Best and Brightest or Race to Mediocrity

OK fellow Feds, our pay is frozen for two years. I can live with it, but I’m not happy about it. The trend in the news seems to be attacks on state workers. I say “Welcome to the club!!” Us Feds were getting kind of lonely being picked on exclusively. Now state employee’s can join the party.

More seriously one has to wonder does the general population want smart, hard working public servants or simply people who get the job done, eventually. It’s an issue of excellence versus mediocrity. Do we want public servants who are excellent at their jobs or simply mediocre. Several months ago I happened to be watching one of those financial shows on CNBC and there was a discussion about public employee’s in the context of the previous spate of attacks on federal workers. (See “I work for the government and I am NOT the Enemy” ) The interviewee (I can’t remember who) stated that he didn’t think the best and brightest should work for the feds they should work for private industry where real innovation happens. I was floored! Do you really think that the structural problems in government and the complexities of homeland security or diplomacy or infrastructure are going to be solved without excellent government?

I fear the attacks on public servants both state and federal will result in a new generation of mediocre employees. Why should the best and brightest work for government if the public views us as an overcompensated waste of taxpayer dollars?

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Another thing that annoys me about those CNBC shows is they fail to show the diversity within government – it’s just the “government.” I’m sure CNBC wants innovation in cancer research at NIH, in our military efforts at DOD and countless other agencies affecting their lives

Jenyfer Johnson

That’s truly appalling to me that someone would not only have the unmitigated gall but would honestly think that the federal government deserved less than the best employees! I am stunned and appalled! I thought that public opinion was bad but it seems to be far worse than I thought.

I believe there are still people out there that believe in public service, believe in trying to accomplish something good, not for the money but for the greater good, be it state or federal, and I would like to think we will not sink into a new generation of mediocer employees. There are always dreamers, do-gooders, and those who care more about the “cause” than the money…and I believe they will be our new generation of government employees. They will see that there is honest, real work that needs to be done and they will come…some may not stay, but we’ll carry on.

There is a great opinion article in the Federal Times concerning the verbal attacks on the federal workers. It’s worth reading.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Sandy: It seems that political motivations – from both sides of the aisle – corrupt everything they touch, eh?

@Steve: I think the same folks at CNBC would say that we should shift all those R&D functions to the private sector.

@Jenyfer: Nice article. My favorite quote: “In these dire times we should not allow ourselves to become victims.”

Stephen Peteritas

It’s a problem I agree but I don’t know how to fix it. Recently I’ve thought about how it could be good if young people had to do a few years of public service before moving on to the private sector (if they wanted to move on) if that would change things but that could make gov’t even more of an enemy.

Ji-Hyon Mariano

In this economy, I find it hard to believe the government isn’t attracting the best and brightest. The hard part is keeping them. The “old ways” culture is still pervasive in government. Hopefully, enough of the next generation who walk in the door today will be around long enough to affect a cultural shift.

Dave Uejio

It seems to me that CEOs of bailed out firms are also viewed as “an overcompensated waste of taxpayer dollars”; enthusiasm for that profession does not seem to have been hampered, despite the fact that those individuals are regularly (and perhaps rightly) vilified for doing what they are supposed to do. The difference is that CEOs are ostensibly accountable to their shareholders, while public servants are accountable to the citizenry.

It’s not new that opportunists will attack public employees for their own ends; what I don’t get is why we allow these people to drive the narrative about our work. We should do a better job of telling out story instead of allowing our critics to tell it for us.

Nina Adrianna

How to fix it?

Let’s be honest. The public considers most public servants to be a huge inefficient waste of resources because, well, the are. Send the best and brightest there and the risk of them wilting into the oblivion of the slow bureaucratic machinery is huge.

If you’re going to change the public’s perception of public servants, do what any self-help book tells you to do–introspect and change internally. So many public servants are not proud of the work that they do, they constantly complain and continue working simply because it is a good job with decent benefits. In Canada, a lot of public servant positions are unionized, and this contributes to whining and mediocrity. Anyone who tries something different is told,’that’s not the way it is done’. We all know this is true (exceptions to the rule always exist of course but on the whole, there are too many public servants doing redundant work that goes nowhere, sitting in too many meetings in which decisions hardly get made).

Solution? Get rid of the fat. Get rid of unions. Get rid of people who don’t add that much value (and let’s be honest, there are many).

Then, the awesome public servants can fully shine, without being pulled down and obfuscated into the shadows by their many colleagues that have been sucked into the slow mediocre machinery of power politics and the ‘Yes Minister’ attitude.

As soon as the public service knows for themselves that they are honestly using taxpayers’ money diligently and are truly motivated towards acting swiftly to make our governments genuinely respond to all the huge problems of the world, then the public and media and everyone will respect them. It’s time to change. Now. For real.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

@Nina I have to say that I agree with your opinion. We need to trim the fat, show our worth, and then share our success stories with our customers. This is not the time for mediocrity, but our time to shine.

Sandy Ressler

Seems to me that rather then devolving into a “whoa is me” attitude and “victimhood” Dave’s suggestion below is the most potentially productive…tell your story well…what do you, as a public servant, that’s so wonderful..I bet there are quite a few good stories. This is not a simple task but seems like something that govloop could stimulate (and already does in some ways). And no I’m not volunteering to lead the effort 😉