Applause more important in D.C. than efficiency


September 08, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- They sat around on folding chairs on the South Lawn of the White House applauding for their vice president.

Row after row of government workers had been assembled to praise Al Gore for his plan to promote efficiency in government.

There were so many federal employees, in fact, and some of them were so high-ranking, that the vice president seemed a little bowled over.

"Virtually the entire Cabinet is here!" Gore crowed as if he were a high school nerd who had thrown a party and was surprised that the cool kids had shown up. "The majority of [the agency heads] are here!"

Now let's see: Cabinet members make $148,400 a year and agency heads make around $133,600 a year. And considering that the purpose of the ceremony was to outline a plan to make government more productive, wouldn't it have been better for Gore to have said:

"What on earth are you people doing there? Don't you work for a living? Don't we have some housing problems in this country? A foreign crisis or two? Do you think we are paying you to sit around on a lawn at 10 o'clock on a Tuesday morning and make a nice-looking audience for C-SPAN? Get back to work!"

But the vice president said no such thing. Some things in Washington are more important than efficiency (actually, just about everything in Washington is more important than efficiency) and ceremonies are one of them.

Take the water bearer, for instance: Before each presidential press conference a uniformed White House servant comes out with a silver tray bearing a glass of water, which he puts next to the presidential lectern.

And do you think that guy is going to lose his job under Al Gore's reinvention of government?

Do you think Al Gore said yesterday: "We don't need servants and silver trays! We need efficiency! Can't you carry your own water, Mr. President? Haven't you ever heard of squeeze bottles?"

No, Al Gore did not say that. Instead, he said: "Mr. President, if you want to know why government doesn't work, look behind you."

Gore meant the president should look at the unnecessary government regulations that were stacked up on forklifts behind the podium.

Actually, if the president wanted to know why government doesn't work, he should have looked in front of him and asked: "Al, do we really employ people to applaud for a living?"

Gore admitted that the fight to cut waste and 252,000 federal jobs would not be easy.

"There will be some opposition," he said after the ceremony. "We know that."

And the country's three largest federal employee unions held a news conference a few hours later. But not to complain.

It turns out they have come up with their own plan for how to get rid of those 252,000 unnecessary government workers:

Fire the bosses.

"There is currently one manager for every seven employees in government," Robert Tobias, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said. "By reducing the number of managers in government from a ratio of 1-to-7 to 1-to-15, that move alone will come close to reaching the goal [of a 252,000 employee reduction]."

And those bosses who are left? What happens to them?

They become better human beings.

"If you're only supervising seven workers, you have folks spending a lot of time looking over shoulders because they have nothing better to do," Tobias said. "But if you have 15 workers to supervise, you become a trainer, a facilitator and a problem solver."

And, perhaps, with a lot of hard work and cooperation America will even reach a point some day when postal workers will stop registering their complaints by spraying their bosses with semi-automatic weapons fire.

But did the union leaders see any real criticism in the vice president's report of the way federal workers currently work? Did they think maybe there was a hint of criticism in Gore's desire to get rid of a quarter of million of them?


"The real focus of this report," Tobias said, "is to motivate those performing in an outstanding manner to do even better."

In other words, expect the applause to be even louder next time.

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