I am a small-government conservative/libertarian. I also work for the United States government.
No, it’s not a contradiction. There’s no head-bursting cognitive dissonance. In fact, while I don’t want to share too many details, because then I’d have to kill you, I’d like to share some of my observations on government work. Maybe they’ll dispel some of your illusions the way they did mine.
The rank-and-file take their job seriously. We all know the stories of laziness, graft, and corruption. But my experience among the other government working stiffs is that people really believe in their mission. For example, big part of what my office does is keep an eye on expenditures and make sure we are not wasting taxpayer money. It’s great to know that my colleagues, regardless of their politics, take this as seriously as I do.
Bloat and bureaucracy slows everythig down. Everything you’ve heard about red-tape grinding things to a halt is true. Getting anything done can take a long time. This even happens when the government itself wants to do something: it gets caught up in its own tangle of rules and regulations! Now, a lot of these rules and regulations are to (1) prevent fraud, waste, and abuse (how’s that for a government buzzword?!) and (2) protect citizens’ private information, but still: stuff takes forever. Coming from the private sector, this has taken a while to get used to.
Slowness is good because it keeps government in check. On the other hand, such slowness can prevent the government behemoth from accidentally squashing an unsuspecting citizen. With something as slow and massive as government, you want it to be inefficient.
People aren’t lazy. I’m sure there are lazy people out there, as there are in any organization. But I haven’t found them yet.
People are smart. And well-educated. That’s right! The folks in my office all went to top schools and graduated near the tops of their classes. Many also have serious private-sector experience. Your government isn’t always hiring the dregs of society.
Politics plays into everything. Not “Who did you vote for?” politics, but the optics of things. Nobody wants to be on the front page of the news unless it’s for something good. Administrators and Secretaries are very cognizant about how even benign, Constitutionally sound expenditures and initiatives can be spun into a waste of taxpayer money and an overblown fiasco, even if the expenditure is vital towards protecting safety and national security. As such, caution is the word of the day. As if attorneys weren’t already cautious enough in private practice.
Schedules are flexible. Uncle Sam is big into allowing employees to work from home. This has been a godsend for me, given some family circumstances. This is largely to help people avoid the terrible DC gridlock, but it’s also to allow for a work-life balance. The theory is that Uncle Sam can’t pay what the private sector can, so the trade-off is more flexible schedules. If you want to entice top talent, you have to offer incentives for eschewing big business, and this is one.
So there you have it. I hope this sheds some light on what it’s like being a public servant. For those of you contemplating s job with the government, I’m not trying to change your mind. I just want to let you know it’s not all long lines and paper-pushing.
Just, you know, sometimes.
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