The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats

One of my siblings became a vegetarian after a brief stint working for the United States Department of Agriculture and having read the reports on poultry processing plants. That’s the sort of Grand Guignol reflected in the recent USDA report on swine slaughtering plants. Among the findings were that inspectors weren’t doing their jobs and even when they did their jobs there was no enforcement of the regulations. What went out the door carried the “Inspected” sticker nonetheless. Consequently, repeat violators were not deterred.

You don’t need to look too hard to find Democrats complaining that Republicans want to have too few food inspectors to keep the food supply safe or weaken regulations so their fatcat donors reap ever-higher profits. So, Democrats want to hire more inspectors who don’t do anything and impose more regulations that nobody enforces?

IMO we’re in drastic need of Civil Service reform. The laws that protect members of the Civil Service are more than a century old and enacted when the Civil Service was tiny and nearly powerless. Do I need to document that conditions have changed? Perhaps our Civil Service procedures and policies should change with the times.

I’m not sure what really needs to be done. Just as a hipshot suggestion, why not require that Civil Service employees be evaluated on the curve? At least half should receive at least minorly unsatisfactory performance reviews and at least 14% seriously unsatisfactory performance reviews. I’m open to other suggestions or counter-suggestions.

10 comments… add one
  • DC Loser Link

    I just retired from the civil service after almost 30 years of combined CS and military service. I was a GS-15 manager and seen many personnel rating systems come and go. There is no easy solution to this problem. In really good government organizations, where you have good leadership and high workplace morale, these problems don’t occur. Where they do occur are the places with lousy or nonexistent leadership, rule by fear, favoritism, mid-level managers who are little tyrants, and a workforce in constant fear of petty disciplinary actions or worse.

    I’ve seen your suggested curve system at work when it was used for officer evaluations in the Air Force. It was a disaster for the unfavored officers (in the USAF, they would be the non-pilots). All the commanders’ favorites got the high ratings, while the ‘barely tolerated’ got the low end of the stick. Needless to say morale went into a nosedive.

    In my last organization, they went to this rating system where supervisors were supposed to write ‘measurable’ objectives so performance could be quantified. Of course, the gaming began right away and supervisors and workers began to organize their productivity around numbers that were meaningless. For fear that everybody was going to get a high rating, management imposed a distriburted curve rating system that was supposedly illegal. Once again, worker morale went into a nosedive from the cynical manipulation of the system by manangers who wanted to protect their favorites.

    I have not seen a system that isn’t open to gaming and manipulation.

  • Thanks for commenting, DC Loser. The specific issue I’m trying to address with what is admittedly a hipshot, i.e., fast, off-the-cuff, trial balloon, proposal is that the Civil Service Code makes it quite difficult to remove Civil Service employees who’ve had a history of good performance reviews.

    As in any bureaucracy there is unquestionably a “Lake Wobegone syndrome” in the federal Civil Service—all the children are above average.

    As I said in the body of the post, I’m open to counter-proposals. I guess my underlying point is that a large, powerful Civil Service needs many more controls than a small, powerless one would. If we’re going to have a large, powerful Civil Service, as I think is inevitable, we need to think about what those controls should be.

    The challenge is, of course, achieving uniformly good performance. Good performance in the absence of good leadership and high workplace morale. Good managers are probably no more common in the public sector than they are in the private sector and my experience is that good managers are remarkably rare. Somehow we’ve got to improve things even without uniformly good management.

  • DC Loser Link

    One thing that I’ve seen fierce resistance to by senior and even mid level managers in the CS is a 360 evaluation system, where managers will be rated by their subordinates. I advocated such a system and was pretty much ignored. Senior managers talk all the time about accountability, but they don’t want accountability for themselves.

  • Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

    Many universities have had such evaluation systems for years. They have some utility but, unfortunately, not much in that environment. Good teachers are generally popular but not all popular teachers are good. And in some instances the very best teachers are not popular at all.

    It might be that kind of evaluation works best as a sort of early warning system.

  • TimH Link

    Even though the Civil Service has grown, I wonder the extent to which the government sometimes uses contractors (which have also grown, more than the service for the past generation) to get over the barriers you note. Not that they’re necessarily any better – especially with the way contracts are negotiated – but I wonder the extent to which contractors are used to enable easier “firing.”

  • Andy Link

    There are a lot of problems with the civil service, but if personnel are not doing even their most basic tasks (ie. properly inspecting meat), then that is a clear management failure in my view. As DCLoser says, people will always game the system which is why effective management is necessary, particularly in organizations where getting rid of people is difficult.

    Short of a complete overhaul of the civil service system (which is what is really needed IMO – I’ve said before that the DoD, in particular, needs reform on the scale of the 1947 NSA), I think any effective solution must focus on management. The only short term solution that I can see is action by a political appointee which is unlikely outside of a scandal.

    Over the long term I think that changes to the management and promotion system would be the most effective outside of a complete overhaul. I like 360 evaluations – the input of subordinates should help weed out the really bad eggs before they get into positions of real authority. Additionally, the civil service should use a competitive stratification system like some of the military services do – restrict the highest evaluation grades to the top 10% of performers, require that such evaluations be backed up, and hold management accountable for the performance of their sections.

    Let’s be honest, though, none of that has a snowball’s chance….


    The management system you wrote about sounds like DCIPS, is that correct?

  • While it’s hardly the answer to all problems, the Foreign Service performance evaluation system for FSOs (not GS employees) makes note of low rankings. Anyone landing in the bottom 2% of the rating pile gets a written warning. Landing there twice within five years gets an involuntary separation.

    Making failure a painful option should serve to focus at least some attention on job performance.

  • DC Loser Link


    Yes, it was DCIPS. How did you ever guess? 🙂

  • Andy Link

    I’m still under DCIPs but it’s only used for bonuses now. Except there is no money for bonuses. But that is irrelevant because DCIPs is mandatory. So we have to go through the motions even though it is a complete waste of time and energy.

    We’re also getting a new timecard system this month. Problem is, the old timecard system isn’t going away so we have to duplicate effort. Of course the requirements for each system are not exactly the same….

    So the government is paying its employees millions of dollars a month for stuff that is not only a waste of time, but also an annoying hassle.

  • DC Loser Link


    I feel your pain. I did see the notices for the new timecard when I was in the building a couple of days ago.

Leave a Comment