By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

"Home alone?" An insult to career civil servants

The media has been filled with accounts of how long it's taking President Obama to nominate appointees, let alone get them confirmed, particularly in the Treasury Department, the center of the storm for dealing with the country’s economic crisis. Criticism of the slow pace is warranted – particularly the self-inflicted wounds of a vetting process out of control. But these accounts have taken an unfortunate edge in suggesting that Secretary Tim Geithner, without other political appointees around him, basically has to do everything important all by himself. 

A recent post on Politico.com stated it was “lights out, nobody home” in Treasury. Just this week, a columnist for Time stated that Secretary Geithner was “home alone.”

My wife and I were talking about this over dinner. She rightly said, “What an insult to career civil servants.”

There are more than 400 career senior executive service managers in Treasury, and presumably an even larger number of GS-15’s. As many Treasury secretaries have noted over the years, these senior managers at Treasury are very talented, hardworking people. Even when political appointees are around, these senior career executives, and those working under them, of course do a lot of the work refining and laying out policy options, and making suggestions about policy approaches, that the political folks would be wise to seriously consider.

This is not to say that it’s not important to get the political appointees in place at Treasury. But if I were a civil servant at Treasury, I would be incredibly hurt and saddened by these “nobody home” and “home alone” comments – as if I am a nobody, a cipher, mere background noise.

Maybe we can ask Secretary Geithner to set the record straight? He is not “home alone.”

Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 27, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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