Former Senator, Daniel Moynihan, accurately summed up the
he posited that,"[t]he single most exciting thing you encounter in
government is competence, because! it's so rare." In the case of
politicians the public is protected from ineptitude and apathy
through term limits. Unfortunately for John Q. Citizen, the vast
majority of government bureaucrats exist in an environment devoid
of responsibility or accountability.
The endless transfer of incompetent workers rather than their
outright dismissal represents a choreographed farce known as
the "Lemon Dance." The negligent, unqualified and indifferent
workers that fill millions of government positions do so with the
assurance that they will never be fired for their transgressions. For
example, your average sanitation worker wakes up in the morning
confident that regardless of missed routes, spilled garbage or traffic
collisions while on duty, he will continue to have a job the next day.
A recent study by the Los Angeles Daily News concluded that
only six out of thirty-seven thousand Los Angeles City government
employees had been fired for poor performance. On the national
level, the Federal Times reported in 2003 that none of the approximate
half a million workers of the eight Cabinet-level departments were
fired for poor performance from June 1993 to June 1998. The public
must ask themselves whether local and federal governments have
collected the finest group of individuals capable of error-free work,
or if there are inadequate systems in place that are unable to
address the rampant poor performance of government workers.
The outrageous misappropriation and waste of taxpayer dollars
provides another contributing step in the offbeat "Lemon
Dance." Consider a recent example where two Los Angeles sanitation
workers made over $8,000 of unauthorized calls on city-issued cell
phones. After several warnings, and continued misuse of their cell
phones, the city workers were not terminated while management
lamented that they "did not have an adequate policy explaining to
their employees that it is wrong to use city cell phones for personal
The inability of government superiors to adequately discipline
government employees makes the "Lemon Dance" the modern-day
Achilles Heel of government. Entrusted with running society's most
important institutions, government finds itself in a position where it
can neither terminate its least qualified employee, nor reward
exemplary standouts. Instead, government bosses tend to look the
other way when faced with the poor performance of their
subordinates. The complete lack of accountability present in
government has, in turn, created a culture of apathy where workers
have no motivation to perform at even adequate levels. Richard
Riordan, former Mayor of Los Angeles and present Secretary of
Education for the State of California, cites a lack of accountability as
the leading cause of poor performance plaguing government
institutions. Riordan admits that government run bureaucracies
"do[es] not hold anyone accountable, because [it] might hurt
somebody's self esteem by firing them."
Former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch's strategy for
improving employee performance deserves consideration.
Concluding that it was better to release an ineffective employee
immediately rather than allowing them twenty-five years of wages
and retirement benefits, Welch regularly fired the bottom ten percent
of his employees based on performance evaluations. This type of
approach could do wonders for local, state and national government.
The termination of deserving employees sends a clear message
throughout the organization that incompetence will not be tolerated.
Albert Einstein suggested, "bureaucracy is the death of all sound
work." The current state of government employment certainly
supports his assertion. However, government must begin to clean
house. Until it becomes possible for government to dismiss
incompetent workers, the public will continue to be held hostage by
unions and ineffectual procedures that would prefer the "Lemon
Dance," to even modest accountability.
Copyright 2005 Michael Levine
Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine
Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Guerrilla PR,
7 Life Lessons from Noah's Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life.
GuerrillaPR.net is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media,
without going broke. http://GuerrillaPR.net