Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Best and Brightest

I heard on NPR today that Bush is threatening a veto of a bill that would give collective bargaining rights to airport screeners working for the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This just doesn't make a damned bit of sense to me.

The regime seems, to me, to essentially be claiming it needs the power to move around or fire Homeland Security workers (the TSA is under the Dept. of Homeland Security) at will so that it can get rid of the bad apples and change things up to respond to emerging threats. This is pretty dumb for a number of reasons.

For one thing, no huge Federal government bureaucracy is nimble and able to adjust easily to new circumstances, with or without collective bargaining. An inability and unwillingness to change is almost the definition of bureaucracy. In 2004, Homeland Security had 183,000 employees. Yeah, a bureaucracy bigger than the entire population of Salt Lake City isn't going to have any inertia. Uh-huh.

And, of course, employees at the CIA and the FBI have been denied collective bargaining rights since the 60s. That's certainly ensured they are nimble and quickly change to adapt to threats, right? That's why the thwarted Al-Qaeda's plan to fly some planes into the World Trade Center, right? Oh yeah, they didn't. But that's why they've adapted and learned since 9-11, right? Oh, wait, the 9-11 Commission said they haven't done that either. Hmmm.

In fact, all the CIA has really done since 9-11 was fail the country by allowing itself to be bullied by Cheney and the Bush regime into changing its intelligence estimates during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. In fact, it's almost as if the CIA couldn't be independent and actually do its job, couldn't actually tell the Bushies the truth even if it wasn't what the Bushies wanted to hear, because, oh, I don't know, they were afraid for their jobs... As if they were easier to bully and ignore because they could be transferred or fired on a whim. Interesting.

It's almost as if denying collective bargaining rights does nothing for making an agency or department more nimble, but rather just gives the White House more power to force employees to do whatever they want in furtherance of a political agenda. It's almost as if that power is what the Bush regime is really after...

Further, don't we want the best people we can get doing important jobs like the ones at, say, oh, Homeland goddamned Security? Is denying Homeland Security employees collective bargaining rights enjoyed by many other government employees really the way to attract the best and brightest? I mean, if you have a choice between a less stressful, less critical job in, say, the Department of Education where you have collective bargaining protections, and a more critical, stressful job in Homeland Security where you don't, why would you pick Homeland Security? Why, if you had a choice, would you choose to work somewhere that you could be summarily transferred or dismissed if you don't parrot the political agenda of whomever is in the White House? Why does it make sense to make the most critical jobs in government the least attractive?

I used to work at a big Defense Contractor at the tail end of the tech boom. I was in a group that tested software updates for a certain jet fighter's computer. We had an in-house software group that wrote the software. Because it was a government contract, and good software people could make a ton more money in the private, non-government contracting sector, the software our group got from them suuuucked. It was buggy, it didn't work, and it was always delivered behind schedule. My company couldn't attract good talent with the kind of pay a government contract could offer. Now consider that contractors usually make more than actual direct government employees. And consider that non-critical government employees generally have collective bargaining protection.

And then consider how many of the best and brightest are not only going to forgo a bigger salary in the private sector, but also choose to work in the government agency where they are denied collective bargaining and can be fired or transferred on a whim? Is it any wonder that agencies like the CIA and FBI are having trouble attracting talent?

It's no mystery. Make the most critical jobs the least attractive in government and the best people won't be in those jobs. That's how it works. You're going to end up with the caliber of people who wrote the buggy software that made me wonder why US fighter planes weren't constantly falling out of the sky. Believe it.


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