Mark and I were given the opportunity to express our views on the state of civil service yesterday at the Census Bureau. We talked about how civil service was once considered an honorable profession but is no longer honored. We talked about strategies to change this negative conversation into a positive one. We encouraged federal employees to speak positively themselves about their jobs and their agencies. Positive speak has to start somewhere.
After the presentation, we were asked which of the strategies we mention in our book We Are Not the Enemy: Restoring Honor to U.S. Civil Service would be our top priority. Mark and I differ a bit on this point. My view is that U.S. citizens must become better informed about the roles of leadership of our nation simply for the sake of accountability. For example, when leaders say “The Government” is the problem, what does this really mean? Do you really know? In our book we define “The Government.”
I feel encouraged at the positive feedback we received regarding our message. Federal employees said they appreciated our small attempt at changing the conversation about federal employees to a more positive one.
This is critical particularly now in light of the Veterans Administration controversy. In my opinion, the overall problem behind the controversy at the VA is staffing resources. Many federal agencies’ federal staff have been ‘downsized’ for many years (outside of DHS). For many agencies, their federal workforce has declined and the remaining staff have been asked to take on more and more responsibility. Those who remain have had to assume the responsibilities of their former colleagues, ultimately performing two or three jobs for no additional compensation or reward.
I can guarantee you that if investigators really dig in to what has happened they will know that this is a staffing issue. Who will allow such ‘innovative’ research? Right now, the leadership of the VA are the scapegoats. This is again easy to do. When will federal agencies be allowed to truly consider the federal staffing level required to perform their missions in an appropriate manner? This has not happened in a long, long time.
Asking for funds to hire additional or to replace departing federal staff has been fairly taboo in nearly all federal agencies.
How many of you remember that some VA hospitals were closed? I remember one in Washington DC. This one has existed in DC since before I was born. It was old and needed remodeling, but it was closed instead. Think about it. Fewer hospitals, fewer staff, less service.