Klossner: Why the federal government is like the Red Sox

Federal agencies can’t be blamed for savoring their newfound ability to attract talent from the pinstripe-wearing private sector.

I have lived in New England for more than 25 years now. Given another 50 I might be considered a local, but probably not. Since my children were born here, they have a better shot at being referred to as "natives" by the natives, or at least my children's great-grandchildren — if they decide to stay in the region — will be. In the meantime, there are several ways to "pass" as a New Englander:

  • During the 30-day summer, eat ice cream at least 150 times.
  • Wear shorts until the temperature falls below 30 degrees (bonus points if, like my neighbor, you wear shorts year-round).
  • Say "that's the thing about New England — if you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes" every time a storm rolls by.
  • Wear L.L. Bean duck boots to a formal event.
  • Stack firewood in your dining room.

Of course, an essential element to passing as a native New Englander is to be a Boston Red Sox fan. This was an easy transition for me. I enjoy sports and I didn't grow up with a "hometown" team, so following the Red Sox didn't require my ditching another organization. I have followed the Sox during my entire time in the region, and I think I can even hold my own in a discussion about whether Bill Buckner deserves the vitriol that has been thrown his way (he doesn't). But I can't tell you whether Mel Parnell should have pitched in 1948.

Then there are the Yankees. I don't think I'm breaking any news by saying that being a Red Sox fan is based on not liking (OK, despising; OK, loathing with every fiber of my being) the New York Yankees as much as it is rooting for the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees are everything the Red Sox are not — basically, successful. They have won many more championships (until this decade, the Red Sox were better known for their lack of championships and a long list of creative, heartbreaking losses through the years), made much more money, and been held up as the standard-bearer for athletic success. (If any of my fellow Sox fans read this, my membership in Red Sox nation will be revoked.) Of course, the Yankees are also perceived as personifying the bad money side of athletics: With an operating budget that dwarfs the majority of other major league teams, they have resorted to buying the best players available. (Now will you let me back in?)

One could think of the Yankees as the private sector, and the Red Sox as the federal government. And, similar to the Yankees-Red Sox relationship (now there's a euphemism), each of the organizations derives a certain amount of satisfaction from pointing out the foibles of the other.

For example, I discovered this article on “The Worst Jobs of the 21st Century” when it ran two years ago and have kept it in my files for some time, waiting for the appropriate moment to use it. (Note that other occupations in the "worst jobs of the 21st century" list include farmers, computer programmers, economists and travel agents. According to Forbes magazine in 2007, trying to write code to figure out the travel budgets for your chain of international ranches wasn't a lucrative career move.) This would be the equivalent of the Yankees running articles on the "worst baseball teams to play for," wouldn't it?

As the saying goes, times have changed.

Government jobs have become attractive again. Recent economic events have made government jobs — with their promise of decent pay, benefits and the position still being around six months later — more attractive than private-sector positions which, um, don't promise much of anything. This is in marked contrast to years before when the private sector, with obvious edges in all the money categories, was much more appealing to job-seekers.

A recent story in FCW reported that spokespeople in the private sector were concerned about losing talent to government agencies, and accusing the agencies of being "more aggressive" in their recruiting. A quick read of the comments section can give you an idea of how much government folk are enjoying the irony. For years, talent has flowed to the private sector. At the same time, the private sector has had no qualms about recruiting from the government employee ranks. The moment this is reversed, the private sector cries "foul."

Have agencies done anything illicit? Not that I've seen reported anywhere. Maybe they've marketed themselves a bit more aggressively, although how aggressive is it to point out that "there are still jobs with benefits here?" And the private sector certainly can't complain about aggressive recruiting, can it? Are these spokespeople really complaining about government "poaching," or are they complaining that they don't have enough to counter government offers? These seem to be the slings and arrows of competition, as both sides want to find the best talent.

This is comparable to the joy Red Sox fans have found this century, finally having found some success. I'd go into detail, but this has been covered in minutiae elsewhere, and I want to be sensitive to the Nationals and Orioles fans reading this. Even though I'm trying to pass as a New Englander, I don't want to pass as an obnoxious Red Sox fan.

Having said all this, the baseball world seems to be righted on its axis again. The Yankees have bought their way back to prominence and stand favored to win the World Series this year. The Red Sox suffered another historic collapse to add to their storied past. So don't give up hope, private sector.

(In a related note, notice that Forbes put "print journalism" on their list. There's nothing like reading your own obituary.)

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