1.1 Right & Left

“Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Putting aside for now which side is which, C.S. Lewis has defined the basic difference between the political Right and the political Left. One side sees the world as a struggle between good and evil. The other side battles against those who have such a simple black and white view of the world. I have come to the realization that the words we use to describe our political divide have been defined by the second side, those who do not know about either good or evil. They cannot see the difference. They do not see that the political divide is the ongoing struggle between good and evil. They do not see that evil hides behind good intentions and lives in shades of gray where it rarely reveals its true nature. There is no such thing as an ideological spectrum with Liberals on one end, Conservatives on the other end, and Moderates in the middle. Those on the Left are not Liberals and Progressives fighting against tradition. Those on the Right side are not Conservatives defending tradition. There are no such things as Moderates. Despite the overwhelming acceptance of these perceptions, they are all wrong.

William F. Buckley, Jr. famously said, “A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling Stop!” What a great image. I can see a fellow on the Right, a Conservative, boldly standing in the path of history trying to stop powerful Leftist forces from sweeping away him and his values and his way of life. However, if we accept that image, then we are also buying into the idea that throughout history civilization has been steadily moving to the left. That presupposition is simply and demonstrably not true. In fact it is a complete misrepresentation of history. Those on the Right have been the ones civilizing the world and making life better. Those on the Left have been trying to stop the progress of civilization. It is time to come to grips with reality. Throughout history there have been two worldviews battling each other. The people we have been calling Conservatives have actually been the ones making the world a better place, and the people we have been calling Liberals have been trying to stop progress. The Left has been repeatedly swept away by what is right and continues to try to stop the progress that has brought liberty and freedom to so many.

In the context of our times, it may be technically accurate to say that those who are for the Constitution, E Pluribus Unum, and opposite-sex marriage are upholding their traditional values and are, in that sense, Conservatives. However, in a broader historic sense, none of those values are natural to man. Those values are revolutionary and opposed to man’s nature. It is those on the Left standing against the Constitution, advocating diversity, and approving same sex marriage who are “…standing athwart history, yelling Stop!” The Constitution, “out of many one”, and opposite-sex marriage are radical ideas. Barbarians, Godless savages, emperors, kings, tyrants, dictators, Muslims, Nazis, Communists, and Socialists have been trying to destroy these radical ideas and to stop the progress of Western civilization for over 2000 years. They are the true Conservatives trying to preserve the traditions of man. They are the ones “yelling Stop”. There is nothing progressive or liberal about them.

People on the Right seem pleased to identify themselves as Conservatives while people on the left are thrilled to pass themselves off as Liberals and Progressives. But those people who call themselves Liberals and/or Progressives are really people who are desperately trying to hold on to the traditions of the past. They are the ones who are close-minded and opposed to the progress made over the last 2000 years, and who want to go back to a time when men decided how other men should live, when people were divided instead of united, and when men did as they pleased with other men and women. For over 2000 years those on the Right have been the radicals who rejected tyranny and barbarism and who have been civilizing the world. Those on the Left have fought against the progress made by the civilized world. It is time to call the Left what it is: uncivilized and barbaric. How else to explain its obsession with tearing down the foundations of civilization, and with stopping the progress made by the Western world? The current incorrect definitions of Conservative and Progressive have made it nearly impossible to see the real difference between the Left and Right.

The meaning of the words “conservative” and “progressive” have been perverted to the point that people as progressive and radical as Martin Luther, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus Himself are considered to be Conservatives. There was nothing conservative about what they each did to make the world a better and more civilized place. Our progress is due to people like them; radicals who blew-up the established order and made the world a better place. The true progressive radicals throughout history are people on the Right who gave up personal gain for a higher purpose. They showed restraint and realized the importance of family and children to our civilization’s survival. They see people as equals before God and man. Meanwhile, those now erroneously called Progressives and Liberals champion centralized authority and sexual practices that were the norm before the rise of Western civilization.

Despite the many thousands of words written about Liberals and Conservatives, the clear difference between Left and Right have been obscured by an ideological spectrum consisting of a seemingly infinite number of positions. Some Conservatives are Social Conservatives, but not Economic Conservatives. Others are Economic Conservatives but not Social Conservatives. Some Conservatives are both. Some Liberals have Conservative views on economics. Other Liberals may have some Conservative social views. And there are Neo-Cons, Alt Rights, Nationalists, Patriots, Libertarians, Populists, Evangelicals, Anarchists, Separatists, Socialists, Communists, and many others. Many people think all of the above are too extreme and describe themselves as Moderates. Everyone on the Left and on the Right seems to accept the idea of an ideological spectrum ranging from far left to far right with Moderates in the middle. The exact definitions of Liberal and Conservative have been hard to pin down because the whole premise behind them is wrong. The ideological spectrum is actually black and white, not shades of gray.

From the time that I was young I was taught that there was an ideological spectrum, and that there were evil extremists on both ends of the spectrum. Far to the left were the Communists like Stalin, and far to the right were the white supremacists and Nazis. (I recently read an explanation of why Communists are on the left and Nazis are on the right. Nationalism is considered a right-wing idea and Communists are not nationalistic, but Nazis are nationalistic. Or is it the other way around?). As I grew older I realized that the Communists and the Nazis had both killed millions and millions of people and were both evil. Since evil is evil no matter what names it is given I found it helpful to think of the ideological spectrum as being similar to a sphere. If you went left and I went right we would travel past mainstream progressives on the left and mainstream conservatives on the right and eventually meet on the backside of the sphere where we would find ourselves with the most extreme examples of left and right. I imagined that I would find Stalin sitting there with Hitler sipping tea from fine china cups liberated from their original owners while they enjoyed a good laugh and some Cuban cigars. This sphere analogy meant to me at the time that the best thing to do in life was to neither go left or right, but to stay in the middle of the front of the sphere where it was relatively safe. The opposite of extremism and evil seemed to be non-judgmental moderation with no real convictions about much of anything. This spherical view of the political spectrum puts evil in charge since the only safe place for the not so extreme people is on the opposite side of the sphere where they hope they can escape the extremes of the Left and the Right.

