Dear Bureaucrat, my boss doesn’t reward me

Dear Bureaucrat,

I’ve been doing the same job for three years, and I’ve learned how to keep everything running smoothly so no problems reach the higher-ups. If it wasn’t for me, there would be some train wrecks that would look bad for our agency. But my boss doesn’t appreciate me. I get basically the same treatment as everybody else who isn’t a problem employee. Meanwhile, the people who work on senior executives’ pet projects get awards, first pick of travel and training, etc., even though they’re not accomplishing much. How can I get the recognition I deserve?

Ms. Cellophane


Dear Cellophane,

You’re right, employees who work on the pet projects of the most powerful people in an organization are treated better. One reason is that their efforts are more visible to the people who decide who gets what. Another reason is that senior officials are disproportionately concerned with their signature projects, compared to the regular work of the organization. Their egos and their future job prospects depend on whether the projects they are personally identified with are seen as successful. So they lavish the organization’s resources on their pet projects, including bonuses and other recognition to recruit, retain and motivate the people working on them. The official also benefits from a “halo effect”—by rewarding employees who work on the pet project, the official helps spread the story that the project is successful and important.

One strategy for getting more recognition is… Read the rest at


Dear Bureaucrat, Should I Get an MPA?

Dear Bureaucrat,

I’ve been working as an assistant investigator in a public defender office for nearly two years. I like it, and I want to continue a career helping people caught up in the criminal justice system, but there is no room to promote me in my agency. Should I go back to school for a Master in Public Administration so I can move ahead in my career?

Woodrow W.


Dear Woodrow,

It makes sense to get a graduate degree. Other ways to learn can be more efficient, such as books, web courses, or classes outside a degree program. But the degree will make employers more comfortable with hiring or promoting you. You face three decisions; which degree, which school, and full time in-person classes versus a different format.

An MPA or an MPP (Master in Public Policy) is not necessarily better than [Click here to read the rest in Federal Times]

Dear Bureaucrat, My Job Wants me to Lie

Dear Bureaucrat,

I supervise a procurement team. Every month, I’m supposed to sign a form acknowledging “responsibility to authorize and approve only essential obligations and expenditures.” But I can’t know whether each item we purchase is essential. Many of them are highly technical. I told the person in finance who collects the forms that I can’t judge whether any purchase is essential, but she said every account manager needs to sign the form and that includes me. I talked to my boss, and he told me to work it out with finance. I don’t like making these false certifications. It’s not ethical and I’m afraid it sets me up to catch the blame if it turns out one of the technical managers is requisitioning things we don’t need.

George “Cannot Tell a Lie” W.


Dear George,

You are not alone. Government work often pressures us to make certifications that we cannot know the truth of, or that we know are false. Wong and Gerras did a frightening study of the need for Army officers to lie routinely. For example, they found commanders were required to certify their troops completed 297 days of mandatory training, when only 256 days were available for training.

The pressure to certify something you cannot know is more than an affront to your personal ethics. It is an excuse for your agency to not apply real controls that would prevent unnecessary purchases. It is also one more brick in building an agency culture where dishonesty is viewed as normal and necessary.

So what can you do? There’s the idealistic way, the popular way, or the subversive way…

Read the rest of the answer in Federal Times at

Send your question to

Dear Bureaucrat: An advice column for people who work in the public sector

Dear Bureaucrat, My job wants me to lie.
Dear Bureaucrat, Should I get an MPA?
Dear Bureaucrat, My boss doesn’t reward me.

These are some of the problems the new advice column Dear Bureaucrat will answer. The answers are based on practical experience and peer-reviewed research, and sometimes they will be controversial. Who else would advise, “consider letting a little crap hit the fan”?

I’m looking for questions to answer in the first few columns, so send yours to  Anonymous questions are fine, and we won’t print your name even it you give it.