(Senior Correspondent Mike Causey is on vacation. This guest column was written by a long-time Federal Report reader)
At some point, usually early on, each new presidential administration discovers that the federal government contains a lot of people! And that the previous administration left government in awful shape. Reform is called for and reform is implemented, thus reinventing the wheel every four to eight years.
The point is that managing people is hard, whether you do it right or wrong. Many managers — of very complex and important technical, scientific or creative fields — say that the hardest part of their job is dealing with workers: their complaints, goals, skills as well as personal and job-related warts.
But the problem for many of us working for Uncle Sam is that management does not do a good job of managing or leading. I don’t know if this is the fault of the selection system used to choose managers in civil service or whether there is simply a lack of training. Regardless, it leaves us with many of the problems currently being cut, diced and fried by Congress today. When technically adept people are chosen for the management ranks, it is a crap shoot as to whether they will also, through serendipity, be good managers and leaders of people. At least half the time, if not more so, they are not.
And then there are the non-technically adept, who, I think, must be chosen for the management tracks because they are no good at getting the work done, so they are chosen to manage those who can do the work. In a minority of cases, this turns out positively because they are good at funneling work and keeping upper-level management off the backs of the workers. But far, far too often, federal managers are not good at managing either people or workloads.
Presuming the federal civil service survives this latest round of congressional hearings and inspections, federal managers need training that will equip them to manage and to lead and most importantly how to most effectively encourage the workers to do their very best and most productive work. This might stand a far better chance of success were partnership with the unions to be embraced. I have seen the pendulum go back and forth several times on various issues over the last 35 years. As someone who has been in management, I have seen the positive results that can flow from simply involving your workers and staff in the decision processes. The people who are closest to the work often have the best ideas for improving productivity and especially for getting more from the shrinking resources available.
Too often, the federal management power structure views involving employees in the decision process as a loss of power for management — at least that is the only reason I can come up with for why it is not done. How can this be changed? For one, federal workers need to join their union or vote to be represented by a union. There is always more strength in numbers. We may not be able to strike, but we can certainly do a better job of working with our agencies to accomplish our work in the smartest way possible.
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