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Let young workers make a difference

Paul Light

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Bob Moon: Run down Fortune Magazine's latest list of the nation's best employers and you'll come across new economy names including Google, several top law firms and even companies from the troubled financial sector, such as Goldman Sachs.

But nowhere on that list will you find the federal government.

Commentator and public policy expert Paul Light says if federal agencies want to compete for the best young talent, they need to try harder.


Paul Light: Federal recruiters have their work cut out for them as the Millennials flood the job market over the next few years. This generation sees the federal government as a destination of last resort.

The problem is the federal bureaucracy itself. The Millennials want meaningful work, but don't believe the federal government will provide it.

The frustrations begin at the top, where the federal bureaucracy is led by 3,000 political appointees who rarely inspire awe. The good ones give up early and the bad ones get a "Good Job Brownie" and a promotion.

The bureaucratic sludge rolls its way downhill through layers of needless management and mind-numbing paperwork. There are dozens of rungs between the top and bottom of most agencies. This means that no one can be held accountable, not the aircraft groundings, toxic trailers or even bad tomatoes.

Yet Congress and the President continue to add more layers and outsource meaningful work. Meanwhile, red tape and cubicles reign supreme. It's like that cult movie, "Office Space." Better hang on to the stapler -- it may be the last one you'll ever see.

These problems cannot be fixed with tinkering. They demand a major overhaul. First: Flatten the bureaucracy. Get rid of programs that just don't work. Provide the training to do jobs well and cut the number of layers in half.

Most importantly, don't automatically replace the 600,000 baby boomers who will retire over the next decade. Instead, take a look at each job they leave and push the resources down to the front lines.

Until Congress and the President commit to the big overhaul, most federal jobs will go to applicants who want a secure paycheck, not the chance to make a difference, and with that kind of motivation, it's only a matter of time before the next disaster.


Moon: Paul Light is a Professor at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. He's the author of "A Government Ill Executed."

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