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Not all public servants are evil

I was in continuing legal education today [yawn]. However, the lunchtime session was with the clerks of court for Fairfax, Alexandria, and Arlington Counties. These are the administrative heads of the courts, and really some fairly powerful people.

The main topic of conversation was putting public records on the 'net. Each of them said they're working to make as much information as possible available online, but they're taking their time to weigh the privacy implications of the information they make available. For example, land records are only available by subscription (cheap fee - $50 for unlimited access for a month), property tax records are freely available as they always have been, marriage licenses will likely never be online, and they're putting long, hard thought into how to handle court cases.

Overall, I was simply impressed with their approach to the entire issue - I think we'd all be a lot better off if we had more elected officials like them.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I've been a Snivel Servant for 30 years (crap ... has been that long!) and it's been my experience that there are way more people that will go 'above and beyond' than those that give (all) of us the bad rap.

We certainly do have 'the work to rule' (or less) wankers but in general, WE give them a harder time than you 'civilians' ever could - we have to deal with them too :(

The tax payers are actually getting excellent value for the dollars that manage to filter down to us :)

Perpetual Newbie II
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

the problem is there are far too many of you doing jobs that government shouldn't be doing in the first place, and there are far far to many useless manager types in government

the artist formerly known as prince
Wednesday, March 10, 2004


After much contemplation on the reasons for the pervasive problems of government organisations in Australia here is my list of causes :

- Responsibility without authority.  People get in trouble when something breaks or when a problem occurs even though they arent given authority and control over enough of the system involved to change it.  This leads to nervous 'dont get involved' people who are scared to death of getting in trouble and try to do as little as possible.

- Committees.  Committees are simply there to avoid any personal responsibility for anything.  They mean decision making takes much longer.  They mean decisions are much poorer because although the committee itself is in theory responsible for it's decisions no-one on the committee will get involved with the details of the issues at hand.

- Bad people cannot be fired, only moved. 

- Customer/school-child mentality.  Because so much of the information and resources government employees use is controled and administered by some distant unknown entity government employees often suffer from learned helplessness.  If they want something new or something old to change they complain and act as though somone somewhere should be doing it for them.

- Zero positive feedback.  Government employees seem to be punished for mistakes but never rewarded for positive work.  This is what causes much of the organisational problems.  People have learned that doing nothing is the most successful strategy. Innovation in government is treated like a bacteria, the internal immune system attacks it.

- Processes not People.

Governments dont believe in empowering or trusting people, they believe in processes.  Regulations, documented complications.  This benefits the organisation as a whole as people often move around and no person becomes particularly valuable.


The Prime reason that government organisations often seem insane to people who work in the commerical world is that the goals of a government organisation are very different to a commerical organisation.

Governmental organisation Goal Number 1

- Do not fall over.  Do not collapse. 

It doesnt matter if it's 10 times more expensive or 10 times longer or takes 10 times as many people.  If there is no disaster, if the minister isnt embarrased, that's all we need.

braid_ged
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Our Chief Elections Officer is one of the folks leading the cause against electronic ballots.

w.h.
Thursday, March 11, 2004

> if the minister isn't embarrased ...

Rules ALL!

Perpetual Newbie II
Thursday, March 11, 2004

That's crap, braid_ged.

Government work invariably involves doing something for the common good, which means some people will be screaming all the time. One group says they're approving too much development; another says they're not approving enough.

As a result, government workers must be masters of diplomacy and caution. It's easy to characterise this is as being slow, but it works well.

For alternatives, try Afghanistan, where uncles and Kalashnikovs run government.

x
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Governments are just like any other large organisational structure. You really think that the huge multinational companies trust people more than process?

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, March 11, 2004

I agree with alot of what brad_gaid said.

My mother works in the admin department of a regional hospital system. She tells me work stories, and they always involve meetings, and meetings and resolving issues between people, and calling unions, and filing formal complaints because someone sneezed the wrong way. I am always wondering how on earth they get anything done with all the petty bickering that goes on.

