Feds: Don't come work for us!

Federal agencies, mired in outdated technology and bureaucratic management, are their own worst enemies when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent.

Imagine walking into a car dealership with checkbook in hand, only to be waved off by dealership employees telling tales of subpar materials and mismanaged manufacturing.

That’s essentially what happens every time the topic of federal hiring comes up on FCW.com. In the latest case, blogger Steve Kelman wrote about the job prospects of new Harvard grads, some of who are considering entering public service.

But agencies should not get their hopes up, replied a reader named Joe. Even if new grads endure the hiring process, they are likely to be horrified by what they find in federal offices.

“From my short time in the federal government thus far, the one word that I would use to describe my work environment is 'primitive,' ” Joe commented. “The physical space itself is old and decrepit. The IT infrastructure is so old (Windows 2K, MS Office 2000, etc.) that we can't even read documents sent from within our own department.”

And let’s not forget the senior career employees, people “who seem to be trying to keep their heads down (translated as risk avoidance) and just kill time until retirement," Joe added.

Joe’s observations, highlighted at the FCW Insider blog, triggered an avalanche of comments from other readers, most of whom saw similar problems — and then some.

Reader comments

(Editor's note: Comments have been edited for length, clarity and style.)

Hey, Genius!

The work is what it is. The vast majority of the government does not do innovation. It shuffles paper. Technology is a tool used to shuffle the paper. One does not need the latest game-playing supercomputer to do the work. If you are there for the perks, the latest and greatest toys, etc., you are likely looking in the wrong place. It also pays to stand before a mirror and recite until it sinks in: "I am not the genius I think I am and a lot less important in the grand scheme of things."

— Anonymous

To Anonymous: It is precisely that kind of thinking that blocks innovation and positive change in the federal government and its workforce.

— Anonymous

What a waste

I have only been in the federal government for nine months and came in as a GS-13 for stability, and it sucks. As soon as my one year (grade in service) is complete, I will be returning to the private sector. I reduced my income by $15,000 to $20,000 to be treated as an administrative assistant with the most menial tasks that you can imagine, especially coming from a senior-level position within the private sector. Additionally, I have a master’s degree. The federal government does not properly utilize their resources, knowledge, skill sets or experiences that [it has] among so many federal employees.

— Anonymous

Flatlining

I worked for a federal agency for eight years. The feds were very good to me, and I achieved a GS-13 rather quickly. But I was the one to push and help make that happen with a lot of hard work. After the GS-13, I saw the pay scale and advancement opportunities curve go rather flat and left for private industry and doubled my salary at once. There is tremendous potential within the existing federal workforce, untapped, and we need leadership with integrity in the government — at all levels in all areas.

— Anonymous

Fired at Last

A friend who works in government told me that a manager in her agency — whose actions on the job would have gotten her fired at any private-sector firm — was finally let go. What did she do this time that got her fired? They got her on time and attendance. This struck me as incredibly funny. The inevitable conclusion is that you can do anything you want on the job and not get fired, but don't falsify a time record — that will get you fired.

— Public-sector consultant

Sell, Sell, Sell

Agencies should consider hiring to be a selling transaction that requires market research, packaging, branding, marketing and closing, including segmentation and differentiation messaging that communicates across all of the targeted segments of the multigenerational workforce. Agencies need to address this demand for agency-specific information and branding, possibly including different landing pages for different demographics so that messaging can be properly tailored to the different populations — students, midcareer, core occupational specialty, executive.

— ep_vet

So Not True

I've worked for the government for over 25 years and disagree with almost everything in this article, at least for the IT departments I have been a part of. Although there are always some people who fit the description of "lazy government worker," that is not the norm. Most of the people I have had the pleasure to work with are highly skilled, devoted people who go far above what is required.

— bookworm

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