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When Government Employees Pose a Threat to Security and Safety

Who can you trust? The tragic Navy Yard shootings in 2013 crystallized a long-simmering problem for federal leaders—how to proactively manage potential threats from the government’s own employees and contractors.

It’s a challenge officials have been grappling with for more than a decade. Legislation adopted in 2004 included requirements to standardize the background security clearance process across agencies. But in the years that followed, the consolidation efforts took time, culminating in a 2008 presidential directive by President George W. Bush to improve the process. A number of incidents since then only increased the visibility and urgency to act: Chelsea Manning’s dump of sensitive information to WikiLeaks in 2011; Edward Snowden’s disclosure of highly classified information in May 2013; and the Navy Yard shooting in September 2013.

In response to the WikiLeaks incident, President Obama issued an executive order requiring agencies to create an Insider Threat Program. But the 2013 Navy Yard shooting spurred significantly more action. Obama directed a 120-day review of the “suitability and security” processes used to hire and oversee employees and contractors for the federal government to ensure personal safety at federal physical facilities as well as protect our nation’s most...

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Message

This phrase is, of course, a play on the old line attributed to Peter Drucker, to W. Edwards Deming, to Robert Kaplan and David Norton, and to your favorite management guru. You know the original phrase: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Unfortunately, the similar seven-word phrase that ends with the verb “message” has received far less attention. Still, this second phrase is at least as relevant as the original. It too emphasizes the importance of an obvious and essential leadership behavior that is too often overlooked.

Indeed, I think this second point is actually Leadership Behavior No. 1: “Clarifying and reiterating the [organization’s] purpose can keep everyone focused on what is to be accomplished.”

A public manager who seeks to mobilize people to accomplish a public purpose, needs a clear strategy plus words that explain:

  1. The purpose we are all trying to accomplish,
  2. How we are trying to accomplish this purpose, and
  3. The difference this accomplishment will make to citizens.

To convince employees, collaborators, and citizens to devote serious effort and resources to achieving this purpose by implementing this strategy, a public manager needs a clear message that explains the purpose, the strategy, and the...

OPM’s Telework Policy for Parents Is An Exercise in Distrust

I’ve been working from home exclusively for the past 6 years. I say it all the time, not really in jest, that I could never work in an office again. I just can’t wear real pants anymore.

Like most work-from-home parents, I still have traditional office hours and great childcare. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when worlds collide and my children barge into my office during a video call.

As someone who worked for the Department of the Army and successfully negotiated a one-day-a-week approved telework situation, recently released OPM guidance on telework and dependent care is ushering in a flashback. Picture a group of women sitting in a conference room, being lectured by HR about why we could not have our children at home with us while we worked (I didn’t even have kids at this point, but given the fact that I have a uterus, it was clearly a risk).

This was Washington, D.C., mind you. And anyone who was working at the Pentagon who had kids was already shelling out at least $1,000 a month for the privilege of quality childcare (multiply that for multiple children). My guess...

Don’t Look to Trump to Overhaul the Bureaucracy

Federal employees who are worried about the future should stop watching President Trump and look up Pennsylvania Avenue, where the real tsunami of civil service reform will likely originate. Trump can order as many hiring and pay freezes as he wishes, but only Congress can change the laws governing civil service hiring, pay, benefits and discipline. Trump’s exemption-laden freeze is mere bluster compared to what the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has already started to design.

Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, started working on comprehensive reform long before Trump began his campaign. He has introduced a resolution backing the idea of moving certain federal operations out of Washington, supports a much more stringent hiring freeze that would fill only one in three federal job vacancies, and wants a faster firing process and higher health care premiums. At the same time, he supports higher pay for some federal jobs.

Chaffetz also knows that most federal employees share his concerns about the performance of the civil service. According to the government’s most recent employee survey, less than half of federal workers believe their units are able to recruit people with the right skills, effectively link pay and promotions to...

OMB Nominee Needs to Understand Creating a 'High-Performing' Workforce Won't Be Easy

In his nomination hearing to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Mick Mulvaney said he wants a “high-morale, high-performance” federal workforce, and that he plans to look for ways to better reward top employees and hold poor performers accountable.

He will not have to look far. The creation of high performance organizations has been the subject of a growing number of books. I co-authored one of the few focused on government, It’s Time for High-Performance Government:  Winning Strategies to Encourage and Energize the Public Sector Workforce. My co-author, Bill Wilder, served for almost 25 years as the Human Resource Director for the city of Charlotte, at a time when it was widely regarded as a high performance organization.  

One of the most important lessons from Charlotte and other high performance organizations is the essential role of leaders. Bill argues that “the individual at the top must challenge the process and have and communicate a framework and clear vision for the organization. Their frequent and honest communications and recognition of employee achievements is a must.” Organizations that achieve long term success in every sector have highly regarded, respected leaders.  

Fortunately, the Trump administration has appointed several business and...

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