Daily Dose: Is Government The Minor Leagues?

There is an interesting trend happening in government social media circles… they are becoming less and less government and more and more social media. What am I talking about? It seems that social media giants and other private based tech companies are gobbling up government talent. According to the Washington Post Silicon Valley is becoming Washington DC West with as many tech savvy govies that are ditching their political duds for the golden coast.

Tech Firms Hiring White House Staffers

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

In the past year, Facebook hired Marne Levine, a former White House economic official, and is reportedly courting former West Wing spokesman Robert Gibbs. Google’s philanthropy arm snagged Jared Cohen, the State Department’s social media guru. Twitter hired former White House and State Department staffer Katie Stanton

The revolving door between the federal government and U.S. tech companies isn’t new. But the hires come as popular Internet applications from Google, Facebook and Apple attract special attention from lawmakers and regulators concerned about issues of privacy, competition, pricing and other aspects of the rapidly changing online economy.

The post article really moves into lobbying rules and things that fall into the FTC’s space but that’s not exactly where I want to take this. With opening day baseball right around the corner I think the more pressing question is has government become the minor leagues for the private sector? Is government just becoming a glorified internship that is sure to grab you a spot in the big time once you leave?


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Paul A. Sciannella

With Congress bashing the federal workforce, and a freeze on pay, I think the trend will be for those with the most marketable skills, the private sector will come calling. Having every job be part of a uniform pay scale is not working, paybands are not working (usually not really a payband as the Agency still uses it like the old GS scale). We need a much more private sector based pay for performance model.

Angel Delgado

Following up on Paul’s comment below, according to congress, we are the big leagues and our pay requires a “salary cap” for two years.

Allison Merkley

Honestly, people say its always about pay, but its much broader than that. Orientation to the job is crucial no matter how experienced you are. In the government I’ve noticed most people assume a day’s worth of training on ethics, security, and benefits is all you need to be ‘oriented’. This is simply not true and really messages to employees they are not valued.

In order to keep people you need to:

1)Actively recruit

2)Communicate the full compensation package (including training and benefits)

3)Provide holistic orientation

4)Continue to train and invest even after you have them on board

Theresa Osredker

Most of the research indicates that people leave bosses, not jobs or companies. Perhaps we need to train supervisors better in interpersonal skills and engagement techniques. We could start with the orientation process mentioned by Allison in the previous post. On boarding best practices advise a year long approach, to include job buddies, mentoring, regular milestones, etc (see the Partnership for Public Service’s study with Booz Hamilton on this). Coming from the private sector where I spent many years, I don’t see the emphasis on manager development here as compared in the private sector that perhaps we could benefit from. Too many managers see their job as doing the work vs. supporting and developing the people who do the work.

I would advise more focus on creating good managers as the critical link to employee retention. It’s a longer term process than stressing benefits and training opportunities to new hires, but in the long run it’s what keeps people around.

That said, is it really a bad thing for government to have fairly high attrition rates? Some political theorists feel that government is best served by people who go in and out of government between the private sector and elsewhere. Another issue to address at another time in another post, but some of our employees are very insular. Hard to have good customer service and client focus when you are totally/mostly detached from those outside the beltway/government.

We do have many excellent managers and people with a high customer service focus. Let’s find ways to celebrate them.

Allison Merkley

@ Angel well that goes without saying 😉

@ Theresa those are also excellent points. Many managers are not properly educated how managing and supervising differ from being an expert in their program/project areas. Bad bosses permeate many areas of government, adding to silos, failed initiatives, and attrition. And you bring up a very valid point: what is a healthy attrition rate for government? What is “good” attrition v. “bad”? Has any agency done research to validate what their ideal would be, and what they need to do to get there?

Steven Goldman

I wouldn’t say the federal sector is the minor leagues, but the federal hiring practices make it incredibly difficult to get hired, even moreso now that the FCIP has been retired. (And before anyone starts in, the Pathways program does nothing to help those who are already outside of the 2-year eligibility window, whereas the FCIP might have.)

Further, finding a job in a nonprofit or the private sector tends to happen at a faster pace, and for people who are unemployed, focusing on public sector jobs alone and waiting four to six months to hear if you even got an interview is not a viable option.

Angel Delgado

Allison and Theresa: As a retired military that started his second career in Corporate and am now a Federal Manager, I would like to comment on Theresa’s note “Many managers are not properly educated, etc, etc.” I agree wholeheartedly and a big reason on why they are not, is the insistence of some Sr. Managers on bringing in some of their “cronies” that are not really well educated nor trained in the subject matter, not even at an intermediate level, but are thrown at positions where their actions, as long as they agree with the Sr. Level Manager, they will be “okay” whether they are the “right thing to do” or not.

Faye Newsham

@Paul, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve heard things to the effect of “so with all this going on, why would I stay when I can get paid and treated well elswhere!” I know someone who just applied for retirement after accepting a promotion just before the freeze… his reason? as @Theresa noted, poor treatment (14 hour days, really?!) and little respect. I’ve always said there are two kinds of fed employees, those like my friend who work themselves to death and have a vast store of knowledge that eventually leaves. And then there is the second kind, those who make teleworking a nightmare for their bosses, take phone conferences with TV or clearance sale intercoms in the background, and complain when a coworker wakes them from a nap by having a meeting in the next cubicle (tragically a real life example!). The second sort are too common and bring down the house for the great ones because the great ones get burned out by dealing with those employees who you never seem to know what it is that they do (let alone what they are supposed to do). I’m certainly not saying some of this doesn’t go on in the private sector, but it makes a good point for private sector hiring and firing practices!