Letters

April 1, 1999

Hard Truths About Size

I enjoyed Paul C. Light's article "The True Size of Government" (January). The points he makes are what we inside the government have been saying for years and that no one wanted to listen to.

I have seen any number of audits of government functions "go down the tube" because management did not want to see in print what is very obvious to those of us who audit: The administration has for a number of years cut back on full-time federal employees only to have these employees replaced by twice the number of contract workers within a few months. And it has had the nerve to say that hiring contractors is less costly than retaining government employees. What it is really doing, however, is nothing more than a political redistribution of funds. Thanks for shining some light on this subject.

R. G. Laney
Albuquerque, N.M.

Pride and Pay are Key

We can only hope that Paul C. Light is right that the next five years will mark a renaissance in American public service (Back for the Future," January). Facts that have recently come to light are disturbing: In 1987, less than half the graduates from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard were willing to take government jobs. Likewise, a survey at George Washington University's Public Administration Department confirms this movement away from government service, with only 27 percent of students saying the federal sector was their choice of employment.

These facts signal the brain drain and loss of the best and brightest that the federal government faces. While Light might be right that political reform is critical to restoring pride in public service, members of the National Treasury Employees Union believe that fair wages are equally if not more important. The federal government's inability to pay a competitive wage for key jobs is legendary. The gap between private-sector and federal wages is consistently measured at between 20 percent and 30 percent.

Moreover, Light is also right that downsizing and bureaucrat bashing have taken their toll. Administrations come and go. Congresses, too, come and go. Yet, the spirit of public service is something that we should not let go. The government may not be perfect, but there is accountability to the American public. The importance of this accountability should not be ignored.

It should not be overlooked that what often passes for bad government is, in reality, bad contracting. As Light recently informed us, when you measure the true size of the federal government, you cannot ignore the 5.6 million jobs created by federal contracting ("The True Size of Government," January). Political reforms aside, it would appear key components to restoring pride in public service would be to rein in contracting and to close the pay gap, which would go a long way to restoring the confidence of the American people in an accountable and capable federal workforce.

Robert M. Tobias
National President
National Treasury Employees Union

Rating the Ratings

As an attorney specializing in Social Security disability claims and cessation of benefits cases, I read with some amusement, and significant ire, the results of your evaluation of how well 15 federal agencies are managed ("Stacking Up," February).

I have worked, on a daily basis, with various Social Security Administration district offices, regional offices and payment centers throughout the United States for more than six years. With few exceptions, I have found the personnel to be less than ambitious in carrying out their duties. Furthermore, the competence of the employees I dealt with is among the worst I have encountered in my own 20-year work history in the private sector, federal government and state government. The lack of attention to detail, lack of thoroughness in task development and follow-up is disgracefully poor. Most shameful is that these poor work habits have cost my clients and me immeasurable time, money and upset.

Accordingly, I must question the research that contributed to your agency ratings and suggest that future studies be conducted with the input of those of us who have the extensive and intensive dealings with the agencies under review.

Alfred E. Stephens
Virginia

I read with interest the article on the Environmental Protection Agency and its management systems ("Cleaning Up," February). You may want to consider a future follow-up based on interviews of those who suffer through endless changes and reforms that have little purpose or benefit.

EPA does not grasp the fact that front-line managers have specific needs for information and tools, and that these needs are central to the agency's mission. Solutions are devised in ivory towers with little consideration of the needs of those on the front lines who are desperate for systems that support actual management chores.

Examples of solutions searching for a problem abound. It may take some digging on the part of outsiders (who tend to not find the real problems), but the mother lode is there waiting to be found.

Laszlo Bockh
Washington

Deadbeat Parent Problem

While your December cover story, "Where's Dad," correctly identifies the issue as a deadbeat parent problem, your cover depicts dads as the bad guys. I am a single parent with custody of three wonderful young girls. Not receiving child support for over a year, "the system" was not very aggressive pursuing my children's mother. In the past you have featured articles on diversity dos and don'ts. Be consistent. Don't assume this is a "dad" problem; it is a "parent" problem.

Bill Huber
Mechanicsburg, Pa.


April 1, 1999

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