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John Klossner's Ink Tank


Federal slackers: What's the real story?

cubicle nap

In the numerous articles, blogs and comments sections I have been consuming, there is one person who is almost always a leading player in any account of the federal workforce. It's gotten to the point where, whenever I'm reading another piece about public workers, I await this player's entrance. It can be a subtle appearance, a sentence or two hidden among the accounts, or the full-blown lead, screaming in the opening.

I'm referring to the under- or non-performing public employee.

Who is this person?

It's almost as if there is a requirement, when writing about government employees, to mention that certain feds aren't doing the work. I imagine it was collectively bargained at one point: "OK, we'll give you full medical with dental, and a solid pension, but whenever you talk or write about government workplaces, you have to include at least two sentences acknowledging underperforming workers. Let me know if you'd like to use our template."

It comes across as an agencywide insecurity: "Yes, we accomplished A, B and C. Would anyone like to see pictures of our underperformers?" You could be writing about an agency that has found a cure for cancer while putting out wildfires as it negotiated a Middle East peace deal, but you still must mention that, of course, there were underperforming employees involved.

Is this an accurate picture? How have underperforming employees become representative of the public workplace as a whole? Do these caricatures – the lava-lamp employee at the post office, the over-caffeinated snarler at the DMV, the teacher who is out of the parking lot before the kids are on the bus – really represent the public employee community?

I found a statistic (sorry, this was the most recent I could come up with) stating that, in 1999, the Office of Personnel Management estimated that underperforming employees comprised approximately 3.7 percent of the federal workforce. Allowing for COLA-level growth (or undergrowth), that is still a small number to be so representative of the entire workforce. So how and why are they the face? (And how do you come up with estimate of underperforming employees? Do you send out a questionnaire and figure that anyone who has the time to answer must be a slacker?)

It's not that there isn't a problem here. As discussions about how to make government more efficient continue, one of the topics constantly visited is how to best compensate public employees, with a focus on how to implement a pay-for-performance system.

The problem seems to be systemic. There are numerous anecdotes of management being unable to follow a simple process for employee evaluations. Online comments tell of employees who feel that their managers don't give proper performance reviews, and managers tell of having their hands tied when trying to deal with underperforming employees.

Is the problem merely human interaction? A group of people working on high-cost projects in a stressed-out economy with heated partisan oversight – I'm pretty sure this would qualify as one of those lab tests where the rats start eating each other. Which, if you follow reader comments, is a pretty accurate metaphor for what is going on.

Maybe we need to better identify the underperformers, in order to let everyone know how little their numbers are? I suggest giving underperformers special seating in office spaces, meeting rooms and cafeterias – and perhaps requiring them to wear color-coded clothes or IDs – so that everyone can get a better idea of how small this group actually is.

Great, another project that the other 95-plus percent public workers will have to take care of.

pay for performance

Posted on Apr 14, 2011 at 7:26 PM14 comments


Announcing the winners of the FCW caption contest

The entries are in, and the most recentFCW caption contest drew an astounding number and variety of ideas. At the time of this writing, 77 people took the time to submit a caption for the drawing featured below. As would be expected, there were a sizable (33) number of entries that featured a reference to telework or working from home, but there were some surprises among the other themes that were featured. Here are some of the entries that caught my eye, followed by the "winners," a highly subjective list chosen by our judging panel of one.

Number of people who requested not to have their name or email included if their caption was chosen for fear of being caught being creative on agency time:
3

Number of captions referencing a government shutdown:
4

Number of captions including a Bill or Hillary Clinton reference:
2

Christmas (in March?) references:
2

Number of captions with a deathbed or last will reference:
2

The caption that leaves me unsure of whether I want to fly into Dulles (submitted by Rick Flanagan):
"The Dulles telework center."

The best sexually frustrated male caption (submitted by Tom):
"Don't apologize for scheduling this meeting. This is the most action my bedroom has seen in awhile."

The caption that stands the scariest chance of becoming policy (submitted by Paula):
"In an effort to reduce federal employee benefits, they have implemented Tele-Sick, where you can be sick in bed and still work. Each employee is now required to have ergonomic chairs, a whiteboard and a tempurpedic mattress in their bedroom in order to qualify."

The best anti-telework caption (submitted by Kate):
“We all thought our manager would bend on the telework issue when she was confined to bed rest. Boy, were we wrong!"

Right-wing jab (submitted by anonymous):
"Once upon a time the President said we will create more jobs and reduce the deficit ..."

Left-wing jab (submitted by LiberALL):
"Don't you dare complain about this to me -- you're the one who voted for the Tea Party to downsize government!"

Best caption if edited (submitted by Ralph Buck, shortened by me):
"Just ignore Harry, he's on an alternative work schedule."

Number of captions playing off of "let's put this project to bed":
4

My favorite pun caption (submitted by anonymous in Williamsburg):
"You're sure lying next to him qualifies as a HubZone?"

And the top runners-up, in no particular order:
"Thank you all for coming in on such short notice. Don’t mind Harold. He’s not a stakeholder."
-- Shelby in Washington D.C.

"Perhaps my role in this project is too 'pivotal'..."
-- Brandon Jubar in Washington D.C.

"So, Greg, How'd that CDC study on absenteeism among teleworkers go over on the hill?"
-- CJ

“So, to review our virtualization plan: As ISSO, Terry here goes into the cloud first, we wait for the green light from him, and then the rest of the team gets an Ambien, a cookie and a bedtime story.”
-- Michelle in Washington D.C.

"Let's do this quickly, I don't want to keep you from your families."
-- anonymous

"Sweetie I really think it's time that we finally get a computer."
-- Jim McKinnon in Odessa, Texas

"It has come to my attention that in many knowledge areas we may be one deep."
-- Barbara

And the No. 1 entry, submitted by Tamira in Auburn, Wash.:
"I put the printer in the bathroom so we wouldn't wake Dave."

John Klossner caption contest

Posted on Apr 07, 2011 at 7:26 PM0 comments


A call for nominations: The FCW cartoon caption contest

I have been drawing cartoons for Federal Computer Week since the late 1900s. In that time I've noticed several subjects becoming regular topics for cartoons, among them telecommuting, contractor-agency relationships, management-employee relationships and security issues. But no one subject has been addressed in the cartoons as much as the Fed 100, the FCW awards that recognize government and industry leaders who have played pivotal roles in the federal government IT community.

In past years I have drawn cartoons timed with the announcement for nominations. I have drawn cartoons to accompany the announcement of the winners. I have drawn cartoons to run at the time of the dinner. I have drawn cartoons to address post-awards sentimentalities. I'm not sure, but I even might have even drawn a cartoon about Fed 100 ceremonies in other galaxies. (No, I haven't.)

So this year my editor and I were having our bi-weekly discussion on upcoming cartoon topic possibilities when he mentioned the Fed 100 issue was upon us, and he was planning on running a page consisting of some of the better Fed 100 cartoons I've done in the past. In gratitude, I may have mentioned that yeah, I think I've run out of Fed 100 ideas. In a move that demonstrates the immeasurable value of good editor skills, he said, "Why don't we have a caption contest?" I can't sing his praises loudly enough.

The below illustration is without a funny, insightful, or just plain absurd caption. Please submit your ideas here as comments and I’ll announce the best in the next month or so. But not during the Fed 100.

Need a closer look? Click for a larger image.

John Klossner caption contest

Posted on Mar 17, 2011 at 7:26 PM80 comments


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