If President Carter ever hears from his old Navy Boss, Adm. Hyman Rickover, he probably gets an earful about the "waste" of taxpayer money to buy outside advice to tell bureaucrats how to run the government.
Rickover thinks Uncle Sam -- and many private corporations -- have been hypnotized and overawed by "think tanks" that promise, for a stiff fee, to come up with solutions for every organizational ailment.
Even as you read this, federal agencies are letting out very expensive contracts -- which you will pay for -- to tell them how to rate their own employes. Although they have been measuring performance, supposedly, for years, many departments are now hiring consultants to tell them how to do it properly and legally under the new civil service reform law.
Rickover believes it is a tub of bilge (or words to that effect) that Uncle Sam, the nation's biggest employer with the best-trained, best-paid work force, can't find the inhouse talent to run its own affairs.
"If these management consulting firms are so smart," Rickover said in a telephone interview, "why aren't they out making a lot of money doing things themselves."
Instead, they are making a lot of money telling government agencies, unions and private firms how to do things. Often agency employes collect all the necessary data, and do all the work except the costly "thinking" and even more expensive report writing. Veteran bureaucrats note that many of their bosses -- political and career -- who order outside studies often wind up working for the firms they originally hired to make the studies.
Rickover, the Navy's deputy commander for nuclear propulsion, is known as the father of the nuclear submarine, and one of the toughest bosses the Navy ever produced. His most noted graduate is Jimmy Carter.
Rickover is also known (not always with great affection in federal-military circles) as a fanatic on good management. He's been preaching good management techniques for decades -- usually, he is the first to admit, without much success.
When the Office of Personnel Management launched its new magazine, Management, aimed at the bureaucracy's 100,000 middle and top bosses, it asked Rickover to write the main article. He said okay. He insisted that his article begin with an "author's note" without editing or cuts. Rickover got his way. This is what it said, in part:
"The following article has been provided in response to a request. I have written it reluctantly for I realize the futility of expecting that articles such as this will have any impact."
Rickover goes on to say that a high-ranking military officer named to head a major agency once called and asked if he could spare a halfhour to tell him how to run a large organization. Rickover said, "I told him he could not learn to be king in half-an-hour and not to waste his precious time seeing me."
Some of Rickover's management ideas run against the grain of the federal, and particularly military bureaucracy, where the next job is usually more important than the current job. He thinks people ought to feel as if they "own" their jobs. Says the admiral?
"A person doing a job -- any job -- must feel that he owns it and that he will remain on that job indefinitely. If he feels he is a temporary custodian, or using the job as a stepping stone to a higher position, his actions will probably not take into account the long-term interests of the country" or agency, or corporation.
If individuals feel they "own" the job, "they need not worry about their next job. He should exercise a devotion to his work as if his children were the direct beneficiaries of what he is doing, as indeed they are. Too many spend their entire lives looking for the next job . . . "
Responsibility: If you own your job, Rickover says you ought to take full responsibility for it. Government has become adept at spreading responsibility so that nobody can be nailed for a goof. "It is now common in government to deal with problems in a collective way," Rickover notes. This is one reason many middle and high level officials spend more than half their workdays in meetings or conferences. It beats working and it spreads the blame should anything go wrong.
Rickover's ideas on job ownership, responsibility and quality control are in the September issue of Management. OPM is pushing hard for subscriptions, so sample copies ought to be easy to come by.