Everywhere you look, someone is worrying about the impending demise of the most resilient government on the planet. The graying workforce is about to hobble off to retirement leaving a hollow shell behind to oversee the abdication of the government’s responsibilities to profiteering commercial interests, so the story goes.
Or, an indifferent and incapable bureaucracy is responding lethargically to the theft of national intellectual treasures by state-sponsored cyber-terrorists.
Or, as we approach the changing of the political guard with the upcoming election, we anticipate the inevitable revolving door through which outgoing senior government executives exchange places with new political appointees. As they shift from buyers acting for the public good to sellers acting for benefit of stockholders the potential for conflicting personal and public interests raises its ugly head.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, mostly it oversimplifies some very complex issues.
True, there is a great deal more the federal government can do to improve recruitment, training, development and retention of qualified and committed public servants, I've heard people talking about 60 percent of the existing workforce retiring en masse for at least 15 years. Yet it hasn't happened.
True, the cyber threats to our national security are growing in frequency and sophistication. But creating more, and more stove-piped, oversight and auditors is not the answer.
And given the natural and largely constructive interrelationship between government and private sector enterprises, the healthy exchange of competent and experienced professionals bringing fresh perspectives and enthusiasm to solving the nation’s challenges seems more like a solution than a subversive practice needing clampdown.
So what do tsunami, cybersecurity and conflict of interest have in common?
They all require accountability at the highest levels of government leadership, in both the executive and legislative branches. Accountability to make sure the basics of management blocking and tackling - recruiting, training, communication and "that vision thing" - get done.
Accountability to make sure that chronic problems are addressed, investments made, and policies enforced. All this instead of creating more and more direct reports to the department secretaries who end up second - guessing instead of doing. And accountability to ensure people do the right thing, whether government officials or private sector executives.
The national interest vs. private profit - the question doesn't have to be either/or.
One answer to many of the thorny issues facing our government is inspiring individuals to become leaders are committed to serving the public interest and willing to be held accountable for their results and actions while achieving those results. These leaders may come from the ranks of career civil or military service, or private enterprise. They may serve a short stint or make it a career. Effectively utilizing the vast pool of intellectual capital that is available to solve our nation's challenges, wherever it resides, is the key.
When you ask a career government executive why they chose to enter the private sector and continue to serve government clients, more often than not, you’ll hear them say it allows them to continue to serve their country. You hear this from retired military as well as career civil servants. And when you ask successful business men and women why they want to serve in government, you usually hear some version of how this country has been good to them, and they want to pay something back.
So what's wrong with that?