Reality Check


This reply by Jonathan Elliott is a reality check about working in huge bureaucratic organizations whether public or private.  It is worth being shown with the blog that generated it.


First of all, Dr. Boswell I want to thank you for all that you taught me during our class (Group 17). I have a number of memories of that class but one statement you made which continues to be a guiding model for me nowadays is that “It’s more important to ask the right question than providing answers.” It makes a great deal of sense, doesn’t it? If I’m answering a wrong or trivial question, what good is the answer?

I was a Financial Advisor (GS-15) in the Federal Government and my wife Kate was a Lobbyist. So I was on the operational side of the equation; she was on the legal side. I had some very capable bosses. However, as a former General Manager in private industry I often discussed how we could make ourselves more effective and efficient. My goal was to save the taxpayer money. My friends in the Government used to remind me that Government was unlike businesses and could never be run like businesses. In fact, one said, the Government is in part a social welfare organization giving away money. To an extent that made sense. However, when I would develop activity based costing models to show executives to cost of programs, my models were often set aside as “nice to know” but rarely implemented. When my wife and I discussed my frustration at night, she compared what she saw in Congress…that the job of a Congress person was to get re-elected. From an operational stance, bosses were often looking for the next promotion and saving money is rarely rewarded in the Government. Unfortunately that brings us back to your “I’ve got mine” scenario and possibly one of the most important questions that the U.S. faces today: “What is the vehicle for moving the Government elite to help some people lead a decent life? I’m almost 66 now and I’ve been performing volunteer work since I was in my late 20s and I mentored 40 young people, many of whom still stay in touch. I know that any feelings I have of “wholeness” comes more from that work than anything else I accomplished during my career. However, that example may be a bit too anecdotal for those who feel that manipulation of people is “a better way.” Thank you for starting this blog. I look forward to reading your insights as well as others.


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