Editorial: A civil relationship

A new administration should renew efforts to tap into the wisdom of the career government workforce.

In recent months, Federal Computer Week has offered advice to help define the 2008 presidential election campaign. The first task for an incoming administration should be dealing with the federal workforce, and it could begin by appreciating the wisdom of the career government workforce. The Bush administration has had a relatively adversarial relationship with career government employees for many reasons. Certainly part of that is political. Most members of the career workforce probably did not vote for George W. Bush. And the Bush administration has failed to adopt a management style that promotes harmony. The Clinton administration tried, in effect, to let 1,000 flowers bloom. The Bush administration adopted a formal, top-down management style in which much of the control and power is centered in the Office of Management and Budget. Under this centralized management, many members of the career workforce get the sense that it’s “my way or the highway,” and they are reluctant to speak out for fear of being taken to the woodshed. A new administration will have an opportunity to improve employee/executive relations, although that should not mean giving the career workforce everything it wants. A new administration comes to office with a fresh agenda and a desire to carry out new priorities. The career employees understand that. Most of them have been through numerous administration changes. Political appointees often come into office with fresh ideas, new ways of looking at long-standing problems and clear ideas about what they want to get done. They also have a limited amount of time to get that work done. The career workforce understands how government works and can provide repeated insights useful for honing and improving appointees’ new ideas. When the relationship works well, political and career employees are invaluable to one another. When the relationship is broken, it can produce gridlock and failure to accomplish even simple tasks. We have asked people about their recommendations for a new administration, and we have heard a resounding chorus: Listen to the career workforce. We hope the new administration will listen and learn from the career employees.