Favoritism in the federal workplace: Wishful thinking or cold hard truth?

FCW readers take issue with a recent blog post suggesting that favoritism is not as prevalent as many feds think

Cynicism abounds in the federal workplace, but FCW.com blogger Steve Kelman remains skeptical about favoritism.

He noted in a recent post at “The Lectern” that more than 70 percent of feds surveyed by the Merit Systems Protection Board believed that promotions were based on who they knew not on competence or hard work. But Kelman, who isn’t buying the theory of rampant favoritism, sees basic human psychology at work. “Most people turned down for promotion genuinely believe they are above average and deserved to be promoted,” he wrote. So if someone else gets the job, it’s only natural to look for an explanation, and the most obvious is favoritism.

Here is a sampling of what readers had to say in response. Some comments have been edited for length, style or clarity.

Favoritism? No Duh.
"You are incredibly naive if you think favoritism is an illusion. The most blatant occurs when contractors become govies and then hire other contractors as each govie slot opens, whether or not the new appointee has any expertise in government operations or management decisions."
— Anonymous

"Duh, water is wet, sky is blue, managers play favorites. Some places are just a little more blatant about it than others. The government is no exception. The personnel rules in place just give them a few more hoops to jump through, but any system can be gamed. In fairness to the managers, they may not even be aware they are playing favorites. They are just exhibiting the human tendency to hire/associate with those they feel more comfortable with."
— Anonymous

Favoritism? It's Academic.
"In my agency, the only thing that matters in being considered for promotion is academic achievement. A proven track record of competence and productivity means absolutely nothing. We have reached the point where most of our younger employees do not care how well they perform on the job because they know that in terms of their future, their performance means absolutely nothing. Instead, they focus on fattening their academic portfolio and leave the actual work to the poor chumps who still believe that we are being paid to actually do a job."
— Anonymous

The Root Problem: Bad Management
"I recall an old saying that stated that if you wanted a promotion, do a poor job. If you are dependable, loyal and do a good job, your immediate supervisor will want to hold onto you."
— Anonymous

"Were it a simply a matter of favoritism, I could live with it. What I can't live with is management's consistent failure to document and dismiss poor performers. In my 33-plus years of service with a defense agency, I noticed a trend of 'enabling,' where managers and co-workers were suckered in by employees who feigned illness (among other things) in order to gain sympathy and play the system."
— FedUp

Another Skeptic
"The survey asked the wrong question. What it should have asked is: The last time you were promoted, was it mainly due to favoritism, competence or hard work? I'm sure the answers would have been quite the opposite of those they actually got. Clearly, surveys like this one are worse than useless."
— Ken

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.


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