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Two workplaces in one... umm... workplace
09/25/2002

Instapundit links to an interesting suggestion from Mickey Kaus about solving the impasse over hire/fire rules in Homeland Security. He suggests a 50:50 solution, whereby half of the workforce would be "at will" employees who may be fired and, therefore, must work and half would be union-covered difficult-to-fire employees. I'll admit to not being extremely well versed on the topic, but I think there's an aspect over which Mr. Kaus glosses.

He does address that "government agencies are filled with ordinary people of ordinary talent — and spouses, children, and hobbies — who know they only have to try hard enough not to get fired," which doesn't seem to me to be a rare mindset in the private sector, either. The first issue that sets the public sector apart in this respect is that achievement of "hard enough" is much easier there. However, I think Kaus makes a good point that this is a reasonable trade-off in order to move workers a few steps away from the politics of their environment.

The second issue, which Mr. Kaus doesn't address, is that of raises. For the "ordinary people" to maintain the degree of autonomy that is the best argument for their enhanced job security, raises would have to be regular and of regulated range (meaning that bosses couldn't have too much leeway in their application). On the other hand, the "go getters" aren't going to go get for long if all their hard work leaves them on an equal level with "no getters." Kaus seems to believe that they'll be purely "motivated by hatred of Al Qaeda and the knowledge that they'll get the boot if they screw up," but advancement surely plays a role in that motivation as well. Even zealots will lose zeal if their zealotry goes unrewarded over a long period.

The obvious answers to this objection are that the two groups would, essentially, be different departments within the department and that an "ordinary" employee could have the option of changing status to that of a "go getter." To these I ask, in turn: Why not, then, just make Homeland Security the department of go getters with some form of interaction with the regular ol' government?

This solution might force lawmakers to strip out much of the department's proposed bloat, even just to make the argument coherent. Of course, the same could be said on this point as Mr. Kaus suggests of the 50:50 strategy: it "could easily be applied across the board, to the entire government."

Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:17 AM EST