The Greater Los Angeles Area YGL will maintain an environment that educates, inspires & transforms federal employees into prized promotable assets & be models for organization management that will be admired & emulated by agencies.
YGL-LA: How do you maintain contact with those you serve?
April 24, 2012 at 11:21 pm #159398
As public sector employees, we value our jobs because they provide a daily opportunity to serve others and provide critical services to our communities. However, it is exceedingly easy to become so engrossed by the particulars of our day-to-day work that we lose insight into the issues most relevant to the taxpayers and constituents we are supposed to serve. While this is often true for policymakers easily distracted by strategies for winning an election or policy fight, it is also true for agency employees who often have to weed through regulatory challenges and bureaucratic hurdles to implement laws with scarce interaction with the people whose lives our work impacts daily.
I typically work on a mixture of policy and outreach strategy for the State Controller, but as part of my duties, I help manage a statewide tax assistance program that enlists volunteer tax preparers to help file free income tax returns for low-income families (we are an official VITA program.) Our program assists over 1,500 taxpayers annually and returns nearly $2 million in refunds through 150 volunteer tax preparers. While managing this behemoth operation during tax season takes up much of my time and energy, I am most grateful for those days when I have an opportunity to sit down with a family to delve into their finances and prepare their income tax return while answering basic tax law questions. It helps me keep perspective when a family of four comes in with an unemployed parent and $20,000 in annual income. I find my day-to-day work of frenzied email chains and jumping on conference calls and meetings with various groups rarely lends me as much insight into the challenges of supporting such a household as does a 30 minute session with our constituents while doing their taxes. These interactions, in turn, help me better understand how to market our program, serve the communities most in need, and create helpful financial education tools for taxpayers.
I am curious how other government employees keep perspective and contact with the constituents we serve each day. Do you answer calls, take meetings, or help run direct service programs through which you interact with constituents and learn their needs?
April 28, 2012 at 6:38 am #159400
I just watched Undercover Boss for the first time tonight and thought about your discussion. The show’s format is based on a senior executive of a company working undercover in their own firm to investigate how the company really works and identify how it can be improved, as well as rewarding the hard working staff. At the end of their week undercover, the executives return to their true identity and request the employees they worked with individually to corporate headquarters. The bosses reveal their identity, and reward hard-working employees through promotion, or financial rewards, while other employees are given training or better working conditions.
How great would it be if you were able to duplicate this show in the public sector?! Imagine the CA State Controller sitting with that family of four with an unemployed parent and $20,000 in annual income, preparing their tax return for them and offering financial advice. Maybe he does. Or any local, State or Federal agency head for that matter. It has to be humbling. It brings you down from that 30,000 foot view of managing an agency and into the life of the citizen you are called on to serve.
Government scandal can’t stay off the front page news lately. GSA, Secret Service and now, locally, the LA County Assessor. A trip to the front lines (visiting hard working government employees or directly serving a citizen) would definitely make an agency head evaluate their decisions and maybe even the future of leaders they put in place, possibly avoiding problems.
Stay humble, stay grounded, stay true to your roots. In the Undercover Boss episode I just watched, the CEO was crying at the end of the show, reflecting on the work place issues and personal struggles his front line employees dealt with. The CEO’s father founded the company. The CEO said something about how he didn’t realize he had changed, not being in touch with employees anymore. His father would not be happy. He went back to his roots when reflecting on the experience.
Not sure if I answered your question but maybe provided some insight and stole an innovative solution to improve government. Call Hollywood! Undercover SES would make for a great evaluation of a Federal agency and possibly bring improvement.
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