Dysfunctional systems often include a scapegoat
or black sheep. That person has dared mention
whatever craziness is going on (shades of
the Emperor's New Clothes). Blame rather
than thanks or reform ensues. Since literally
killing the messenger of bad news has gone
out of fashion, harassment may continue until
the scapegoat cracks or moves on. Then, a
new scapegoat is found. Coworkers disassociate
from the scapegoat in hopes of avoiding that
fate themselves. Meanwhile, either the problems
continue to worsen, or misadvised fixes fail.
Leadership is a vacuum. Morale plummets,
particularly where the "troublemaker"
who cared enough about the organization to
report the problem leaves. By contrast, more
functional organizations might consider the
same individuals valuable troubleshooters,
recognizing that problems are easier to correct
while still minor.
Because a democratic country like ours does
not go out and fire its government, even
a change in administration usually only affects
the topmost officials. Talk about reinventing
government usually remains just that. On
the other hand, the public interest is what
government is really about after all. No
one likes corruption, illegal activities
or gross mismanagement in their government,
unless it directly benefits them. Government
ethics address these issues. The Constitution
also matters. Our American system works by
checks and balances, by disseminating information
and power among the Executive, Legislative
and Judicial branches and the citizenry.
Unfortunately, bureaucracies often protect
problem bosses. In 1999, the MSPB recognized
that "tough" managers can also
have problems, calling it a "bull in
a china shop" phenomenon. Employees
may call them "bully bosses." Autocratic
managers rule through fear, intimidation and retaliation, rather
than efficient information flow. Other problem
bosses are more subtle backstabbers, but
with similar cover-up goals. Management gurus
since Abraham Lincoln invariably advise both
talking with and listening to subordinates.
Information must flow upward as policies
flow down for implementation. Yet many problem
bosses and their own managers prefer a "don't
ask/don't tell" attitude (a/k/a ostrich
philosophy). Double talk is bureaucratically
protective--classic mixed messages frustrate
or confuse outsiders (or employees). Leadership,
on the other hand, involves two-way communications.
Too many personnel officers consider employee-protective
laws obstacles to be avoided, rather than
moral or ethical guideposts. Cynics consider
the personnel officer's real job as protecting
management. If so, employees reporting problems
(even internally) become anathema. While
compliance with laws and regulations may
be somewhere in many job descriptions, placing
them in a wide-ranging category and as only
one of many "critical elements"
invites problems. Many performance evaluation
forms ignore government ethics; others disassociate
law and ethics. Thus, "human resources"
officers may blindly help bosses get rid
of "troublemakers" rather than
implement federal personnel laws. Plus, more
complicated laws can protect less. Federal
managers can get away with even worse tactics
against whistleblowers than against employees
complaining about discrimination (although
harassment in that area is far from unknown
either, the EEOC also being understaffed)
because of the MSPB's and Federal Circuit's
choices toward hyper-technicality or complexity.
As civil service protections become nominal,
federal managers may even retaliate more
freely than their private counterparts.