Re: civil service - a memo to the next president

By , Pat Schroeder (D) is a congresswoman from Colorado.

CONGRATULATIONS on your election. Although the campaign was rough, I congratulate you for not running against the bureaucracy, as did your two immediate predecessors. As president, you have many responsibilities: military commander in chief, chief spokesman to foreign nations, inspirational leader of all Americans. Your most important day-to-day responsibility is managing the government effectively so American taxpayers get their money's worth. Federal employees are nervous, mistrusting, and demoralized after a decade of presidential scorn. Unless you excite them, you will fail as president.

Permit me to offer you some advice:

1.Become America's No. 1 fan of the civil service. Instead of blaming government employees for the country's ills, tell them they are the cutting edge of the solution. Talk about the importance of serving the common good. And back up your words by appointing ethical, experienced people to top positions.

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2.Read Civil Service 2000, the new report of the Office of Personnel Management. It predicts a crisis of competence in the federal government. As Washington Post writer Judy Havemann reported Oct. 10, the crisis is already upon us.

3.Become the government's leading recruiter. Many federal employees say they would discourage young people from a public-service career. And young people are listening. Only 10 of the 385 engineering graduates in the Class of 1986 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took government positions. Send the best federal employees out to recruit on college campuses and give them the power to make on-the-spot offers. We live in an ``instant'' age: Candidates who must wait months for an offer will take other jobs.

4.Make government offices physically more attractive. Office environment is important. Both experienced employees and prospective recruits are demoralized by cramped cubicles, file boxes piled in the corridor, and computer equipment three generations behind their own PCs.

5.Establish an ROTC-type scholarship program for the civil service. Many college students graduate with oppressive student loan burdens. The federal government can recruit bright students before they get swamped with debt. Provide a scholarship and living expenses in exchange for a service commitment.

6.Invest in the people who work for Uncle Sam. Many successful companies know that employee training benefits the company as a whole. Follow their lead. And keep the skills of the current work force up to date.

7.Appoint fewer political hacks to important government positions. As Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio commented, ``[T]his administration is breaking the spirit of the career service on the rack of cronyism.'' The number of political appointees has mushroomed in the last 20 years, while the overall number of employees has remained constant. Both for the sake of competent government and the self-respect of the career service, reverse this trend.

8.Raise pay from insulting to just inadequate. The president's pay agent reported that federal salaries are now 26 percent behind similar private-sector jobs. The government now pays clerical workers in Washington, San Francisco, and elsewhere special rate increases of up to 23 percent. New York FBI agents are paid a 25 percent supplement to encourage them to accept jobs in the Big Apple. The fact is, government cannot compete in salary with the private sector. Full comparability is fiscally impossible. Closing the gap, however, is essential.

9.Make the government the leader in finding ways to accommodate work with family life. Tailor a benefits package for your work force. Many federal jobs have stable hours, perfect for flexible-hours work or job sharing. Study after study has shown that productivity jumps when working parents know their children are in good, safe child-care centers. Provide job-protected leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The government accommodates employees on leave for military reserve duty; it can learn to accommodate an employee with a new child.

10.Treat your work force with the same respect that you want. Many federal workers are searched on their way to their tiny, poorly heated offices. They are required to urinate on demand. Their telephones are monitored to see if they are calling home too much. Periodically, they are strapped to a polygraph to see what they have been up to. Security, a drug-free work place, preventing misuse of government property, are all important goals. Dignity of the workplace and trust in workers will do as much to meet these goals without making workers feel like criminals. All the best in your new job.

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