Govgeddon Is Not An Option

Govgeddon Is Not An Option

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how the Federal government is falling to attract young people.

“Employees under the age of 30 hit an eight-year low of 7% in 2013…[while back in 1975, more than 20% of the federal workforce was under 30.”

Conversely, 45% of the federal workforce is older than 50.

Moreover by September 2016, a quarter of the all federal employees will be eligible to retire–that the retirement wave we’ve been hearing about for years, but never seems to really come (because of the economy).

Without “a pipeline of young talent, the government risks falling behind in an increasingly digital world.”

It’s not the older people can’t learn the technology, but rather they aren’t digital natives as those born in the later part of the 20th century.

To see just a glimpse of the digital divide, you need to go no further than when many of these folks snicker at us for even just sending emails–something so uncouth to the younger crowd.

With years of salary freezes, no awards, benefit cuts especially for new hires, and shutdowns, the federal government which used to be “an employee of choice,” is “now an employee of last resort.”

Further, “the reputation for bureaucracy and hierarchy is driving away many workers.” People want to be productive and get things done, not spin their wheels.

Yet, the government offers so many exciting jobs performing critical missions in everything from national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, and so much more, it is ironic that we cannot attract young people, who are often the most idealist.

Diversity in the federal workforce means that people under 30 are not a rarity!

Everyone–no matter what age, sex, race, religion, and so one–provides an important contribution, so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

We need people to clearly feel the honor in public service, to see the importance of the missions performed, and to be treated like valued workers and not political pawns in partisan showdowns and Washington shutdowns.

Let’s actively recruit with an attractive smorgasbord of enhanced salary and benefits, especially in critical fields like cyber security, information technology, biotechnology, aerospace engineering, and more.

It’s time for the federal government to become attractive for young (and older) workers again, and not apologetic for providing important jobs in service of the nation.

The federal government needs to compete for the best and brightest and not resign itslef to second-tier, ever.

Our young people are an important pipeline for fresh ideas and cutting-edge skills, and we need them to prevent a govgeddon where we can’t perform or compete with the skills and diversity of workforce that we must have. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Getting To Happy



In spite of all the wealth creation and technological progress we have experienced in recent times, the real stickler is that most people seem unhappier than ever.

This is not just an observation: According to the results of the World Values Survey and the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, “people have grown continuously more depressed over the last half-century.” (Psychology Today, April 2011).

And the depression and unhappiness that we are suffering as a society has been linked to overinflated and unrealistic expectations.

I guess the average home size of approximately 2,400 square feet, more than DOUBLE that of fifty years ago, hasn’t made that much difference in people’s level of happiness.

Why? Because we focus on what we don’t have, instead of what do have. Marketers take advantage of this by selling, for example, the iPad 2 three months after everyone just got the iPad for the holiday. (Thanks SNL!)

Reminds me of a timeless Jewish saying: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.” (Talmud: Avot 4:1) — Then again, the Cossacks taking all of our stuff didn’t help the situation any 🙂

Psychologist Tim Kasser states: “The more people focus on the materialist pathway to happiness, the less happy they tend to be.”

And more forebodingly, “The less happy they make others.”–Can anyone say “50% divorce rate and rising?”

Writing about America in the early 19th century, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville already observed: “I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men’s hearts.

I remember growing up in a modest way, but walking past all the mansions in the community regularly. In my mind I lived “on the other side of town.” On the one hand, this was motivating to me in the sense that I felt like I could “make it” too. On the other hand, thinking about it left me feeling empty, because materialism was not what I believed to be REALLY important. I still don’t.

Over time, I came to see money practically, for what it was: a way of paying the bills. But my true passion lay elsewhere. Commitment to G-d, family and nation, and productive hard work in its own right–is more meaningful and joyful to me.

Today, I still enjoy looking at the mansions on Bravo’s Millionaire Listing or HGTV. But I only let myself do that when I’m working out on the treadmill!

>Are Feds Less Creative?


Contrary to the stereotype, in my observation government employees are just as creative as those in the private sector. The reason they may not seem this way is that they typically think very long and hard about the consequences of any proposed change.

Once an agency has tentatively decided on a course of action, it still takes some time to “go to market” with new ideas, for a few (to my mind) solid reasons:

  • We are motivated by public service. One of the key elements of that is our national security and so we must balance change with maintaining stability, order, and safety for our citizens. In contrast, the motivation in the private sector is financial, and that is why companies are willing to take greater risks and move more quickly. If they don’t they will be out of business, period.
  • We have many diverse stakeholders and we encourage them to provide their perspectives with us. We engage in significant deliberation based on their input to balance their needs against each other. In the private sector, that kind of deliberation is not always required or even necessarily even desired because the marketplace demands speed.

The fact that process is so critical in government explains why IT disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance are so important to enabling innovation. These frameworks enable a process-driven bureaucracy to actually look at what’s possible and come up with ways to get there, versus just resting on our laurels and maintaining the “perpetual status quo.”

Aside from individual employees, there are a number of organizational factors to consider in terms of government innovation:

  • Sheer size—you’re not turning around a canoe, you’re turning around an aircraft carrier.
  • Culture—a preference for being “safe rather than sorry” because if you make a mistake, it can be disastrous to millions of people—in terms of life, liberty, and property. The risk equation is vastly different.

Although it may sometimes seem like government is moving slowly, in reality we are moving forward all the time in terms of ideation, innovation, and modernization. As an example, the role of the CTO in government is all about discovering innovative ways to perform the mission.

Some other prominent examples of this forward momentum are currently underway—social media, cloud computing, mobility solutions, green computing, and more.

Here are three things we can do to be more innovative:

  • From the people perspective, we need to move from being silo based to enterprise based (or what some people called Enterprise 2.0). We need to change a culture from where information is power and currency and where people hoard it, to where we share information freely and openly. And this is what the Open Government Directive is all about. The idea is that when we share, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • In terms of process, we need to move from a culture of day-to-day tactical firefighting, to more strategic formulation and execution. Instead of short-term results, we need to focus on intermediate and long-term outcomes for the organization. If we’re so caught up in the issue of the day, then we’ll never get there.
  • And from a technology perspective, we need to continue to move increasingly toward digital-based solutions versus paper. That means that we embrace technologies to get our information online, shared, and accessible.

Innovation is something that we all must embrace—particularly in the public sector, where the implications of positive change are so vast. Thankfully, we have a system of checks and balances in our government that can help to guide us along the way.

Note: I’ll be talking about innovation this week in D.C. at Meritalk’s “Innovation Nation 2010” – the “Edge Warriors” panel.