For 18 years I've worked in the federal government. For 18 years I've thought that there was too much "fat" in the system. In my travels through various agencies, I've seen employees who were sleeping at their desks or reading novels or running personal businesses or cheating on leave. I've seen the bureaucracy function in outrageous ways. I've seen mismanagement in everything from voting operations to grant processing.
Therefore, it was enthusiasm I felt when I heard candidate Reagan promising to clean up the federal mess. It was optimism I felt when I saw President Reagan immediately start doing something to keep his campaign promises. When political rhetoric ran to talk of lazy, self-serving bureaucrats, I didn't feel maligned or picked-on. When there were proposals to disestablish programs and agencies that probably never should have been created, I didn't think that was ridiculous. I know that there are too many employees. I know that there are programs that waste billions of tax dollars every year. As a taxpayer and as one who has to work in the middle of the bureaucratic maze, I'd like to see it fixed.
Well, it isn't being fixed! Or perhaps it is being fixed if you want to think of "fixed" in the way one fixes a dog--i.e., renders it impotent. Certainly, it is not being "improved." Many of the efforts being made--well-intentioned or not--are doing more harm than good.
As one rather high-level federal official recently put it, "The government is on hold." Because of congressional inaction, we are five months into the fiscal year and agencies still have no appropriations. Mid-and upper- level managers remain demoralized from the previous administration's merit pay fiasco. And federal employees nationwide are being RIFed, bumped and furloughed in a manner that is devastating to both the individuals themselves and the programs in which they are working.
In an effort to whittle the government down to size, agency budgets have been slashed. But reducing the federal budget and consequently the federal workforce by X percent across the board accomplishes little-- other than chaos. It is the sort of action that requires no thought and no planning and sounds great to those who intuitively real- ize that the government is "too big," but haven't the vaguest notion of why or what to do about it.
I hesitate to drop the clich,e that a bomb is being used to destroy an anthill, because the problems in the federal establishment are of larger than anthill proportion. But the fact is that in the name of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, wholesale slaughter is taking place. And the allies are being wiped out along with the enemy.
The office I work for is a classic example. As a management analysis operation, our mission is to find ways to do things better and eliminate waste. We do not cost the taxpayers money. We are in business to save the taxpayers money. Yet the branch that saved the federal government $26 million a year through one study has been decimated. The individual who, because of her expertise, single-handedly saved one federal agency $1.23 million has been "bumped" five GS levels to a job she knows nothing about. Several bright, young interns whom we have spent a year training so that they, too, could help to improve bureaucratic systems and procedures have just filed papers to collect unemployment because they have been RIFed.
Surely this is not what President Reagan has in mind. Surely the intention was not to treat the federal government like the village in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam that had to be "destroyed" in order to be "saved."
I and most other federal employees (who are not sleeping, reading novels or otherwise goofing off) truly support the president's efforts and believe that a repair job needs to be done. But let's slow down a little--and do it right.