By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: One more time -- can we keep the kids?

I am trying to repeat the point that perhaps the biggest human capital challenge for the government will not be recruiting a new generation of young people to public service (though that will be a challenge enough), but retaining them once we've gotten them.

If we lose the kids, a big reason will be too much bureaucracy in government. This is one reason the bureaucracy-promoting fear industry is a danger to good government. The people who never met a rule or a control they didn't like drive creative young people (and perhaps older ones as well) from government.

I wrote on this issue in my "reinvent the wheel" post last week. One of the respondents, who identified himself as "jswhetsell," wrote, among other things in a very thoughtful response, "[E]very day I find myself considering a decision to leave government because I spend so much of my energy dealing with rules and bureaucracy."

The comment came from a young contracting professional named Jason Whetsell. Jason started his career right out of undergraduate school, working at the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection, and is now a contract specialist at the Office of Personnel Management, (he has been fortunate to work under John Ely at DHS and his wife Kay Ely at OPM, both great contracting professionals). I originally got to know Jason because he was one of the young procurement professionals working to introduce innovative reverse auctions for commodity buys at DHS. So I sent Jason an e-mail and asked if it was okay to write about him and to use his full name, and he said it was.

Jason wrote in his e-mail to me: "The most frustrating thing about my situation is that I feel like I actually excel at procurement, but I find myself spending at least 80 percent of my time navigating through unnecessary bureaucracy."

I've met Jason several times. Were the government to lose him, it would be an absolute tragedy. He is mission-driven and public-interest driven, caring about DHS' important responsibilities and focused on getting a good deal for taxpayers. He is articulate and hard-working. He is eager to learn more about procurement and about how to be a business adviser for agency programs. He is exactly the kind of young person the government should be looking for as the next generation of public servant.

We cannot afford to lose young people like Jason. Yet everything going on in the procurement system now is sending Jason a message -- leave!

Could some Hill staffers -- even better, their bosses -- invite Jason to lunch to get a feel for the impact of some of their rule/control-mania on Jason and on the procurement system?

I would particularly like to get thoughts on these issues from young feds and/or young people who could consider becoming feds, whether in procurement or other areas.

Jason, I'll keep fighting for you. I hope others will too.


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Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 06, 2008 at 12:09 PM


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