I feel like I’m missing out. People are starting companies and nonprofits, and I’m just holding down a job. If I stick with it, I’ll get promoted eventually, but I’ll still be a cog in a dreary machine. I want to be an entrepreneur and build something I’m proud of, but I’m afraid to give up my steady paycheck. Should I take the leap, quit my job, and work full time on finding a dream to make real? Or should I wait until I develop a can’t-fail idea and then take the plunge?
Mark “Hoodie” Z.
You’ve been influenced by two kinds of romanticized startup stories. The first is total commitment; working sixteen-hour days so you can code all night and pitch all day, living in a group house and subsisting on instant ramen, until you attract venture capital and then make it big. If it doesn’t work out, then you start picking up the pieces of your life. The second story is getting a brilliant idea and developing a business plan that maps step by step how to implement it, so the risk of failure isn’t even part of the story.
Back when Google and Amazon were startups, Professor Saras Sarasvathy researched what successful startup entrepreneurs actually do, and it usually didn’t match those romanticized stories. Sarasvathy found that the entrepreneur usually…Read the rest in Federal Times https://www.federaltimes.com/your-career/the-bureaucrat/2019/05/02/dear-bureaucrat-should-i-quit-my-job-to-launch-a-startup/
Jonathan Shepard replies to Dear Bureaucrat’s column on a useless computer system:
While you’ve identified some useful workarounds here, I do believe that the root cause of this problem (across the government) is a fundamental mismatch between the strictures of the federal procurement process and the software development (and support!) lifecycle. As you know, when federal agencies need to procure an IT product or service, they have no choice but to go through their agency’s procurement systems, often with a set of half-baked requirements. Nothing inherently wrong with half-baked requirements; many requirements (even in the most innovative companies) are only partly articulated until they get deeper into product development. That’s why there is such a thing as agile software development. But the problem is that the federal contracting process is fundamentally ill-equipped to support agile software development. And as the example you cited demonstrates, there is little consideration in most federal contracts for ongoing support and evolving needs. Federal IT systems are generally regarded as one-time “projects” in a project management sense. They are not. They are products with sophisticated users, evolving needs, and changing requirements. A FOIA request management system is a product in the same way that Uber (or Gmail) is a product.
Federal IT systems are inexcusably terrible. I am a former PMF, currently working in the tech sector. The “technological” challenges facing federal agencies are (for the most part) very solvable, sometimes laughably so. If tech startups were able to compete in a truly free market for federal agencies’ business, judged solely on the quality of their products and customer satisfaction, it could revolutionize federal IT systems and bring them up to par with the private sector, probably at a fraction of the cost currently being expended by federal agencies. But there simply isn’t a way to do it today, with existing procurement processes. Great developers don’t bid on RFPs. Great developers make great products, and let them speak for themselves.
My agency uses an on-line system for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, but the system is useless. Half the people who need to work on a request don’t have passwords for the system, so I need to constantly email and phone them about what they need to do. There are review and approval steps that my agency requires, but aren’t part of the workflow in the system, so I have to remember who needs to see what, whether they’ve responded, etc. Every step I have to do that the system pretends doesn’t exist is another chance for errors to creep in, which I get blamed for. I’ve talked to IT about matching the system to what we actually need to do, but they say the development contract ended years ago, so there’s no budget for changes. What can I do?
Charlie “Modern Times” C.
Occasionally an agency is forced to admit that a system development project failed. But your problem in more common—the system is bought, paid for, and officially a successful implementation. It just doesn’t do what the workers need to get their jobs done.
The fix is that workers create our own solutions to do what the official system doesn’t. Spreadsheets are the most common form, but people also use templates, macros, web-based file sharing services, etc. IT departments call this “shadow IT” and point to the security risks. I prefer the term “cuff system” which goes back to when bookkeepers would write a number on their shirt cuff to remember a figure that wasn’t in the official ledger. As to security, the data breaches that have made headlines were from official enterprise systems. Cuff systems done properly can beat that record.
Look for ways to… Read the rest in Federal Times: https://www.federaltimes.com/opinions/2019/04/18/dear-bureaucrat-how-can-i-work-with-and-around-my-agencys-useless-computer-system/
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?
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 https://www.federaltimes.com/opinions/2019/04/04/dear-bureaucrat-how-can-i-get-the-recognition-i-deserve/
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?
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]
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.
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 https://www.federaltimes.com/your-career/the-bureaucrat/2019/03/07/dear-bureaucrat-my-job-wants-me-to-lie/
Send your question to DearBureaucrat@PubAdmin.org
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 DearBureaucrat@PubAdmin.org Anonymous questions are fine, and we won’t print your name even it you give it.