One of our favorite movies here at Who is the IG? is Network, a 1976 movie about a floundering evening news program that is about to be canceled due to low ratings. The anchor, so upset that he is going to be fired in two weeks, resorts to announcing that he will commit suicide on air and suddenly the ratings jump. The most famous scene from the movie is the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” speech that the soon to be dismissed anchor makes during an evening news cast. If you haven’t seen the clip you should watch it here.
So why is this important? Well let’s look at what is going on in the Federal employee community right now. The public thinks that Feds are corrupt (GSA), incompetent (VA), or all around out of touch (anything involving regulations). With all the great things that Feds accomplish every day, it’s the scandals and mistakes that everyone focuses on in the end. If you’re reading this and you’re a Fed, I would go to the window of your office (or more likely the opening to your 2×2 cube) right now and scream “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” The next thing I would do is find out how to get in touch with the Inspector General of your agency so you can help be a part of the solution.
We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect organization, even the private sector has its issues, but it seems that government employees are fair game and no one is stepping in to defend them. So, if no one is there to stand up for you, you need to stand up for yourself. One of the first things you can do is police yourself and make sure that your colleagues are doing the same. During the GSA scandal, the story goes that “everyone” knew what was going on and “no one” did anything about it. If you’re part of the “everyone” that knows something illegal is going on then you are part of the problem. If you’re a Fed in this environment, you simply can’t afford to stay silent any longer.
Now we’re not suggesting that you go all superhero superhero vigilante on your colleagues but there are things you can do. A simple way to prevent scandals and ensure the public trust is protected is to aggressively defend that trust – reporting fraudulent activity, waste of government resources, and abuse of authority to your Inspector General is a great first step. Each agency has multiple ways to report and the reports can be made anonymously or you can ask that your report remain confidential. Another good way to prevent scandals is to ask questions. A simple “Can you put that in writing?” or “Where is the authority that allows us to do this?” in a friendly and curious tone can go a long way to nip scofflaws in the bud. The slippery slope is truly slippery and not falling off the ledge in the first place always helps.
If you are a member of the public you also have a responsibility to report fraud, waste, or abuse that you know about, whether or not a government employee is committing the acts. For example, if you know that a doctor’s office is incorrectly billing Medicaid you can report that to the Inspector General. If you know that a company is putting false or misleading information on a bid to win a government contract or grant, you can report that too. It’s going to take cooperation, not finger pointing, to solve these problems. We’ve past the point of arguing about big government or small government and we all need to focus on smart government.
All in all, the time has come for Feds to unite and defend themselves but they won’t be able to do it alone. Feds need to clean house of those who do not respect the role they play and do not uphold the public trust; and the public need to take responsibility when they are aware of activities that undermine the integrity of government programs. The Inspectors General are a good ally in this fight and no one should tolerate playing fast and loose with the rules. We should all be mad as hell.