In reality my sphere analogy was completely wrong. There are only two ways of thinking about life. One way is to believe that what is right has been defined by God, and that if man strives to do what is right, then life will turn out for the best. The other way is to believe that man defines what is right and can make life better by acting on logic and reason. The first world-view rests on faith and is an accurate definition of the “Right”. The second world-view rests on man’s will and is an accurate definition of the “Left”. The true progressives of the last 2000 years are those on the Right. There is no sphere or graduated spectrum, no middle ground or gray area exists between these two worldviews. The Left claims that evil exists at the far left and at the far right, but that makes no sense. Evil is evil and is opposed to what is right. On the left is man, inherently imperfect, and on the right is God. All those who do evil are on the left because God occupies the far right. No evil exists on the “far right”. The Right sees all men as equal and wants to share the benefits of progress and Western Civilization with the entire world. The Left stands in opposition and claims that all cultures are equal. The left is dedicated to undoing Western Civilization.

On the right is civilization, Christian Civilization. I shall not continue to call it “Western” or even “Judeo-Christian”. The principles underlying the Western World and the United States of America are extremely radical and were set in motion by the most controversial and radial being ever to walk on the earth: Jesus Christ. They did not exist before Him. Jesus said He was God and that He was creating a new world. He put a simple new set of radical principles in place to fulfill and replace the ones in the Old Testament that God had made for the Jewish people. Once unleashed these radical principles spread from the Middle East to Europe and then to the Americas and Australia. Jesus said He would divide the world and He did. In order to understand the events that swirl around us we must start by recognizing that those on the Left are barbarians and use the tactics of the barbarians who came before them. What the world calls “conservative” is actually radical and progressive. What the world calls “liberal” is actually traditional and barbaric.

Western Civilization rests on the Christian belief that all men and women are equals before God and are all sinners in need of the Savior’s grace. These beliefs are the most radical progressive and liberal ideas in human history, and the foundation for our country, a country “of the people”. There has never been a more radical and progressive form of government than the one defined by the U.S. Constitution. Those who do not believe that individuals can govern themselves are the true traditionalists who want the United States to become a nation with a government that grants its subjects their rights just like all of the governments of old. They are the ones planting their feet in front of Christianity’s progress yelling, “Stop”. They are the real Conservatives. They are the ones in opposition to the individual. They are the ones whose thinking can be traced to the kings and emperors of old and the dictators and tyrants of today. They have lost the war against what is good and right, but rather than concede defeat they continue to do what they can to make men and women suffer while they promise “income equality”, equal outcomes, and even virgins in the after-life to all who would turn back from progress and make them king. There is nothing conservative about taking a course of action based on faith that things will somehow work out if we do the right things, and there is nothing liberal or progressive about having kings or government grant us rights and take care of us.

The founders of the United States rejected all of the traditional forms of authority and government and established a system of self-governance different from anything that came before it. Progressive and radical revolutionaries founded the United States of America. They fought against the Conservatives who were loyal to the King, and their heirs continue to fight today against those who would bring back the age-old traditions of centralized authority and barbarism.

I am amazed every time someone says that there is too much conflict between the Left and the Right. People, they say, should just get along. I do understand why people think that compromise should be possible. If you accept the idea that there is a broad spectrum of “main-stream” beliefs lying between the extremes at left and right ends of the spectrum, then it is not too big of a logical leap to think that all those in the “main-stream” should be able to get along. Liberals current understanding of themselves and Conservatives reinforce that hope. Liberals think of themselves as open-minded, non-materialistic, and emotional people. They keep up with the latest ideas and evolve with the times. They welcome change and rebel against inequality in any area of life. They think that progress means more than better material things, and that everyone, no matter how odd they may seem, has to be respected for their beliefs. Conservatives are thought of as people who are close-minded and whose thinking is based on old ideas, and outdated moral standards. It seems to Liberal minds that Conservatives should see how well meaning Liberals are. Liberals do not see any irony when they disrespect and misrepresent the beliefs of Christians. How can anyone see the truth when these Liberal presuppositions are so unrelated to the real conflict? Rebellion against the traditions of man is best exemplified by those who sacrifice for others and put others before themselves, not by those who look inward for inspiration and think destroying civilization is true rebellion. The real conflict going on in this world is the one between evil and good. Saying that two ill-defined groups are in conflict, and that compromise is possible is buying in to the lie that there is no such thing as evil and no such thing as good.

I realize as I write this that I will not convince evil to become good or to acknowledge there is an ongoing battle between itself and good. Nock said he wrote for a remnant. Me too. To be as clear as possible: the conflict in our world is between Christianity and evil. When that thought first appeared in my brain, probably due to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and C.S. Lewis, I initially rejected it. What about all of the other religions? What about all of the really smart people I see on TV and the magazines and websites I read? They do not talk or write about Christianity much at all. How could this one religion be that big a deal?

I have read about what makes our country great. You probably have too. I also have looked up into the sky. So have you. I do not think much about looking up into the sky. The sun, clouds, blue sky, the moon, and the stars are all there, but I do not dwell on their existence, or think them particularly remarkable. It seems equally unremarkable to us that the people who founded this country did not need a king. After all none of us have lived under a king. We have always had our republic. George Washington is given a lot of credit for not continuing as President when he could have. He could have made himself king. What is lost on all of us now is that Washington did not turn down a kingship because he was a man of high character. He was, of course, a man of very high character. He turned down kingship because he had a King. His King, and the King of our Christian culture and our country was and is Jesus Christ. Washington trusted God and passed on trying to replace Jesus. If he never explained himself exactly that way, it is because he probably never thought it that remarkable an insight. The sky is up and Jesus is King, obviously.

