Briefing

Security Theater

In 2006, Fred Gevalt sold his aviation publishing business and set out to investigate the agency charged with protecting our skies. The effort culminated with the July 1 release of Please Remove Your Shoes, a documentary that reveals the "sobering reality behind the Transportation Security Administration's carefully cultivated image." The film asks, "Are we really any better for all our money spent?" According to Gevalt, the answer is no.

Q: A former federal air marshal in the film describes TSA's agenda as "security theater." Do you agree?

A: I do. In fact I think the basic template of U.S. airport security has become deterrence, whether or not anyone ever had that intention. With deterrence, as opposed to interdiction, the whole goal is to frighten bad guys away. We can't afford an $8 billion per annum scarecrow, but that's precisely what it has become. And why the emphasis on all the gadgets and the uniforms, and on the open harassment of passengers? It's there to impress. You and I are just members of the cast in a unique tragicomedy where the "extras" pay for the whole production.

Q: Where should Congress begin in trying to fix TSA's bureaucracy?

A: Fire half of them, and concentrate on keeping only the people who are intelligent, moral and willing to serve their country instead of taking advantage of it. Then go back to constituents and find out what they really want. We can't have absolute security, and it would price us out of house and home anyway.

-Norah Swanson

Smart Space

Shuffling office furniture around might seem like the ultimate bureaucratic exercise, but DEGW, a consultancy that works with the General Services Administration to redesign federal workspaces, argues the benefits can be anything but cosmetic. Founder Francis Duffy and Director Bryant Rice, say a well-designed office is more productive and environmentally and employee-friendly. One example is the space DEGW organized for the Obama transition team at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago.

Welcome Wagon

Office of Personnel Management and agency hiring managers have spent the past decade bracing for a retirement wave that so far has been more like a ripple. But agencies still aren't completely in the clear. Mark Stein and Lilith Christiansen, Washington-based consultants, say as agencies continue to prepare for loss of older employees' expertise, they also should pay more attention to workers who have just walked in the door. The consultants spent five years studying onboarding, an untapped resource in their opinion, and discovered most federal agencies dedicate just one half-day to acclimating new employees.

Stein and Christiansen also found that among a sample of companies spanning six industries, new hires have a 13 percent attrition rate in their first year. Their book, Successful Onboarding (McGraw-Hill, 2010), presents best practices for hiring managers in all sectors to boost retention and productivity, including a more thorough orientation and support throughout the first year on the job. Recent White House initiatives have put agencies under pressure to curb costs and increase efficiency, but the authors agree there still is value in spending more time on onboarding.

According to Stein, "There are the costs associated with failing, and there is a tremendous amount of failing."

Investment in onboarding could bring lasting benefits to the public sector even after the recession subsides, the authors note. "The idea is to engage talent and retain them when the economy turns around; the government does not want to lose these hires to the commercial sector," Christiansen says.

-Norah Swanson

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