Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Comments on the blog!

I willingly recieve comments on the blog but I don't share them as other blogs do for several policy reasons. Several people also write to me off-line from the blog. Yesterday I received one accusing me of a personal attack on Patricia Roberts Harris. Who is long deceased by the way. That blog post was based on personal knowledge and in fact still angry over the fact the Washington inside the beltway type lawyers politically connected are assumed to be competent to lead a large federal agency despite NO background in the portfolio of that department. Even with a background success is not assured. And of course it is not just drive, motivation, and past comptence that determines short term or long term success for any department or agency head as well be discussed when I post part II of the James Lee Witt history at FEMA. The decision-making skills of anyone who is given a huge responsibility is really unknown which is what makes for difficult choices when hiring. Some may think that decisions are easy for supervisors, managers, exectives, appointees or whatever including the lowest ranking employees. The US civil service tends to be focused on the long term accretion of competence and knowledge and decisionmaking. What I always explained to people who worked for me when I promoted them is that it was an entirely new job and both they and me had no idea whether they would be the best choice for the various NEW decisions and types of decisions they would be making. In other words past competence was not prologue to current comptence. Many readers of this blog know that I am a fuzzy headed liberal but the best political appointee with the highest standards I ever served under was HUD Secretary Carla Hills. And yes a politically connected Washington lawyer. So go figure. At any rate what I now see more and more is that those who seek high office or appointment are not really broad gauged people tested by the events of a diversified lifetime. If you have spent you life on paper you are probably not able to have the knowledge to deal with humanity writ large or its problems. That is why law firms reward the "rainmakers" and not the back room technicians. Oddly rainmaking skill is in short supply but as an inveterate backroom technician I would argue that skill is also in short supply. So again go figure. And of course I openly admit I was never able to get the combination of technical skills and political understanding right so as to rise to even the SES level in the civil service. I pride myself on perhaps it was my unwillingness to be a syncophant or kowtower but perhaps that is just my rationalization. Several times I was admitted to inner circles and just gave my best opinion on choices and options. Some would say I saved FEMA from destruction a number of times and some would say I destroyed FEMA. I don't really know how to weigh my service except that I did the best I could based on facts and knowledge at the time. Probably only one out of every 10 of my recommendations saw some positive response. Example, I construed laws giving discretion to the Director in ways to help him utilize that discretion, while others required explicity statutory approval for any action of the Director above sneezing.