Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Me, Me, Me

ARCHIVES
As you toil under the rules and regulations that govern federal managers, you occasionally may long for the supposed freedom enjoyed by bosses outside the civil service. You imagine you could hire anybody you want, reward your best performers easily and fire the deadwood.

You're a fair arbiter of performance. You care deeply about your office's mission. You can be trusted with the freedom to manage that others enjoy.

Take members of Congress, for example. They have great leeway over their staffs. It is, after all, the lawmakers themselves whose nameplates mark the entrances to their offices. They can make hiring and firing decisions as they see fit.

And some take full advantage of that freedom. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fla., a freshman lawmaker who faces voters in his first reelection effort on Nov. 4, did just that. He fired a female staffer whose primary fault, it seems, was enjoying a romantic affair with the married congressman. Unfortunately for Mahoney's reelection prospects, a phone call in which Mahoney fired the staffer was recorded. ABC News played it to the world earlier this month. "You work at my pleasure," Mahoney tells the employee on the tape. "Whenever I don't feel like you're doing your job, then you lose your job."

As he fires her, Mahoney further elaborates on his power as the boss. He says: "Guess what? The only person that matters is, guess who? Me."

Now that the public has had the opportunity to hear the tape, the only people that matter are, guess who? The voters. His district's verdict will be heard on Election Day.

It will be a reminder to lawmakers that, in fact, their staffers do not work for them. They work for the citizens who elected their representatives to see to their business in Washington. Everyone who works in a congressional office is an employee of the federal government. Every paycheck is cut from taxpayer dollars paid into the U.S. Treasury. Members of Congress who never learn that or forget it do not remain in office, at least if the voters catch on.

Now, members of Congress are not subject to the executive branch's civil service rules. Had Mahoney been a GS-15 supervisor who wanted to get rid of a GS-12 paramour, he'd have had a tougher time. There would have been a performance improvement plan and an opportunity for the employee to file a complaint through a variety of appeals avenues. Such rules might not prevent people from developing inappropriate relationships, but they do make it harder for bosses to hurt their subordinates' professional prospects when those relationships go awry.

Mahoney, it turns out, paid a heavy financial price -- $120,000, apparently from his personal fortune -- to keep the former staffer from going public with the affair. And he may yet pay a heavy political price by getting voted out of office.

It's reminiscent of the old adage: It's not the crime; it's the cover-up.

Civil service rules help prevent such cover-ups within the bureaucracy. They not only keep managers and employees honest, they offer a paper trail to prove that managers were trying to do the right thing if they are later accused of wrongdoing.

Most managers would never dream of doing what Mahoney did. But his example is a reminder to those who want similar power. Such power would be a mirage. In the federal government, your employees don't work for you. They work for the American people. And you do, too. Your job is to make sure employees do the job they're supposed to do. The rules and regulations aim to make sure you do yours.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

Brian Friel is founder of One Nation Analytics, an independent research, analytics and consulting firm for the federal market.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.