Fourth Quarter Blues

As this term winds down, career employees must stay in the game.

The fourth quarter of an administration can be problematic for career civil servants. Many of the starting players and regulars begin to leave. Substitutions become frequent and agency teams start to lose energy as plans and missions wind up in a holding pattern. As the Bush administration approaches the end of its game, many will focus on the 2008 election and beyond, when a new team will head to Washington. It's no wonder so many managers and executives catch the fourth quarter blues. Here are three rules to keep you in the game.

1. Stay focused; you still have a job to do. Regardless of what you read in the newspapers, the American public has not sent you a message. They might have sent your bosses a message, but they expect you to keep doing your job. Citizens expect continuity in government and the continued delivery of high-quality service.

The administration might be slowing down at the policy level, but there can be no slowdowns on the career side of government. There will be fewer new initiatives and less excitement in the halls, but your job has not changed. Statutory laws still must be administered. The agency's strategic plan has not gone away, and you have an obligation to complete it as successfully as you can. In fact, you might even need to put extra effort into bringing initiatives such as the President's Management Agenda to fruition in the fourth quarter.

2. Use your time wisely. You have an opportunity to start thinking and planning for the next administration, which will begin on Jan. 20, 2009. This is a good time to assess the state of your organization. Have you updated your workforce plan? Do you have the right staffing mix for the remainder of the decade, or should you hire people with certain skill sets? Does the agency's strategic plan need a review?

Creative thinking and planning is vital for the next game. Don't waste time simply waiting for the next team to show up and give you a new plan. You should have an agenda to present to them. The new team will appreciate your guidance.

3. If you are appointed in an acting capacity, take the position seriously. Career civil servants often are named as acting officials until a new political appointee arrives, which can take a long time, if ever at this point in the administration. Even in these unsettled times, it is critical to assess the state of your organization and attempt to actually improve it during your tenure. Acting officials tend to avoid tough decisions. If you have a tough personnel decision to make, make it, and if you have to sign off on a controversial new regulation, do it, instead of handing off a pile of unfinished business. It's always easier to wait for the guy in charge. But quarterbacks don't quit calling plays just because they might not start in the next quarter. There is simply too much to do, and the stakes are too high to wait for the next person to show up.

It's natural and understandable to catch the fourth quarter blues. But it is unacceptable to stay in a funk for the next two years. Take time to review your strategy, catch your breath and stay in the game. There is still much to do.

Mark A. Abramson is president of Leadership Inc., a firm specializing in creating thought leadership on government management. He served as the first executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the first president of the Council for Excellence in Government. He can be reached at

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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