Smart Management

Can Government Employees Criticize the Government?

Can government employees be legally fired for criticizing the government?

It’s a question that many federal workers are asking as they look for ways to express opposition to their new boss but keep their jobs. During the presidential campaign last year, one survey found that 95 percent of federal workers’ donations went to Hillary Clinton. Now they find themselves working for President Donald Trump, the candidate they tried to beat. READ MORE

The Promise and Perils of ‘Moving the Boxes’

As part of a cost-cutting budget designed to avoid broad new taxes but protect service levels, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently proposed combining four state departments -- Human Services, Health, Drug and Alcohol, and Aging -- into one consolidated agency. In effect, the proposal would rewind reorganizations spanning decades that provided separate cabinet-level leadership to constituencies arguing that separation would best represent their specialized needs.

As a longtime public administrator, including a stint as Pennsylvania's secretary of public welfare in the 1990s, I've had my hand in a number of these reorganizations that critics often label as exercises in "moving the boxes." I've been involved in some that worked reasonably well and some that didn't. I've learned a few things, and I've heard all the arguments. READ MORE

The Rise of the COO in State Government

In the summer of 2015, Oregon and other Western states suffered from brutal wildfires that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to contain and destroyed thousands of homes. At the worst moments of the crisis, the director of forestry was determined to send warnings out to citizens. The solution? He reached out to the director of transportation, and immediately Oregon’s electronic highway message boards were delivering warnings about wildfire dangers. 

This kind of interagency cooperation would have been difficult to pull off in the past. But Oregon benefited from the creation of a relatively new position in that state: chief operating officer (COO). It was created by former Gov. John Kitzhaber five years ago and has continued under current Gov. Kate Brown. READ MORE

Are Civil-Service Rules the Enemy of Employee Engagement?

This is an invitation. It was prompted by a recent Gallup report, "State of Local and State Government Workers' Engagement in the U.S.," which includes two lists. One shows public employees' level of engagement with their work in each state, while the second shows the percentage of state and local employees who are what Gallup calls "actively disengaged." Two maps that show the patterns, using different shading, caught my attention.

As the maps illustrate starkly, most of the states with the highest levels of public-employee engagement are in the South. Only Idaho and Wyoming break the pattern. The states with the highest levels of active disengagement -- workers who are so unhappy at work that they "undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish," as Gallup puts it -- are Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and my home state of Pennsylvania. All six of these states' levels of active disengagement are at 20 percent or higher. (A handful of states are not included because too few employees were surveyed.) READ MORE

Governments Are Upping Their Professional Development Game

In January, New York’s governor announced a new perk for some state government employees: $5,000 scholarships. 

The money will go to 60 of the state's top-performing staffers and can be spent on college classes, conferences and training programs that will further their careers. The requirements are remarkably minimal -- no years of experience or level of education are needed to qualify  -- and the awards are equally available to blue- and white-collar workers. READ MORE