One of the readily discernible differences between countries led by those on the Left and those on the Right, is that countries on the Right, which includes most of the Western world, are led by people who took power through peaceful means. Most, if not all, of the countries on the Left, which includes the Communist and Muslim countries, are led by people who are in power by force. In the earliest days of man, as far as historians can determine, almost leaders were the strongest men in their tribe, village, region, or country. That is the nature of man. Communists believe that all property should be held by the state and that each person should receive according to his need and give according to his ability. In practice, the people who decide how much each person is to give and receive, are the strongest and they get more than they give or need. Communist dictators, Islamic state leaders, kings, and other tyrants almost always have far more than anyone else in their country. In those countries the strong and the powerful make the most money. In countries with Christian foundations, the highest paid people are actors, artists, athletes, authors, bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs, journalists, lawyers, models, radio talk-show hosts, and televangelists. None of them rule over others, and while some may have many employees or be physically strong, none rule by force. And yet, these people from the Christian world dominate the earth in a sense, even though they do not control armies and are not strong. Just what Jesus meant when he said that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Throughout history Christian culture has not achieved more than any other by mere coincidence. It seems completely illogical to the Left, but Christian countries, by letting the meek thrive, make the world a better place. Those opposed to Christianity are opposed to progress and to civilization itself. Those opposed to Christianity are the true Conservatives. Civilization, as we in America know it, was created from the Right. Christians are the true Liberals and Progressives making the world better by faith that it will get better if we do our best to do what is right.

The Left is not Liberal or Progressive. A better word to describe the Left is Barbaric. The Right is not Conservative. A better word to describe the Right is Christian. Perhaps you do not consider yourself either, but we are all one or the other whether we accept it or not.

JSK

5.5 Silos in Government

The complexities of the internal workings of government do not stop with the official hierarchy, inefficiency, and the various underground gorilla, and behind the back networks. Within the bureaucracy you mostly work “horizontally” in that you primarily work with others at the same level of the organization. Depending on the position you have you may interact with customers at the bottom of the organization, and with offices above yours in the bureaucracy, but usually not with those far above or below you. Piercing through the horizontal planes of the organizational hierarchy are programs or offices that get their funding and/or direction directly from the top of the organization. We in government informally called these, “silos”.

Silos are often walled off from the rest of the organization, but in order to explain them, let us back up a bit to explain how funding is distributed inside the government using VA as an example. For most existing programs, funding for the upcoming year is based on the funding from the last year. The funding model is tweaked each year to reflect the latest priorities and the funds flow down through the organization into the various fund control points without too much difficulty. There are, of course, a lot of discussions and points of contention, but overall it is straightforward because the decision makers are using the past as a starting point. New programs pose a problem. Often new programs are created as a response to a scandal or a specific problem that Congress or the Administration wants to target. The total amount of funding provided is based on input from the Department, but is often set externally. The challenge then becomes how to distribute the funds within VA. One way to do it would be to just add it to the funding going out to the various offices and facilities with instructions to spend it as intended. However, that would make it hard to determine how much was actually spent on solving the problem. The preferred way to distribute the new funding is to create a separate funding stream for the new program. If the new program aligns well with an existing office, then that office manages the funding going into that “silo”. If the program does not exist, or if the Congress or the Administration want the program managed by a dedicated office, then a new office is created using some of the funding. (This explains why VA has a Rural Health office, but no Urban or Suburban Health offices.) After a few years, management can see where and how the money was spent, and can then decide how to merge the program’s funding into the normal funding streams–unless legislation or executive actions require the funding to continue to be separately distributed. Sometimes, the new silo remains in control of its funding, but in other cases the funding stream may be merged into existing funding streams. In either case, the silo still continues to pierce through the horizontal layers of the organization, and the office responsible for the program may continue to issue directives and program guidance through the silo. Some silos are not really much of a problem. They do provide program guidance and are sort of like a benign tumor that could be removed but do not affect the actual work. Other silos do dictate how to do things, and can either be a strong force for good, or a force that kills innovation and defies common sense.

To government employees working only in the official organization plane with occasional silo interaction, the silos are just a part of the job, and a way for managers to perhaps get some funds for a pet project that can be twisted to fit the silo’s intent. To an underground gorilla network they can be a useful way to get to the top of the organization, especially if a silo manager is a part of the underground. For those at the top of the organization, silos are a key way that they can see what is going on at the bottom of the organization. The problem with that is that looking down through a silo is like looking through a tube or a straw. You only can see what it at the bottom of the straw. As I mentioned earlier, silos are often created in response to a problem or scandal. If, for example, a VA construction project goes far over budget, a task force “silo” might be created to study the construction process. If the problems were all a result of the construction process then that would be fine. If, however, poor planning and the unintended consequences of some procurement reform laws cause the problems, then it is unlikely that zeroing in on the construction process will reveal the real problems; let alone correct them. Another factor is that while the silo may be created from the top and inserted into the organization from the top down, the organization itself does help to position the bottom of the silo by, for example, who they allow to be interviewed by a task force investigating the problem.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that some silos are not created by external funding or mandates. Some are started and maintained by staff who have a passion for what they do, and who manage to create little empires within the organization.

Visualize a 3-Dimensional organization chart. The approved organizational chart is multi-level hierarchy. Each level of the organizational chart is a vast horizontal plane consisting of position boxes and supervisory relationships to the levels above and below. Piercing through the horizontal layers are silos created by eternal demands and funding. Plus there are smaller silos connecting some horizontal planes. Some of these silos even intersect and overlap.

As long as Congress and the Executive Branch continue to try to fix problems by creating specialized programs, the government will be burdened with funding and operational structures that are beyond the control of the managers in charge of normal operations. These separate funding streams and targeted programs make managing government more difficult while making it appear to the public that Congress and the Executive Branch are helping to properly manage the 4th Branch.

