The anecdote sounds like prime material for a David Letterman Top 10 list of governmental inefficiency: To get a pencil at a regional office of the Army Corps of Engineers, an employee recalls having to send a request down to the storage room to check on its availability before he could put in an order for it.
True story. But it’s not the whole story.
Yes,Cheap Jerseys from china http://www.cheapnflnewjerseysusa.top/ federal employees do sometimes throw up their hands in disgust over the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through. “People increasingly want to go into government because of the psychological compensation they feel they’re doing something important,” says Marc Holzer, chair of the graduate department of public administration at the Newark campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Job security is a big plus, too. But a lot of people have been nervous lately about whether that security will last.
The Bush administration is pushing federal agencies to put many more tasks up for competitive bids from the private sector. Up to 850,000 jobs, almost half the federal workforce, are commercial in nature and so should be subject to competition, says Trent Duffy, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget (see story, below).
However many jobs ultimately do shift to the private sector in the coming years, the debate over the administration’s plan, which has spurred strong opposition from labor unions, highlights the less than flattering image of government as “red tape central.”
“The stereotype won’t die,” says Mr. Holzer. “There’s always some story poking fun at bureaucracy.”
How much of this reputation is deserved depends on your perspective. To get behind the generalities and the extremes on both sides of the debate, the Monitor talked with a range of people who have insiders’ views of both the federal government and private companies.
Their stories help explain why 6O percent of federal employees surveyed recently said they would recommend their organization as a good place to work. (See chart.) But they also confirm that there’s always room for improvement.
Stung by the private sector
After 13 years with the Army Corps of Engineers, Stephen Dunbar wanted a change. It bothered him that his master’s degree, engineering license, and initiative didn’t yield extra recognition or pay. (Or even make it easy to requisition pencils.)
“One of the drawbacks to the government,” he says, “is that there’s no really good mechanism for rewarding those who consistently put in extra effort, over someone who just shows up to work every day.”
Mr. Dunbar started managing software development teams for a small private company in Boston in January 2000. After being part of a government entity that employs 34,000 people nationwide, he enjoyed the way managers at his new office could communicate with its 70 person staff more directly and gather input as they made decisions.
“In government,” he says, “usually a directive comes down months after it’s decided what the policy is going to be.”
But the camaraderie at his company began to crumble, Dunbar says, when the IT market went sour and layoffs began.
Business would pick up in spurts and new people later came on board. The face of the company changed. “In the end, it was all 20 somethings, kids fresh out of school willing to work the 50 or 60 hours I was working, or more, for less money,” he says. As a father of four, those hours working after the kids went to bed and on Saturdays wore on him. “It was just ridiculous and it was expected.”
The final straw came last year after Dunbar, under the gun to meet a deadline, made his team work 80 hour weeks for a month to develop a major product.
“The day after we delivered it, they let about seven of those guys go. I didn’t see it coming,” he says. “That just kills your ability to motivate anybody to put that kind of time in.”
After surviving three rounds of layoffs, Dunbar didn’t have to think too long about his answer when the Army Corps of Engineers office in Concord, Mass., asked if he wanted to come back.
Since making the switch in March, he’s had more time with his family, and less pressure at work. “I had one guy tell me in the private sector that he didn’t want to know the new people, because he wasn’t sure how long they would be there.”
It’s also a lot easier to get a pencil now he just takes a walk to the supply cabinet. In the years he was away, Dunbar says, “they appear to have made big strides in streamlining things.”
But pay is still not linked closely to performance. “No matter what you do, you’re looking at a 3 1/2, 4 percent raise every year.” Many people are happy with that automatic bump in salary, but if you want recognition for extra effort, he says, “the only other way to get more than that is to get a promotion, and those are few and far between.”
That may put a damper on ambition, but in most cases, it doesn’t mean people become dead weight. “A small handful, maybe 10 percent or 20 percent of government employees, milk the system completely,” he says. “But the other 80 percent are very committed.”
Dismayed by delays
Ray Lanman finally got on a one way track into the private sector.
He worked for Amtrak for 21 years, and doesn’t discount all he learned there. But he says his eight years as an executive at Herzog, a private engineering and transit company in St. Joseph, Mo., have been “most refreshing” by comparison.