The Not So Civil Service

At one time, it was considered a great honor to work for the Federal government, and people fought for the jobs and to take the civil service exam. 


The Civil Service was not only a term, but also a reality filled with honor, dedication, and devotion to one’s country. 


Working for the Federal government meant interesting and exciting work opportunities not only defending our great nation, but in making it just and prosperous, and literally a beacon of freedom for the world. 


While no one became rich working for the government, you could make a stable living, build tenure over your service, and finally receive a pension upon retirement. 


Over the course of almost 20-years of my federal career, I have had the opportunity to serve in positions that I only could have dreamed about as a child, and to feel such pride in serving. 


But it seems like times have taken a turn for the worse either willfully or through neglect:


– From Capitol Hill to the Executive Department, we see the extremus of polarization and endless obstacles to getting anything done.  


– With each change in administration, aside from a change of leadership and direction at the top of each Department, the workforce is seemingly accused of subversion for the other side and turned on itself. 


– Just recently, we’ve seen the longest federal government shutdown lasting 35 days and with hundreds of thousands of Federal workers required to work without pay at the time. 


– We have also seen many years of pay freezes–with not even a meager cost of living adjustment (COLA), while the overall economy is booming!


– The pay for grades at the upper levels are hitting up against the Congressional limits with multiple pay steps being the same pay and no increase for career advancement or growth of responsibilities. 


– Employees have been forced to endure the A-76 outsourcings, threats of disbanding entire agencies, demands to reduce the size of government, and hiring freezes even while serving a larger population requiring ever more services. 


– There have been limitations on the power of employee unions, and an ongoing series of tightening of benefits from CERS to FERS and continuing thereafter requiring greater employee contributions and what feels like ever less benefit payouts. 


– Staff are threatened with firing in a short(er) period of time for making a small number of mistakes to a host of “conduct” issues that may or may not be true, and may at times be the outcome of poor leadership rather than problematic employees.


– The system for employment grievances and judging these has gone without a quorum for the longest period on the books and the backlog of cases continues to build. 


While no system is perfect, and there are bad apples on every side, there clearly seems to be a devolution of the federal service, and what this means for governing and for our defense and prosperity is yet to be fully felt. 


For me, serving the Federal government has been one of the greatest honors and has been many of the best years of my life. My wish is for others going forward to have a positive and productive experience as well. 


Perhaps with an appreciation and true respect for the millions of good men and women that serve our country–from the front lines to the back offices–we can once again create a system that is equitable, fair, and just and that inspires the world-class results we needs for our nation and our people. 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Does Color Make The Man?

Thought these were some mighty bold and colorful Men’s shoes. 


I personally like color and making a little bit of a a statement.


In a sense, color makes the man happy, exciting, alive, and uplifting. 


With these shoes, I suppose if your going dancing or a splendid night out on the town these may work.


So there is a time and place for everything. 


Day-to-day, these shoes are a little out there, and more than a little scary, and too much for my sense of tasteful design.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Walmart Ain’t Got Nothing On The Shuk

The Shuk (Marketplace) in Jerusalem is one of the most exciting and affordable shopping experiences. 


Vendor after vendor.


Row after row. 


Items stocked high for the taking and eating.  


From the most delicious foods to Judaica items.


Fresh-baked breads and gooey chocolatey pastries. 


Halvah and baklava!


Fruits and vegetables.


Spices, olives, figs, and dates.


Fish and meat.


Nuts, cheeses, and wines.


Candy, coffee, and slushes.


Hamburgers and falafel. 


Virtually endless. 


Dizzying in a good way from all the people and products.


Like the old times, but anew.


So much life and you never know what you’ll find. 


It’s exciting in a way that big box Walmart will never be. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

X Marks The Spot With A Dot Dot Dot

Dots.jpeg

Love this exhibit by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, at the Hirshhorn Museum. 


Unfortunately, they were out of passes for this special showing, so I could only grab a quick photo or two. 


But I was amazed at how splashes of dots and color can make such am amazing impact on a room. 


Futuristic and yet surreal. 


Everything in the room–walls, floor, chairs, tables, fixtures, and ornaments–had the design elements on them. 


The only thing that didn’t were the people checking it out and what a contrast that was. 


It felt like being in the fantasy world of Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory or something amazing like that. 