All of these complexities make the work environment complex, and even a little scary…

JSK

5.6 Fear in Government

FDR famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I have never been sure of exactly what he meant by that. It is not true, but it sounds clever. Fearing fear sounds like a never-ending circle, which is how it feels to work in the bureaucracy. I remember going to training where they talked about how we needed to drive out fear, or else bad things would continue to happen. What exactly we were so fearful of? It was not that we would be fired. In government, you might be more likely to be hit by a meteorite than to be fired, but fear is rampant anyway. In a private company you can be fired “at will”, and yet when I talk with my friends who work in the private sector, they do not talk about a work environment dominated by fear.

I recall working on a presentation on improving our planning and construction programs that began with past failures. Our boss agreed that everything we said was true, but she had us take out the most glaring failures. She told us that if presentations with negative information were seen by the very top of the Department and Congress, they might conclude that VA had serious problems. To which we said, well, we think they know we have problems—how do we fix problems we cannot talk about? Management saw our work as a potential problem because their perspective was quite different than ours. Top management was very aware that the White House and the Congress routinely use internal VA problems for political purposes. Someone in one or the other of the two political parties can almost always see a way to bash the other party when something in government goes wrong. An experienced government manager knows that the “help” the White House and Congress may provide may not actually help solve the problem, and may well make it worse since the White House and Congress frequently take no responsibility for the unintended consequences of previous laws and regulations that may have caused the problems in the first place. Once a top VA official knows that some of his underlings are naively idealistic, he has an additional fear: what if these well-meaning employees succeed in getting their facts to someone in Congress or the media who will use them to build their career and undermine VA while thinking they are helping? The presentation we were working on contained the truth, but it generated fear in us, and in management.

Since government workers often occupy positions for many years, it can be hard for a new manager to be able to work around employees who remain loyal to the ideas of the previous manager. A new manager naturally wants to surround himself with “his” team. If some of the existing support staff are truly substandard employees, the new manager may be able to remove them. However, if the existing support employees are qualified for their positions, and meet or exceed their performance standards, the new manager must either try to bend them to his way of doing things, or he must find ways to force them out. One of the ways that the new manager can get some vacancies is to become a stickler for the rules in order to start some disciplinary actions. The fact that it is hard to fire someone does not make the employee facing disciplinary action any less fearful. If anything, the long and tedious process is itself a cruel punishment. Whether guilty or innocent, an employee charged with an offense is often set-aside in the organization and is tainted for years even if innocence is eventually proven. When faced with the threat of potential disciplinary action, many employees will look for another position and move. Others who stay are sometimes moved to a “Special Projects” position carved out of some department with a vacancy. This way of clearing out the old staff by using disciplinary actions and dead-end transfers is extremely inefficient, and feared by employees. Fear sets in whenever a new manager takes over.

In response to a big problem of some kind a few years back, leadership decided that all employees should be trained in the nuances of the issue. I do not recall what the issue was, but it was of little relevance to most employees. Leadership decided that the best way to document that everyone understood the issues would be to require all employees to take an on-line course. The course required each employee to read a lot of material. I was a supervisor and was told that I was to make sure I allowed everyone time to take the course even though we all knew it was not relevant to our jobs, and that it would take several hours to complete. One of my employees told me that he had hit return a zillion times to get through the document. He had the entire thing completed and documented in a few minutes. Another of my employees told me it took him several hours to read every page and complete the course. The first employee did what was right as far as I was concerned. The second employee wasted a lot of time reading irrelevant stuff, but he had done exactly what management had officially told us to do. I could have taken disciplinary action against the first employee for not reading all of the material. However, this employee is the kind of person you want working for you—except he probably should not have told me that he did not actually read any of the material. Management hoped that employees would not spend a lot of time on the course, but they could not say so. The best employees realized management’s intent, and understood why management directed employees to do the opposite of what they really hoped they would do. Many employees resented having to make a choice between doing literally what was asked, and doing what management hoped. They wondered why management could not stand up to whatever was driving the requirement. Over time, as more and more of these kinds of things happened, employees lost respect for management, and become more and more cynical, and fearful of the consequences if they guessed wrong on what management really expected. Eventually, the first employee, an excellent worker, left government service.

FDR’s famous statement is wrong, but it sums up the government work environment. Government employees do fear fear. This is unnatural. In our normal lives we have nothing to fear except for what will happen if we do not do the right thing. Deep down inside, no mentally sound person feels good about doing something that is wrong. This is true for all people. In government employees can be punished for trying to do the right thing, which makes fearing fear an inherent part of the work environment. Fear in the government workplace is a direct result of putting positions, metrics, and rules ahead of doing the right thing.

JSK

Postscript

As I was completing this post, I got a call from a fellow VA retiree, I’ll call him RB. He mentioned that the young guy who took over his position after he retired called him and said that he was facing disciplinary action. He asked for the name of RB’s lawyer, an expert at defending federal employees from disciplinary actions. (RB and I both faced false disciplinary actions during our VA careers. We hired attorneys, and eventually won back our positions and pay.) The young guy who replaced RB trained under us early in his career and is an excellent employee. We agreed he would eventually win his case, but the fear of fear will continue unabated.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18 NASB

5.4 Underground Employee Gorilla Networks in Government

The negative impact of government metrics and performance standards drive many employees underground into what I call Underground Employee Gorilla Networks. These networks thrive because they have resources available to them due to the inherent inefficiency of government. (Government inefficiency, metrics, and performance standards were previously explained in Sections 5.2 and 5.3.) These networks are not unique to government, but they are a much bigger problem in government than in business. I have talked with people who had long careers in the private sector. They may have had to work behind the back of a poor manager or a weird employee, but that is not the same thing. Those who have not worked in government can have a difficult time grasping these networks and the work environment that creates them.

