QUESTION: I've often heard that government workers have less accountability than workers in the private sphere. Since I'm not a government worker, I don't exactly understand this. I'm wondering if you can help me figure this out. Obviously if I'm in a private company, I need to satisfy my employer or else I'll get fired. Aren't there employers in government jobs? I would obviously have to report to someone, don't I?
ANSWER: Everyone has a supervisor, but depending on what union you are in, there are multiple steps that must be taken before you can lose your job. Teachers get tenure after three years. If they are tenured, they can never be fired, for any reason. They can be put in an office or placed on administrative leave (which means they get paid for not working), but even if they go to prison for a felony, it will be difficult for them to be fired.
Most other unions have a concept called "corrective and constructive" discipline. The first time you are, let's say late three times in a 30 day period, you receive an oral reprimand. The second time you are late 3 times in a 30-day period you receive a written reprimand. These are followed by a second written reprimand, a 1-day suspension w/o pay, a 3-day suspension, a 5-day suspension, a 10-day suspension, a 15-day suspension, and finally a 30-day suspension pending discharge. Usually there is a two year period that violations must occur in. If you get a 10-day suspension for your seventh tardy violation within a 2-year period, then start coming to work on time, and you can keep it up until you are outside of that 2-year window, you start all over again with an oral reprimand. Also, the employee is appealing each of these disciplinary events, and may get one or more reduced or thrown out.
This process can take years. So although they do have to report to a supervisor and there are policies that affect their behavior, they are so protected that it can be said there is no accountability. Plus, their pay can't be affected. Most government workers are on a "step and grade" pay platform. They are hired a specific grade, let's say grade 7, step one, and each year they go up one step. Each increase in their step increase their pay. Their disciplinary /work record is not factored in. That is what a union does. Everyone gets the same increase depending where you are in the process. There is a ceiling, let's say step 9, but then they look for another job title that they can transfer into to begin a new step and grade.
If you tell your boss to go screw himself, you will probably be fired. If a government worker does that, he will have a hearing with witnesses and testimony, and if found guilty of a policy violation, may get a 3-day suspension if its his first occurrence.
Like I said, very little real accountability.
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QUESTION: OK, I see. Now how about the quality of the work itself? You can be brief if you wish. If a gov't. worker is careless in details, or he sits around and goofs off for long stretches of time, what coersion, if any, can a supervisor give him that would straighten him out? Or would it simply be the equivalent of a light slap on the wrist? For instance, what would prevent a pair of shoes, or a watch, made by the government from being any worse than if it had been made by a private company? Thanks.
First of all, government makes nothing. Everything that the government supplies is produced by a private company contracted by government. Government only regulates and taxes. If the government worker follows (or makes it look like he follows) the policy of that agency, very little will happen to them if they screw up.
Look at the VA hospitals. They had a backlog of people waiting to see a doctor. So the head honchos say if you reduce the backlog, we will give you a bonus. So rather than run patients though the system faster, they remove patient names from the official waiting list and add them to a secret waiting list no one knows about. They then report the official waiting time has been reduced. They have accomplished their goal. The official waiting lists were reduced, and they got their money, but a bunch of people died while they were waiting for treatment. Has anyone lost their bonus money, anyone lose their job (except for the head of the agency), anyone even being prosecuted? The answer is no.
At lower levels of government, such as the State, workers process people through the system according to their policy. If they don't follow policy they may get a reprimand, and maybe have their annual increase withheld (this would be very difficult, since you would have to prove the person repeatedly violated the same policy after being told not to to do that). So the result is when you go to their office you wait in line for an hour to get a driver's license.
The emphasis is on following procedures, not producing results. Quality is not job #1 in government because there is no competition. Ford has to compete with Honda and the rest of the other car manufacturers, so their cars need to be better or less expensive.
Government competes with no one, so there is no pressure on the worker to improve on quality or to produce a better shoe, if they made shoes.