The beatings will continue until morale improves

Thursday - 9/20/2012, 2:00am EDT

If you've ever shopped for T-shirts at a beach or resort, you have probably seen one that proclaims "THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES." It may or may not include a drawing of a pirate. Or a skull and crossbones. It's funny the first couple of times you see it. But when it becomes a way of life, not so much.

Wikipedia explains the well-known slogan like this:

'The beatings will continue until morale improves' is a famous quotation of unknown origin. It literally denotes how morale, such as within a military unit or other hierarchical environment, will be improved through the use of punishment. More importantly, the phrase is used sarcastically to indicate the counterproductive nature of such punishment or excessive control over subordinates such as staff in the workplace or children living at home.

Short-time feds (people with fewer than five years service) have been living in the beating-morale mode it for the past couple of years. Long-time feds, who have been around for decades, can testify that this isn't the first time feds have become the whipping boy of politicians and the media. As one now retired, longtime civil servant said, "It goes with the territory." The "it" in this case is regularly being accused of being underworked, overpaid and out of touch with the "real" America.

Interestingly, most of the accusations that feds are isolated duds come from isolated, and often highly insulated agenda-driven think tanks. They supply data to the media and members of Congress whose jobs mean they were further removed from reality than almost any other group. These are often people who spend millions of dollars (sometimes their own, sometimes funds from a few wealthy backers) to get and keep a job that pays in the low six figures! How smart is that?

The current anti-fed campaign is no worse than some in the past. Unless, that is, the whack-a-bureaucrat mood leads politicians to allow sequestration — which both Democrats and Republicans have used as a bluffing device — to take place. Those across-the-board cuts could mean the loss of tens of thousands of jobs — inside and out of government — at a time when politicians say they want to get more people working.

Various groups, representing workers, management and contractors have predicted various degrees — from horrible to end-of-the-world outcomes — to make the case against sequestration. On yesterday's Your Turn radio show, Sean Reilly of the Federal Times said what he is hearing "is that it will be difficult to accurately predict a lot of the impacts without further guidance from OMB."

If Congress follows true to form nothing is likely to happen until after the election. If it follows the pattern established — by both political parties — in the past 20 years nothing will happen after the election either. Followed by an 11th hour (maybe) compromise or save.

Meantime, here's a thoughtful comment from a long-time fed, Mike L of the IRS. He and several colleagues are about to call it a day. And their thoughts are worth considering. Here goes:

I have been following your musings for decades on federal employees and how occasionally it becomes an opportune time for our elected officials (and others) to denigrate federal employees, their benefits and retirement. While the current mood may pass as it has in the past, the damage being done by the current pundits will span generations as the federal government looks for the brightest and the best in the future to furnish the necessary services and defense for our citizens — the generations that follow will not want to work in the federal workplace.

... Soon, three of my colleagues and myself will retire. We will leave the federal workplace with 160+ years of substantial institutional knowledge, having worked the majority of those years in a single office responsible for collecting and disseminating data. Some of us are veterans, and none of us will retire because we no longer want to work; au contraire. None of us are Senior Executives and between the outside beatings, the political wind that seems to impact almost every one of the Senior Executives and impacts almost every one of their decisions, the lack of their accountability and letting all the stuff roll downhill, it is time to go. — M.L.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Speaking of morale... Are you so worn down that reaching for your afternoon snack is too much of a hassle? Then check out this on-demand voice-controlled popcorn shooter. As Mashable reports, the so-called "Popinator" is a "fully automated popcorn launcher that tosses popcorn at your mouth every time you say 'pop.'"