I recall attending a meeting early in my career led by our VA medical center’s Chief of Staff. He began the meeting with a rambling talk on what was wrong with VA, and why it should not exist. This was a bit stunning since he was the senior doctor at our facility. A senior executive in a private company might sell his company stock or quit, but it is hard to imagine that he would tell his employees that his company should not exist. Our meeting with the Chief of Staff was unusual only because he said what a lot of us had wondered about ourselves. Imagine how you would feel knowing that Veterans are coming to the VA every day for help, but the bureaucracy is not doing everything it should to help them. In effect, our Chief of Staff was really telling us to do whatever we could to help Veterans even if it was not the way the bureaucracy is supposed to work. Some of my co-workers said he should just quit, but most employees respected him for venting his frustrations with the “system”, and our work environment.

Successful private firms look at their employees as people first so private sector experience alone cannot enable someone from the private sector to be able to see the difference between a government environment driven by metrics and run by positions, from a private sector company that must pay its bills to survive and will try to get as much as possible from each employee—not just enough to meet the position description and performance standards. Everyone in a private company wants, and needs, their company to prosper. Each individual may define success differently, but everyone in the company knows that they do not have any chance of being successful, or having a job, if the company fails. Compare that to government where it is very wise to “keep your head down”. There is zero danger of government closing down. One of the biggest dangers to a government employees’s career is to be caught doing something outside of his position description.

One of the things I liked about working in government is that if I wanted to take charge of a project, I usually could because so many others just wanted to “keep their head down” by staying within the “box” defined by their position descriptions in order to not draw any unnecessary attention to themselves. An Underground Employee Gorilla Network is made up of employees who are working on things in ways that are outside of their official responsibilities. Employees in these networks can work for or against good or poor management. They can be motivated to do the right thing or motivated to benefit themselves first. The employees who are working against poor management ideas want to work to their potential and do what is right. They are responsible for many of the successes within government. The employees who are working against good management ideas are the ones who keep the bureaucracy inefficient, hard to manage, and immune to outside interference.

Companies cannot survive for long if they have various groups of employees working at cross purposes to the company and each other. As discussed earlier, efficiency matters to a business. People working at cross-purposes is a threat to a company’s survival. It is ironic that the inefficiency of the bureaucracy provides Underground Employee Gorilla Networks with the resources they need to survive. Within government there is no official recognition of this phenomenon. An occasional employee gets frustrated by the official position “box” he works in, and, in effect, slips out of it. Then he realizes he is not alone. Others are also performing duties outside of those defined by their position descriptions, often without their managers knowing what they are doing.

One of the problems with getting things done with a group of “invisible” people is that it is not easy to identify them when you have to work with a new office. Those of us operating outside the box did not have any kind of a secret handshake or pins on our lapels to identify each other. We often identified each other by exchanging cynical anecdotes. When I needed help getting something unusual done, and the person I was asking for help said, “Forgiveness is easier to get than permission”, I knew I was in the presence of a fellow network member who was trying to do what was right. I actually sort of loved the complexity of it all: there is the official organization with strategic plans, mission statements, performance plans, metrics, and position descriptions. Some people work entirely in this official plane of government existence. Then there are people who slip (or storm) out of their position description boxes, and either work to get things done for the people who pay their salaries, or work primarily to expand government and to resist efficiency. These people lead dual lives dutifully toiling in the official plane while also working, for good or ill, in one or more of the underground networks.

In the course of developing a better way to approach planning and design of VA clinics, our team came across a primary care physician who had single-handedly created a clinically driven way to approach the design of VA clinics. We were surprised that someone from the clinical side of the organization had taken an interest in what our office was responsible for doing. We were thrilled that others in the organization saw the same problems we did. We were not so thrilled that our two efforts passed like ships on the high sea. Even though we wanted to merge and attack the problem together, we could not. How could we, analysts buried away in the Central Office strategic planning bureaucracy, work with a clinician from the “field” (a medical center)? If we applied genealogical terms to our organizational relationship, we would be fourth cousins, once removed. In other words, far too weakly related to be invited to a family Thanksgiving dinner, and too far apart organizationally to officially work together.

The existence of underground networks of employees working against management is not unique to our federal bureaucracy. We can find the same phenomena in any centrally run organization. I have read that the German army called this, “fuhren unter der Hand” which translates as, “leadership behind the superiors back”. If leadership is doing something bad but subordinates working behind the leaders’ backs push the organization in a better direction that is good. However, German history proves that leading from behind the superiors’ back does not work out very well. Plus, the existence of multiple Underground Employee Gorilla Networks in an organization means that the organization is inherently inefficient. Multiple groups working against each other can result in nothing but inefficiency. All of the gorilla groups use resources which are excess to the official “planes” of the organization.

Cutting funding is part of the solution to government inefficiency. Ironically, cutting funding to reduce government inefficiency can unintentionally take resources away from some of the good work being done by Underground Employee Gorilla Networks. Of course it can also stop the bad work being done by other Underground Employee Gorilla Networks. It is complicated…

JS Kline

 

To Those on the Right

So you are sitting in your foxhole with your buddies hesitating to move out and mop up the enemy who your side just badly defeated, and the guy next to you, a pretty savvy guy, says, “You know, the last order from the Old Man could have been better written. It was a little too direct and not very polished. Maybe he did just single-handedly win the last battle, but I don’t think he should be sending out those tweets. Maybe following him is just not a good idea.” The idea spreads from foxhole to foxhole; maybe everyone should wait until the Old Man wises up, or until he is replaced. As the discussions in the foxholes continue, the enemy begins to take foxhole after foxhole brutally killing all of the distracted occupants just as they said they would. As this continues, the discussions in the foxholes increasingly blame the Old Man. “Maybe…” some of the savvy guys are saying, “…some of the things the enemy says about the Old Man are true. We are losing a lot of foxholes.”

What is familiar about this?

The left wants to wipe all things right off the face of the earth. They are wrong about abortion, race relations, the climate, gun control, gay marriage, cultural equivalency, religion, American history, and pretty much everything thing else. And yet, many on the right cannot shut up, and do their jobs to help defeat the left. If you are a pundit on the right and still think you have some point to make that proves President Trump is human, get over it, and start directing all of your attacks on the left. They are the enemy.

