers." What really frustrates dedicated public servants and hurts their careers are (surprise, surprise): political appointees.

You know as well as I do that a significant number of political appointments are paybacks, rewards and gifts doled out to a select few for their campaign contributions, continued allegiance to the party in power or for favors previously done—i.e., one hand washes the other.

It's otherwise called "political patronage," defined as "appointments to government jobs, especially on a basis other than merit alone."

What irks me is that political appointees have the gall to gripe. The jobs they were handed, to the detriment of thousands of other equally or more qualified civil servants, were apparently not handed quickly enough. Apparently, appointee candidates were made to give relevant information (regarding finances and lifestyle) and (heaven, help us) fill out paperwork. You even call the process "painful."

No, Paul, you don't have a clue as to what painful can be. For me and most of my peers, "painful" has been watching our small, executive-department agency be saddled, at the local level, with a steady stream of regional administrators and senior staff who snagged their jobs using anything other than merit.

During the Clinton administration, one regional administrator in particular — with no management experience whatsoever—leapfrogged from a humdrum desk job at a local firm to government pay at the Senior Executive Service level.

Overnight, that appointee suddenly became qualified to manage and direct 500 employees, at least until being fired with one day's notice after having irritated someone with apparently far greater political influence.

I commend your suggestion to streamline the political appointment process through electronic processing, which is what you were writing about in the first place. I also commend all government workers—civil service and political appointees alike—who work their butts off every day and who got to where they are through hard work and merit, not favors or paybacks.

Let's just not gripe when we're asked to fill out paperwork for a job paying more than 100,000 bucks a year.

Name withheld by request

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