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.

Signed,
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 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

Annotated Work Instructions: An ISO 9000 Hack presented at Office of Personnel Management

Center for Public Administrators participated in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s “Stories in Innovation” event on June 24, 2016, with our presentation on Annotated Work Instructions. The presentation showed how a public administrator can build an efficient process for her work, and convince others to comply with that process, even when the procedures promulgated by agency officials are vague, contradictory or non-existent. The deck is at
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0fUKRnu1oAhUTM0TFVSZDZvMWc/view?usp=sharing

Hack and Tell for Public Administrators

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@matis presenting her Borges twitter bot at DC Hack and Tell (credit: @zugaldia)

Civic hackers are changing government, applying do-it-yourself, do-it-together and open source to create what government hierarchies won’t. Some civic hackers are public administrators; many are software developers, journalists, community organizers, lawyers, etc. This column will report on civic hacking in the national capital area, to show how we can each be more than our place in an organization chart.

This edition looks at DC Hack and Tell, a monthly “show and tell for hackers”. At each meeting, seven to ten people present their projects. The rules are “no startup pitches, no dull work projects, no deckware”. The “no deckware” part is key. It means don’t present a deck of slides that just proposes doing something; present something you have created, even if it is incomplete or semi-functional. Many of the projects are software or digital hardware, others are unrelated to computers. There’s a lot to interest a public administrator, even if your technical skills are minimal or way out of date (like mine).

Some of the hacks are innovative ways to deliver a public service. For example, Steve Trickey’s presentation on Hacking Kids’ Brains showed an approach used by a nonprofit he works with; teaching a programming language designed for children’s characteristics (poor typing, attraction to games and stories, etc.). They encourage the students to remix existing code rather than starting from scratch, which is in line with modern software development practices. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Ca0TZji4Z7m-FioD-T-bNPYUMfCpHte2GCEVPp5T17Q/edit#slide=id.geda2b2d86_0_11

Other hacks show analytic techniques most of us aren’t familiar with. For example, Ben Klemens presented his income tax preparation program. https://github.com/b-k/py1040  At first glance it’s just a free, less comprehensive substitute for TurboTax. But what is fascinating for a public administrator is how Klemens created it; translating the complex set of administrative and legal requirements represented in IRS forms into a dependency tree and a “directed acyclic graph”. Translating the requirements to this form not only enables computing the tax amount for an individual, but also facilitates more complex analyses such as how a particular change in requirements would affect the aggregate tax on a diverse group of taxpayers. This is a potentially powerful approach to analyzing administrative systems that most public administrators have never thought about.

Public administrators should consider not only attending Hack and Tell, but also presenting. I found a welcoming audience and useful feedback there for my totally non-technical presentation on guerrilla government strategies. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0fUKRnu1oAhRERxNmIyWkVHZnM/view

DC Hack and Tell meets one evening a month, usually at the WeWork co-working space in Chinatown. It’s free and there are sometimes refreshments. Information and sign-up are at http://www.meetup.com/DC-Hack-and-Tell/

Beyond Guerrilla Government: Intrapreneurs, Cuff Systems, Side Projects and Hacks

Click for PDF, doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.1067.2803

Public administrators often pursue their public interest aspirations and personal aspirations by taking initiative independent of their supervisors. Rosemary O’Leary (2006) called this “guerrilla government”, and provided real-life examples ranging from whistleblowers to “a state department of transportation employee who repaired a train gate where children were playing against the wishes of his superior.” (O’Leary 2010, 12)

O’Leary examined such behavior as a predicament for supervisors—should they “nurture, tolerate, or terminate” their guerrilla employees? (2010, 8) But independent initiative is not only a predicament for supervisors, it is a vital part of the public administrator’s toolkit. Whistleblowing is one form of independent initiative, but Continue reading “Beyond Guerrilla Government: Intrapreneurs, Cuff Systems, Side Projects and Hacks”