It is no surprise that people were lining up out the doors for tickets to this exhibit. 


What an spectacular vision for the world–so happy, so magical and so wow beautiful! 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Enter With A HANDSHAKE & Leave With A HUG

Hug.jpeg

So after almost 6 years at the U.S. Department of State, I am moving forward in my career to a very exciting role at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 


As I look back, I have fond memories of the wonderful high-performance division I was part of and the many amazing achievements we had together, and what our Deputy Assistant Secretary called, the “A Team.”


But one thing today is sticking out in my mind and it’s this image.

“Enter with a handshake and leave with a hug.”

On the first days, when I arrived it was all formality and firm welcome handshakes.


We don’t really know you and you don’t really know us, but we’re embarking on this journey together, and where it takes us no one really knows, BUT we wish you the best of luck–now go out and do great things!


Then on the last days, as I was preparing to leave, the formal handshakes were long gone and instead they were replaced with warm heartfelt hugs (and some special emotional words and cards). 


I was no longer a mystery of a person, with just my reputation, coming in to do G-d knows what. 


Now, I was a human being that had a genuine history with them, formed relationships with many, had faced challenges together, and had touched not only minds, but also it was apparent, hearts. 


I will not forget the special people, nor the many times shared, our accomplishments as an organization, and how we grew. 


I am moving forward not only with their tight hugs to more handshakes anew, but also to once again hopefully grow heart-to-heart with people, as further relationships are formed and we make, please G-d, amazing new progress together–for the mission and for the people. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Wild Advertising Art

Bus Art

I took this photo of an ad for Milagro Tequila on the side of a tour bus in Washington, D.C.


Milagro (“Miracle”) is a company that prides itself on it’s collaboration with artists to create cool murals to advertise it’s liquor. 


Tequila is made from the sweet, fruity, blue agave plant from northwest Mexico, hence the writing over the mural saying, “Agave Expressionism.”


It must be challenging to look out the windows of this tour bus covered in this very blue mural and messaging. 


Why is this ad effective? 


First, it is intense and exciting–the vibrant colors, the big mask with the bulging eyes, and the skulls with the green leafy stuff growing out of the head. 


Second, it really is a work of art, and you wouldn’t expect to see this on a regular tour bus shlepping around town. 


Third, the cultural contrast between the Mexican artistic expressionism and the rest of the comparatively humdrum city life is standout. 


Fourth, after a long hard day at work, people are tired, thirsty, and ready for some fun–so this is a welcome message.


Overall, this has the creativity and connection with the people to hit the mark–pretty neat. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Tractors_on_the_train

This is a photo I took at Harpers Ferry.

There was a train coming by pretty fast, and on the flatbeds were what seemed like a endless line of Tractors.

— Red, red, red, red, blue, and then red again.

I hurried to get my iPhone out and capture this photo while the train was rushing by at full speed.

I love this shot, because it teaches an important lesson about diversity.

Firstly, it reminds me of the children’s song, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

From early in life, we are taught to conform a certain way–based on norms, culture, values, policies, rules, regulations, laws, religion, and so on.

There always seems to be a reason that we have to talk, dress, think, and conduct ourselves–properly, politically-correct, and just like everyone else.

And we are warned that “the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down”–so don’t do it–it’s too risky–you’ll be labeled bad or worse yet, crazy.

So while creativity and innovation is valued if it can bring someone a nice profit, we are still cautioned not to go out too far on a limb or else you risk getting ridiculed and rejected–hey “you may never work again in this town.”

But in this picture, the tractors tell a different story–that it’s okay to be a blue tractor in a long parade of red ones.

No, the blue tractor wasn’t a mistake, it isn’t abnormal or alien or evil, it’s just different and it’s cool.

The blue tractor stands out, but it isn’t a bad thing to stand out–and the blue tractor won’t get hammered down.

It’s okay to be a blue tractor in a long procession of red tractors–and it’s great to just be who you are–blue, red, yellow, green, or whatever.

Conformity is not normalcy–it’s just look-alike, copycat, and probably even boring.

Being different can be novel, inventive, out-of-the-box and exciting–and more important it can usher in needed change.

I think we need more blue tractors in a red tractor world.

Will you take a chance and be a blue tractor too?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)