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March 10, 2013

The Week Ahead: College Acceptance Letters and Furlough Letters

This is a week where the US Postal Service will deliver some very important letters to many US households. To some they will deliver college acceptance letters forcing a final period of hard choices and financial decisions. To others they will deliver letters of furlough notice to federal employees.

Tragically, some households will receive both college letters and furlough letters and for them, life just got really harsh.

We've all heard stories of Bosses Behaving Badly - treating people like machines, being indifferent to the implications of their decisions, acting like rat weasel bastards - and in general most people think, Man if I was in charge, I'd do things differently. I'd treat my employees decently. If I owned a factory and a manager treated anybody that way, the manager would be gone not the employee.

Curiously, when you look at this month's contrived disaster facing federal employees, the owners and the Capital are - You, my friend, and You and You and Me. The people we've selected to run the outfit are the Congressmen and the President. We're the bosses, we select these people to run things, and - guess what - look at the way you're treating your employees. Not a pretty picture.

Let's examine this from both partisan positions, and then from the employee position.

The Republicans believe that less government is a good thing, that less government funding is a good thing, and that starving government is a good thing. To the Republicans, the sequester cuts offer a certain path to lower government spending and therefore less government. Win-win.

The Republicans aren't stupid; they don't want ineffective cuts. But they want cuts for certain, and they believe that if dumb blunt cuts are required, eventually the D's and the institutions will seek to make the cuts most efficient. If they can extract concessions out of that agreement, more Win. If the cuts remain stupid and public frustration with government grows, that advances their agenda and more Win. Maybe that's the Red definition of balance; they win either way.

I disagree with the R goals but their situation and technique are very effective.

The Democrats believe that the current level of government is appropriate if not insufficient - witness the non-existent regulation of energy and financial industries - and that the wealthiest Americans, who are increasing their share of American wealth more than ever before, are not paying their fair share. They would say, America's not broke, it's just that the rich aren't paying their share.

The Obama administration could have responded to the sequester trigger in several ways. Here's a response they didn't choose to make:

President Obama: On Sept.11th, America's air traffic controllers were our first responders. Before the fighter jets got in the air, before most of us understood what was going on, the air traffic controllers were putting all the planes on the ground in an unprecedented display of skill.

We have a budget crisis in Washington, and entrenched parties are prioritizing their political agenda over the nation's needs. As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow our operational capability to be degraded by short-sighted positioning.

I have today directed the Secretary of Transportation to make budget cuts as he sees fit to meet the financial goals of sequestration without sacrificing our hardworking aviation professionals. Future research and development, demonstration programs, and implementing new technologies are all vitally important, but they are not so important that we would gut our skilled workforce first. Good people come first.

And that's part of the Republican folly. We've nipped the deficit rates. The budget is important, and we need to correct it with balance. But the key issue facing America today is jobs, and the Republicans contriving a forced layoff program in the middle of a jobs crisis, in order to ensure that the richest Americans don't pay their fair share is something that I don't understand."

Notably, the President didn't say that. What he did say was: Close the Federal Contract Towers. Furlough the FAA controllers. Let's be clear: the Obama administration chose these furloughs and closings as their preferred course of action.

Why would they do such a thing? Team-Obama isn't stupid; by widely advertising expected impact, constraining the system, and closing facilities and limiting operational staffing, they're causing pain in every single Congressional district. The pain for the employees is only a means to the end; the goal is pain for the (Republican) Congressmen.

For instance, if they'd played games with the 787 return-to-service, they'd only be generating pain for a small slice of Congress; that's not what they want.

So it's a contest between two strategies.

  • The Republican strategy is to force budget cuts and advance the R agenda while diminishing the D record for 2016. The expected pain and drama fit within the R view of acceptable, and they're good at playing mean.
  • The Democratic hope is they can cause so much public pain by furloughing their own constituents that the Republican's will holler Uncle before the D's employees decide they don't like the strategy.
  • In my own analysis (and you may have yours) the R's are in a position of strength and have very little to lose. The D's are going to try to outlast the R's in a war of suffering and attrition, penalizing the D-base to make the R's give in. I think the R's win this exercise in game theory.

A few more thoughts about this situation.

  • Public employees are so screwed that the Democrat's best strategy consists of furloughing public employees, and the D's are the employee's only friend.
  • It's not about 11 furlough days this year. It's about the next ten years.
  • NATCA and the other federal unions are complicit in the Obama strategy, and they're complicit in their members being furloughed. Seen any labor types criticizing the Obama implementation decision?

So in a curious twist, the Administration is about to run an ATC slowdown. A very smart man once taught me, the way to run a slowdown is to never put an individual at risk; just put out the scuttlebutt that delays are going to happen because of policy disagreements. Then, when the normal operational events happen - and they always do - people will convert the noise into signal all by themselves, and you won't be able to convince them otherwise.

There's going to be TSA and ATC delays in April sprinkled all around the system. People will take normal sick leave, and overtime staffing may not be available. Which major metroplex will be the flash point? New York's had their spirit broken; Atlanta has no sense of labor; if it happens it's going to be Chicago. And Team-O owns Chicago.

So, three points:

  • Both the Republicans and Democrats are good with the furloughs.
  • Team-Obama picked the furloughs as strategy.
  • Employee unions are complicit in the furlough strategy.
  • I wouldn't be booking connections in the Windy City.
Just Saying.



Addenda:

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Reasonably responsible scenarios, each accompanied by a significant public information component to assure everyone knows what is going on and why, for the FAA may be:

(1) No furloughs or significant spending reductions (cut what one can because of this extremis situation, of course, but nothing like the furloughs) until the available funding is used up then turn off the lights and go home. Everybody.

(2) Compute the amount of reduction in service needed to meet the sequester, lets say 11 days, and announce that at midnight April 1, 2013 the system shuts down. Period. No FAA ATC, no navigation aids, no getting 787 back in the air, no nothing.

When the FAA reauthorization couldn't be agreed upon a couple years ago the agency furloughed all nonessential people, had the safety critical ones work to minimize the impact to the public/country and it took a couple weeks to get things straightened out. I believed then and believe now that all this silliness can be fixed in about 2 hours if the public employees call the bluff of the faction that believes in little government and that spending the money to get what they want is not worth it. Fine, shut it all down, you get your wish. But be careful what you wish for. After that adults can sit down and figure out what we need and what we are willing to pay for it, like a budget process is supposed to work.

As a federal civil servant I have been vilified and run against by politicians since the Carter administration. In the olden days it was done to a certain extent with a wink at us because they had to do that to get the votes of the people back home who didn't understand what was going on. There is little if any wink now and the joke has gone on too long. Look at the OPM statistics to see the federal civil service is voting with their feet and retiring in droves. It will take a long time to rebuild the level of knowledge and skills that are leaving. And I am seriously thinking of really leaving, like Costa Rica or, if it wasn't so cold, Canada.

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