The left is 100% united against President Donald Trump who is the leader of the right whether you like him or not. The right won the election. The right, in theory, controls Congress, the Supreme Court, and most state governments.

All of you on the right, start acting like we won, get out of your little foxhole, and help our leader win. This is our time to make America…well, you know.

5.3 Metrics in Government

The need to have built-in inefficiency is not the only thing that differentiates government from the private sector. Success in business and success in government are measured quite differently. In a business, metrics are an important management tool, but the true and unescapable measure of success is profitability. In government metrics are the only way to gauge success. A business cannot survive if more money is going out than is coming in. Profit, as noted earlier (in Section 5.2), is absent from government. so government must rely on metrics to measure program effectiveness and employee performance. Metrics are not a bad idea. Any organization can learn a lot about its operations by measuring progress toward goals and objectives. However metrics can have unintended consequences, especially in an environment that does not have to worry about profit.

A well-intentioned energy metric helped preserve obsolete and vacant Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) space. In order to encourage energy reduction, VA established a metric to monitor the amount of energy used per square foot of building area. For each medical center, the areas of its buildings were added together, and divided into the total energy used. Many medical centers have vacant or partially vacant space that does not use much energy because it is so lightly occupied. The removal of this obsolete vacant or underutilized space is a good thing, and would save money, but reducing the building area by tearing down underutilized buildings that use little energy would actually make the amount of energy used per square foot increase. Therefore, the energy metric created an incentive to keep obsolete and underutilized buildings. This would appear to be irrational to anyone who did not see the incentive created by the well intentioned metric.

Another example of unintended consequences involves the funds the VA medical centers receive to buy furnishings and renovate buildings. These funds typically must be spent in the fiscal year they are appropriated. Success is measured by getting all of the funding obligated in the fiscal year. Failing this metric is not acceptable, and a tremendous amount of effort is put into into planning how to spend the money as early in the fiscal year as possible. In our office we referred to this as the “burn plan”. I recall one year when one of our top managers called me late in the fiscal year and asked if we could buy $50,000 worth of chairs. I said, yes, and asked what kind of chairs were needed. He said it did not matter, just get the money obligated. The metric had to be met even if it wasted some funds.

The unintended effects of the energy and funding metrics above are a relatively easy to understand. Seeing the unintended consequences of government employee performance metrics is a bit more difficult.

Imagine that you are a physician running a small private clinic. In your practice, as in any business, you must take in more funds than you spend, and you must provide the services customers want and need. If your practice does not provide good care to your patients, then they will go elsewhere, and they will tell others not to go to your clinic. The survival of your clinic directly depends on meeting the needs and wants of each patient. When you decide which of your employees should be hired and fired, and which ones should get bonuses, you consider how each contributes to the interlocking goals of customer satisfaction and profitability. If one of the physicians is amazingly talented, and sees many more patients than anyone else thus generating a lot more revenue, and a lot more good will than anyone else in the clinic while helping other employees improve, then you can and would reward him accordingly. On the other hand, you would be forced to fire a physician who creates discord, is difficult to work with, and puts your clinic at risk of failing, even if he was a technically competent doctor. If you do not reward and promote your best employees, and do not correct or remove your poor employees, your best employees will leave to find better work environments and bosses, and your practice will become less and less viable, and may even close. Your practice may have a Human Resource department, and all sorts of performance standards and job descriptions, but you know that know your clinic’s success is directly linked to each employee’s contribution to profitability. The key thing to realize about your private clinic, and business in general, is that you are managing people.

Now imagine that you are a manager of a small VA clinic. Each of your employees has a position description, a competency checklist, and a performance plan. As long as an employee is doing what his position description says he is supposed to be doing, meets the competency requirements, and meets the minimum acceptable performance level, you are required to rate him as an acceptable employee. Productivity is important to the success of the clinic, and to VA as a whole, so the organization has established national performance metrics to be used to measure productivity for each physician. The number of unique patients seen per day is a simple example of such a metric. You have two physicians in your clinic who see about the same number of unique patients over the course of a year. One of these physician told the clerks to only schedule brief appointments. Anything that could not be done in the brief visit would have to be done in equally brief follow-up visits. His patients will have to make multiple trips to the clinic, but he will be able to see many patients per day. Your other physician scheduled the times for his patients in a way that minimized the number of times that each patient would have to return to the clinic since many of the patients lived some distance away. This resulted in longer patient visits, and fewer patients seen per day. The second physician was providing better customer service, but did not see as many patients per day. When you, as the clinic manager, evaluate these two physicians, you might well have to rate the second one lower on this metric even though you know he was providing better patient care. In government, employee ratings compare the employee to his position description and performance standards, but do not connect directly to the survival of the clinic because its existence does not depend on profitability .

I was often reminded that in government it is the position that you hold that defines what is appropriate for you to do. Many government managers do realize they are really managing people, not just positions, but they do have to mange people based on the positions they fill. Theoretically, if every position is filled, and the people in the positions are competent and do what their position description says, then the organization will function as intended. The problem is that people do the work and people are all unique with different levels of intelligence, knowledge, ambition, and skill. Positions are just empty boxes, a way to provide order in the workplace; they do not do any work. A position is part of the rules; it is not a person. A position cannot treat another position like it would like to be treated, and a workplace that defines its people by the position they hold is telling its employees that it values conformity and equal outcomes rather than the freedom and equal opportunity that are the products of America’s Christian principles and foundation.

Typically government employee performance plans cascade down from above. In other words, some of an employee’s performance standards support performance standards in his supervisor’s plan. The supervisor’s plan has performance standards that support his supervisor’s plan. This arrangement is logical, but it often results in some standards that really make little sense as they cascade down through the organization. These standards are normally sort of glazed over since it is difficult to see how they fit into day-to-day job performance. Because they often refer to things outside of an employees’s control, they may be unmeetable, but they can be quite useful when managers need them to give a problem employee a negative rating. They can also be misused to label an idealistic whistle-blower as a problem employee since he probably did not meet one of his unmeetable performance metrics. Even if no one else did either, it does not matter. When the Congress passes laws making it easier to terminate bad employees, some of the first employees at risk of being fired will be whistle-blowers.