I get annoyed in my job when someone sends me a "How long until you can come fix the computer problem I asked you about last week" and then feels the need to carbon copy this email to my supervisors. (Hello honey, that only gets you put to the bottom of the to-do list).

The imagine of public servants, albeit garnished largely from my parents both being public servants, makes my cc problems seem like standard pettiness that public servants all engage themselves in for amusement.

Aussie Chick
Thursday, March 11, 2004

This is a stupid topic that has nothing to do with software so it should be deleted.

Elephant
Thursday, March 11, 2004

*grin*
that is the best response I have heard all night, to any topic. so straight forward, you have to appreciate that!!

Aussie Chick
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Like someone else said, the problem is govt doing what they really should not be doing in the first place.

The main problem though, is that you don't have alternatives. You might not like the service, but you are forced to use it. Throw in the  CYA attitude that pervades most govt departments, and the bosses empire building ambitions (protect their own), and you have a real recipe for disaster.

Tapiwa
Thursday, March 11, 2004

There was a lot of truth in what braid_ged says, but Tapiwa hits the nail on the head when he talks of the lack of alternatives.

How come monopolies are rightly despised and criticised in the commercial world, but not when they're in the state sector?

It's true that there are some things which are "natural" monopolies, one court system, one police force and one army for example.  But Education?  Health?  Refuse Collection?

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Actually I heard the prime minister addressing some kindergarten children the other day.

One of the children asked "why do we have to have taxes" and "why did we have to go to iraq".
His answers were simple and honest. It is the governments job to find the right balance between having a wonderful infrastructure (roads, schools, supporting industry etc), and having an infrastructure that can be afforded by the people.
"Why did we have to go to iraq?", we thought a bad man had some bad weapons, we haven't found those weapons yet but we are still glad the bad man is gone.

The government has a tough job pleasing everybody (reminds me of a fable about a man, his son and a donkey). There job is to do the best they can.

Aussie Chick
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Dear Auusie Chick,
                              I am glad you and the kindergarten children are so easliy satisfied.

                              With regard to .c.c ing your superiors this is can be doing you a favour. If you go complaining to your superiors that you have too much work they just tell you to do your best. If soembody else is complaining they may stand up and take notice.

                              For anybody using the tactic there is one thing you must do: c.c. YOUR superiors as well. It's your superior who can bring up the inefficiecy of Aussie Chick's department at meetings, and her superior will start to be worried in my opinion.

                              And how the heck is somebody left without a working computer for more than a week anyway? I thought that only happened in Saudi?

Stephen Jones
Thursday, March 11, 2004

I've got to stand up for myself there.  That is not me that posted the b*tch about the topic.  I wish the impersonations could be quelled somehow on this board.

Elephant
Thursday, March 11, 2004

[I only meant that as a passing comment, but her computer worked fine, just a particular program refused to print the first time it was asked to.]

Aussie Chick
Thursday, March 11, 2004

"Government work invariably involves doing something for the common good..."

Um- are you sure you know what "invariably" means?

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, March 11, 2004

> we thought a bad man had some bad weapons

You could justify an invasion of the US with that argument.


Thursday, March 11, 2004

No wait, it really was me.

Elephant
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Aussie Chick, John Howard hasn't uttered an honest answer for many years. If he was in a kindergarten, it is because the new Labor leader has been so successful with children.

If we're going to talk about a bad man, we've got one right here in Australia. We've got a jerk who tries to split private schools against government (while providing increasing amounts of money to private schools.)

We've got a jerk who thinks its great to send jobs to India and helps the Indians do it, while a gullible media nods its head as if it understands.

Aussie bloke
Thursday, March 11, 2004

<snip>
and there are far far to many useless manager types in government
</snip>

That should really read "there are far far to many useless manager types."

Jack of all
Friday, March 12, 2004

Not all microsoft employees are evil, either.

scnr

Ignore my ignorance
Friday, March 12, 2004

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