Why stability trumps innovation

This can’t be good. According to a recent survey by the Partnership for Public Service, 91 percent of federal employees are looking for ways to do their jobs better, but only 39 percent believe they will be rewarded for their innovation.

Are some federal managers so risk-averse, as one Federal Computer Week reader alleges, that they can’t tolerate creativity even if the alternative is mediocrity? Or do they lack the means by which to offer beyond-the-norm rewards for beyond-the-norm thinking?

It’s probably fair to say that as far as employees are concerned, there is no right answer.

Here is a sampling of readers’ comments on the topic. They have been edited for length, clarity and style.

No duh
I don't think we needed a study to arrive at this observation. We have plenty of empirical data to prove it. As a government program manager directly stated, "I have a contractor that doesn't cause me problems. I'm not about to risk my career for a promise of innovation." Risk-aversion is pervasive when your career is on the line. Under our current incentive models, stability will continue to trump innovation. Now how much did that study cost the taxpayers?
— Anonymous

Encouraged? Rewarded? I'd be satisfied if innovation was even permitted!
— Anonymous

No diversity
Most of the managers in the government are regurgitated, brought to the forefront by the buddy system. This has created an environment riddled with the same thought processes. If you are to be truly innovative, you must encompass thought that is diverse. We have become stagnant. Add onto that a culture that has been encouraged to be lazy and the perfect storm has been created.
— Fatnlo

The wrong message
Federal managers get recognized and rewarded for lots of things, some of which they actually do. But low-level contractors who bust their butts to fix bad federal decisions and actually make these systems work get invited to see the federal managers get an award (the bonus check is not publicly displayed).
— SOTE Contractor

No cause for hope
Federal workers must negotiate a sea of ever-changing policies and regulations, some of which are at odds with one another, and a 19th-century budget process that almost always misses the mark when matching real-time requirements to resources. Forget innovation — more often it's nothing short of a miracle that we are able to successfully deliver the services expected of us. Little wonder that there is a disincentive to change once we develop processes that actually or are perceived to deliver.
— Scott

But then again…
SOTE needs to get a better job. One of our contractors did a [modification] on a test program/accessory kit that saved the field and us a lot of time, and he said he got a small bonus for saving the Air Force money. It all depends on the contract and the contractor's management.
— RayW

Sorry, folks, but it's no different in private industry. Politicians rule, and they are risk-averse. Diversified companies discourage cross-divisional suggestions, not to mention innovation. So just hang in there.
— Texan

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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