Exceeding the standards established for each metric is the key to a successful government career. Many poor government employees are able to stay employed because they meet or exceed the performance metrics. (I knew of one high ranking manager who hired a brilliant analyst, and told her that one of her prime responsibilities was to monitor his performance standards to be sure that he exceeded all of them.) Sometimes the best way to get rid of a problem employee, like the metric-beating physician above, is to promote him. That seems crazy, but metrics are what the Administration and Congress emphasize, so having managers who are good at meeting metrics makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, unlike the private clinic, a VA clinic can survive despite incentives that may be at odds with customer satisfaction. The employees meeting the performance metrics continue to have a place to work, and the whole idea of managing through metrics gets reinforced. No matter how well intentioned and clever, virtually any metric can, and will, be gamed. This gaming has the effect of promoting the wrong people and making everyone else quite cynical. The key thing to remember about the government is that supervisors are managing positions first, not the people who occupy them.

Before going on, please allow my government-induced cynical attitude to illustrate how government might respond if challenged to move away from management by performance metrics: First guidance would be written in lofty language outlining the the goal of moving to a system that uses the talents of each individual employee by managing people instead of positions. Second a task force consisting of a Senior Manager, the usual consultants, a whistle-blower or two, Human Resource staff, Union representatives, Information Technology experts, and former senior employees would be created and tasked with implementing the guidance. They would come up with another name for position descriptions and a recommendation for a new Information Technology system that would make sure that everyone was treated like he or she would like to be treated. The task force would also identify the additional funding and staff that will be required to implement all of the changes. Additional subgroups would be created to develop new performance guidelines. After all of that, little would change and cynical employees would still have little reason for hope.

The solution is not to eliminate metrics, but to recognize their limitations. Government operations will improve when government is not managed as though it was a business. Attempts to manage a government office as though it were a business are doomed to failure. Government operations must be more visible, and government “civil servants” must be held to higher ethical standards than employees in private businesses. Solutions to the problems in government will be addressed in more detail in a future post. Until changes are made, metrics will continue work just as easily against employees as for them, creating an environment that creates cynical employees. Employees who are forced underground to do their jobs…

5.2 Efficiency and Government

During my government career, I was a part of many project teams. Even though few career government employees are overtly vocal about their political beliefs, I knew that there were liberals, conservatives, and moderates on our teams, and that they had different value systems and beliefs that could be a barrier to teamwork. I thought it was worthwhile to address the team members’ differences by finding common ground. One way I attempted to bring those on the left, right and middle together was by saying that whether we believed in big government or small government, we could all agree on making government more efficient. No one ever disagreed, but, in hindsight, I was quite naïve. I was not wrong about universal agreement on efficiency, and agreeing on efficiency was a good team building exercise. No one in government is opposed to efficiency, but, neither, it must be pointed out, are they opposed to flower gardening, golf, or mountain climbing. They are all nice hobbies and all might be useful in building cohesive teams. What I was wrong about is my underlying presupposition that government itself benefits from and wants efficiency.

Imagine you are running a company making widgets and you are selling widgets as fast as you can make them. If you want to make more money, then it is pretty obvious that you need to make widgets as efficiently as possible and that making more widgets will make more money. If you determine that your company is pretty efficient and that the best way to make more widgets would be to hire more workers, then you would hire more workers. You would track the productivity and efficiency of your workers because they determine your company’s profitability and continued existence.

Now imagine that you have moved on and are now the manager in a government department. Your office has been given some new responsibilities. Based on your previous experience in the widget business you might ask yourself, “How do I determine whether the office can absorb the new responsibilities (through increased efficiency), or do we need to hire more staff?” Those questions are the kinds of questions you might ask in the widget company, but they are not particularly relevant to a government manager. In reality, the only time that a government office can create new positions is when it gets more funding. Funding is not directly based on the product or services being delivered by the office. One office may not have any measurable output, while another office may be chronically understaffed and overwhelmed with a backlog of work. Funding is based on what was spent in the past, plus what can be justified in addition to past funding. Adding to the complexity, government offices usually get funding that is “fenced” for specific purposes. (For example, Information Technology software and hardware funds cannot be used to build a building, buy furniture, or hire someone.) You, a quick learning and ambitious government manager, have kept some untapped capacity in your office so that you can take on some new responsibilities. Further, you realize that these added responsibilities are pretty visible and could be used to justify additional funds; after all, you have used up the capacity you had been holding in reserve and you know that an opportunity to get additional funding is rare. Even if hiring more staff is not possible, you might decide to use the opportunity to request more printers, replacement furniture, bonuses, or more space.

From the perspective of a government manager, a certain amount of inefficiency is highly desirable because it gives the office the ability to respond to new demands, and allows the office to devote resources to justifying its existence and lobbying for more funding. If you are a manager inside government and you get the opportunity to create a new position, you seize the opportunity. These opportunities often come as a result of a crisis or scandal. If you are a government manager you never want to let a scandal go to waste. There are managers in government who do want to be efficient and who expect their staff to work hard, but if they are to be successful they have to recognize that government is fundamentally different than a for-profit company. Those who say that government should be run like a business, do not understand the differences between the two.

Managers working in a business may also value having some excess capacity and inefficiency for many of the same reasons a government manager does. The difference is that a business manager still must cover his costs and make a profit. A government manager does not. The people inside government are no different from people inside companies. They are working to earn money and they need their employer to be successful so they do get paid for their work. In a company, profit means the company will continue to exist and that means good things for employees. In government there is no such thing as profit. The continued existence of government depends on maintaining and increasing the total amount of incoming funds. Increased funding means the same things as increased profits do in a business. While inefficiency is always a threat to a company’s profit and, therefore, its very existence, inefficiency is not a direct threat to the existence of government. In fact the opposite is true, inefficiency is inherent in government. Efficiency is important in government, but only indirectly to the extent it affects the government’s ability to maintain and increase funding. A loss of funding is the only threat to government.

