How Gov’t Really Works

Recently, I finished the book How Washington Really Works. It is just one book in a series (Bureacracy, Case for Bureaucracy, Hardball) I’ve been reading trying to understand the government space where I work.

Since my master’s is not in public policy, a lot of this is still new to me and I am basically trying to get smart on my own. In addition to these books, a critical part of my education so far has been tips from senior leaders. My favorite articles in trade magazines such as FCW and Federal Times (love Lily Whiteman’s columns) is when they sit down with retiring senior leaders and ask for their tips. The best panels at conferences are real, straight-forward (not vague sound bits) lessons learned from the best.

Additionally, during a six month job search last year, I had 30-40 information interviews with former and current senior leaders. While partly trying to get job advice, in the end the most valuable part was the succinct career advice I received about the government (in summary – do good work, with interesting people, on interesting projects).

But in the end, I still have not found the crisp, succinct government career book I’m looking for. This book would be the survival guide for govies on how the game is played. Potential Title – Government Survival Guide: How to Successfully Navigate the Bureaucracy

My version of the book would be quite short (100 pages), direct, and fun (Seth Godin style). No long, boring, academic, or bureaucratic book here.

I would have ten, 10-page chapters on the following:

1) How Hiring Really Works (Getting In and Getting Your Next Job)
2) The Budget Process and Why Oct. 1st Should be a National Holiday
3) Understanding the Bizarre World of Acquisitions
4) Dealing with Oversight – Why We All Love the GAO and OIG
5) Handling the Annual Performance Review (Why You or Your Staff Complains When It Exceeds Fully Satisfactory)
6) Writing Effective Emails/Memos and Running Effective Meetings/Teleconferences
7) Dealing with Gov’t Ethics and Lawyers
8) The Link Between HQ and Field – i.e. Why You Shouldn’t Treat the Field Like Your Kids
9) The New Workplace – Rules for Working with Contractors (Friend, Enemy, or Frenemy)
10) Performance Measures and Dealing with OMB – Why Green is Good

What else would you include in the book? Where do you go to learn how the gov’t sector really work? What are your favorite gov’t-related books?

Hopefully, we’ll begin to answer some of these questions here at GovLoop. I’ve already started blogging with some tips (here, here, here), while “Wisdom from the Retired Fed” has started his 50 Rules of Management yesterday.

And if someone wants to give me a book deal let me know…or maybe we can write it all together on a wiki.


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Those chapter ideas are right on the mark, and funny. I would add “Why Are You Here: Understanding your agency’s mission and ALL of it’s functions”. This would be a tutorial on best ways to glean that information, and the benefits of a deeper understanding of that topic. Or you could include this as a brief paragraph in an Appendix called “Top Ten Tips” that would complement your ten-chapter structure.