Full Speed Hiring (but not so fast)!

Thursday - 10/22/2009, 4:00am EDT

Editor's Note: Mike's column today is part of FederalNewsRadio's special report, 5 Fallacies of Government? All this week we examine commonly held beliefs about the federal government and its employees. Click here for our full series coverage.

Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, most U.S. airport security was aimed at making sure people didn't bring guns on board or try to hijack aircraft to Cuba or Libya. These were serious concerns because they had happened before.

During that pre-attack period, a Washington TV station did a series about security at our own National Airport. The crew, led by a well-known and charming (aren't they all) anchor, planned a feature on security: Passenger searches, electric fences, background checks of airport personnel, etc.

After a couple of visits by the TV crew (anchor, various horse-holders, camera and sound types,) the station's producer asked security if it could streamline things for the TV station team. Cut some corners. After all they knew each other, and time is money in TV. Field crews are expensive.

The federal security types agreed as a courtesy (and also hoping the station's gratitude would be reflected in its story). So they let the entire crew come and go without being patted down. Day after day. Cameras rolling. After all they were all pals, right? And they had passed an early, if cursory check. So...

What could possibly go wrong?

On the last day of filming one of the crew, maybe the dashing anchor himself, smuggled in a replica gun. I think it was a .357 magnum revolver which would look impressive on the nightly news. It did.

After filming themselves being passed through what was then nonsecurity, the crew caught on tape how "easy" it had been to smuggle a weapon (maybe a couple) past the "bumbling" federal security team. It was dynamite on the evening news.

The TV station had a field day. The airport security crew couldn't get air time to explain what happened. I found out about it much later while doing a story on the airport.

Not fair, you say.

Well, yes and no!

In a Marquis of Queensbury world, where manner and courtesy reigned, it would have been dirty pool. But the TV station was playing by different rules. It took advantage of the courtesy and respect shown it by the security folks by tricking them. To make a point.

Point taken.

For some time after that, anybody who even looked like they had a media connection was yanked out for a very full search. That produced outrage from our side.

So what does this have to do with the slow government hiring process?

Maybe nothing, maybe a lot.

For years the government has been under orders to shorten the (usually very long) time it takes to get somebody on board. Critics say the best candidates get bored and take jobs in the private sector. That the government is sluggish and its hiring process is run by slugs.

But what if they streamlined it completely. Walk in and get hired the next day.

Wonderful.

Except we live in a dangerous world. For many, many federal jobs, extended vetting is a good idea. Not just Defense, Homeland Security and the CIA but also outfits that have all our secrets: Social Security, the IRS and the Census Bureau, to name a few.

Prediction: The very member of Congress who demands that agencies shorten their hiring turnaround time (maybe because of a constituent complaint) would be the first member of Congress in line to blame federal workers the first time a security problem happened because of a "sloppy" (or too brief) clearance, which allowed a spy or former ax-murderer to join the payroll, came to light.

Actually the solution is simple, at least for the politicians.

Streamline the hiring and clearance process. Set a time (what, one week, two weeks, four weeks tops) to get people on the payroll. Or suffer the consequences. At the same time, safeguards should be in place that would insure that the government didn't hire dangerous or untrustworthy people, ever. Or suffer the consequences.

Do it fast, but don't make any mistakes. Or else.

See how easy it is?

Next problem!

The Demise of the KSA?

The beloved KSA, the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities part of federal job applications, may be going the way of the Dodo and the Great Auk. We learned about DHS's efforts yesterday on the Federal Drive. Click here for more.