5.1 The 4th Branch of Government

My friend Colonel Thom likes the phrase “passive irresponsibility”. I like that too as a way of explaining our federal government’s frequent failures. No one really means for the health care web site not to work, for VA construction projects to go far over budget, or for Veterans to have to wait and wait and wait for appointments and benefits. Stuff like that just sort of happens again and again. The underlying cause of these failures is the existence of what I call the 4th Branch of government. Some call it the “Administrative State”, or the “Deep State”, but calling it the 4th Branch draws attention to the fact that it should not exist.

As you probably know, our national government was created about 250 years ago with three branches: a Legislative Branch to make laws, an Executive Branch to carry them out, and a Judicial Branch independent of the other branches. Our government still is organized that way, except that over the years a 4th Branch has emerged. This 4th Branch is a integral part of the Executive Branch, and does also answer to Congressional members, committees, subcommittees and the Congress as a whole. However, in many ways the 4th Branch is largely unsupervised. It operates independently under “an umbrella of systemic neglect” (another phrase Thom likes). Few pay much attention to the workings of the 4th Branch. In some ways this 4th branch is good because it fills in gaps between the laws passed by Congress and how they will be enforced, but in other ways it can said to be more analogous to a cancer eating away at our nation’s founding principles. The 4th Branch exists to keep itself alive and growing, and is not limited by anything except for its funding.

Mission creep at the Department of Veterans Affairs is a good example of how the 4th Branch thrives. In 1959 VA adopted a portion of President Lincoln Second Inaugural Address as its motto: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan”. Consistent with this motto, the primary VA mission was to care for those who had been mentally or physically injured in war. Today almost anyone who was in the military, whether in battles or not, is entitled to a wide range of VA services. What happened? Did VA change its motto? Did Congress pass a law redefining what “…borne the battle…” meant?

No. They did not. The change happened gradually under the “umbrella of systemic neglect” that provides cover for the 4th Branch to survive and grow. VA has been able to revise its mission because each federal Department largely defines its own mission, and how to use its funding. VA, Congress, Veterans Organizations, and the public seem happy to have organizations like Wounded Warriors take over more of the original VA mission of caring “…for him who shall have borne the battle…”. VA has instead been funding rural health expansion, transgender awareness, market share increases, and other initiatives that have little or nothing to do with caring for those Veterans who fought for our country.

Mission creep is going on at every level of the federal government from VA to the National Park Service to the Environmental Protection Agency to the Food and Drug Administration to the National Security Administration to the Bureau of Land Management. It is happening every day and everywhere in government. Mission creep is a key reason the 4th Branch continues to grow.

The other major key to the growth of the 4th Branch is funding. The 4th Branch never lets a crisis go to waste. Every government failure is an opportunity to get more funding. Each failure follows the same pattern. Someone reports a massive data breech, unsafe medical practices, or a construction project that is far over budget. The media reports on the failure. The Inspector General investigates and writes a report. The Department finds people to blame and reassigns them or occasionally fires them. Congress has hearings. Some top management at the Department is replaced. The new management implements new processes, and reports back to Congress with a request for funding to fully implement the changes. Congress grants the funding, but the underlying problem remains. The 4th Branch continues intact, and waits for the next crisis and the opportunities it will bring.

In our personal financial lives and in business, getting bigger and finding new ways to survive is a good thing, but government is supposed to be limited to what the law says it can do. The “passive irresponsibility” of the Executive and Congressional Branches has allowed the 4th branch to thrive under “an umbrella of systemic neglect”. Deconstructing the 4th Branch will not be easy. Aligning funding with Departmental missions defined by Congress and the Executive Branch will be a long process. The first step is to understand the scope of the problem. We have only scratched the surface.

2.02 Does God Live Up North?

Eagle River Falls, Frozen

Santa Claus and Superman live at the North Pole. We know that fiction often reflects truth. If the great gift-giver Santa and the powerful Man of Steel both live up north, maybe God does too.

The evidence is pretty convincing.

We all face consequences for our actions. The farther north you go, the greater the significance of each action you take. It takes considerable work and skill to live in the far north. One decision about a trivial matter could mean death. If you get drunk and pass out in your backyard on a tropical island, then you probably just get up the next morning. If you live in the far north and pass out in your backyard in the winter, then you are dead the next morning. The remote cold places rejected by most men are unforgiving, and yet the greatest civilizations have thrived in the northern climates, probably because of the discipline that is required to live there. The farther you go north the faster you face consequences for your actions. The farther north you go, the more likely you will face God’s judgment.

God said he would put the goats on His left and His sheep on His right (Matthew 25:31-33). If God is at the North Pole looking down toward the promised land of Israel, the predominately non-Christian world is to His left, and the Christian World, including Western Europe and America, is to His Right. Look at a globe; it is amazing.

God created man in the Garden of Eden. When he kicked man out of the garden He said there would be a “flaming sword flashing back and forth” over Eden (Genesis 3:24). Perhaps Eden was in the far north and is now below the sea and the ice. The flaming sword could be the Northern Lights. (There are Southern Lights too, but they are not as visible.)

My southern friends would say that the North is God’s country because no one else wants it.

It seems pretty clear; God must live up north.

Health Care Chaos 

Candidate Trump said he would drain the DC swamp and make government work for the people once again. In order to do that the old way of governing must first die so a government by the people can be reborn. The failure of the Republican health care bill should not be seen as a surprise or viewed with alarm. Change first requires disruption and disorder. Chaos always precedes creation. Out of what seems like an impossible mess what is right will emerge.