Guest post: Because governments don’t exist to make a profit
A remark made on one of my posts, last night I think it was, caused me to stop and think about what your average American knows about being a government employee.
To start out, for those who don’t know me or haven’t checked my profile yet, I was a Federal employee for 42 years and 4 months. I served the US Army for four years, and the Food and Drug Administration the rest of the time, starting out as a mail & file clerk and ending up as a senior IT tech overseeing a group of contractors who kept the FDA desktops updated and secure.
Along the way, I worked with scientists, lab people, investigators, inspectors, medical personnel, lawyers, contracting officers, instructors, administrators, and in one capacity or another, others from almost every Center in FDA.
Many of those people had worked in other major Departments, including a supervisor who had once worked for the Justice Department, and a Branch chief whose former intelligence agency employer was so classified, he still was prevented by law from disclosing that to us.
As many of you know from the private sector, each organization, private or public, has its own culture. Much of that culture comes from the top down and is informed by its mission – what it does as a primary function.
But governments, whether local, State or Federal, are different than private companies, large or small.
Why? Because governments don’t exist to make a profit.
Private companies do. That is the very reason they exist! If they cannot make a profit, eventually, they are forced to close and have their assets sold off to satisfy their debts.
Governments don’t go bankrupt. At the worst, they have their credit ratings cut to nothing, forcing them to “live” and operate from cash receipts obtained through statutory incomes, like taxes or receipts from licensing activities, fines, etc.
Their mission is to provide for the safety, welfare, public peace and security of the American people.
That’s a whole lot different from making filthy lucre to fill the bosses’ pockets. That’s why they operate differently, and that’s why Republicans are wrong to try and make the US Government run like a business.
Because it isn’t one.
That’s why the culture of each governmental Department is different, and why each has its own take on transparency.
Yeah, Transparency. Believe me, that’s a tightrope each and every supervisor in the government has to weigh on a regular basis.
Some agencies, by their mission’s demands, cannot be transparent. Intelligence agencies are a good example. We cannot allow foreign governments to know if, when, or how we may or may not be spying on them. We want them to be guessing, constantly, and we want them to guess wrong, every time.
Others, like the military, have inherent activities and equipment that by their nature, need to be secret. Otherwise, their effectiveness in combat is greatly lessened. Enemies who have to guess about what you may bring to the table in a conflict will be cautious and very careful before committing themselves.
Civilian agencies which are by nature enforcing various Federal laws are bound to be secretive in some ways for two reasons: First, they are bound by law to protect proprietary information belonging to the companies they need to inspect as part of that law enforcement activity. Second, they don’t want their enforcement activities to be publicly revealed, because sometimes a surprise inspection is what you need to catch someone who is willfully violating the law. Give them a chance to clean up, and you’ve got nothing for your efforts!
But other agencies have a tougher row to hoe regarding that word transparency. They have to balance letting the public know how they are operating in making policy vs. allowing either political opponents or foreign opponents know secrets that may allow them to counter those policies in ways harmful to the public.
Sometimes, getting that balance right is hard.
One of the things that turned me aside from being a republican early in my government career was their constant ragging on us for being lazy, or corrupt, or leaches sucking at the “government teat”.
I’ve known hundreds if not thousands of people in my career, and with the exception of one or two, not a damn one of them was lazy, or corrupt or anything approaching the description of a leach. They all worked hard for their paychecks. Many of them could have gone outside and gotten much bigger paychecks working for large corporations.
But they stayed, most of them, and they do because they CARE. The mission of the FDA is, among other things similar, to keep your food, your drugs, your cosmetics, your radiation emitting devices, your medical devices, safe, effective and the best American companies can make them to be. Every single FDA employee I’ve worked with cared about that single mission, cared about how their job, whether it was leading a Center, running a computer, or inspecting Mexican produce crossing the border, and how their job impacted the primary mission of the Agency.
I cannot imagine anyone in any other governmental agency feeling any less, whether they are working for the Federal government or a State or local government.
So, folks, when you hear the Republicans continuing to belittle public employees, whether they are US Park Service Rangers, or EPA scientists, or federal Judges, remember this post. Remember that these people CARE – they care about you, me, and their neighbors. They are there, doing their jobs, probably making less money than they could on the outside, because they give a damn about OUR COUNTRY.
They each took an oath, which is very similar to the one Trump just took, to protect and defend the Constitution. Not an oath of loyalty to a President, or to an Agency, or to a boss. To the Constitution of the United States of America.
To serve YOU. That also includes Congress, by the way.
It’s up to you to determine which of those public servants are upholding that oath.
And which are, very publicly, not.