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Shows & Panels
Putting your worst foot forward: When bad is good
Thursday - 3/14/2013, 2:00am EDT
Normally the job of federal agency public affairs offices is to inform the public, help/handle the media (and Congress) and (most importantly) make the secretary, director, administrator or chairman look good. That way the big boss can make the President look good. Which is good.
Making the boss look good is bipartisan. It has been that way for a long, long time regardless of whether POTUS is a Republican, Democrat or Whig.
Makes sense. At least to them.
So, most of the time, federal agencies try to look good. Worth their cost. Put their best foot forward. Most of the time...
But there are times, like now, when the best thing an agency can do is to point out what a lousy job it is doing, or is about to be forced to do. This is when the area of putting-your-worst-foot-forward comes into play.
Normally, government agencies talk about how much good they are doing, how many bad people they caught or put away, how many good, sick or elderly people they have helped, the children they have saved, how much money they've collected or not wasted, etc. Services get better each year, they assure us, even as they operate on what we are told are shoestring budgets. Sometimes they are even correct. Doing more with less is the mantra.
However, when faced with across-the-board cuts, as detailed in the 158-page Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, things go to heck in a handbasket. Fast.
For the past couple of months we, the public, have been bombarded by dire warnings from almost every federal agency of what will happen to them — meaning us — because of sequestration.
The Navy has parked one of two aircraft carriers slated for duty in the Persian Gulf in Norfolk. The Air Force has cut tuition assistance to personnel. The Pentagon says almost all DoD civilians will be furloughed up to 22 days. The Labor Department says it can get by with only seven furlough days in six months.
Many agencies have announced that whatever they do that impacts the taxpayer the most (like National Parks), will be curtailed or closed. Those who haven't put up a "closed" sign will before this is over.
The National Institutes of Health held a rare public meeting at which local politicians said that if one hair of the highly-regarded, world-famous NIH is harmed, the consequences will be dire. At the very least.
The FAA said there will be chaos in the air (or on the ground) if they are forced to furlough air traffic controllers.
The TSA said there will be longer lines at the airport and said small knives (bigger than box-cutters) can now be carried aboard flights. What could possibly go wrong?
Even the FBI is talking furloughs.
Sequestration may be the dumbest thing the White House and Congress have agreed to in a long time. Or it may be totally justified. Either way, it is hard for the average American, who must live within a much smaller budget, to imagine that federal services that directly impact people — from White House tours to shuttering national parks — are the only way to go.
Furloughing federal employees may be the way to go. After all, many in the private sector have been furloughed, fired or hit with pay cuts. But isn't it possible that if law enforcement or inspections agencies have to furlough people maybe they could spread it around so that crooks wouldn't figure out that Thursdays are the best time to rob banks, or that Tuesdays are the easiest time to slip horse meat into the food chain.
Critics of the sequestration plan (which was designed by the White House and happily embraced by congressional Republicans) say that there is no wiggle room in it. That is, that things like direct military combat operations must be cut the same amount as PR operations like appearances of the Navy's Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds. But surely the brains who devised the telephone-book-sized sequestration plan could (if they wanted to) figure out ways to shuffle funds so that vital services could be continued. These are very smart people even if, from time to time, they find it convenient to present themselves as really stupid.
In addition to hurting the public (taxpayers, voters), the sequestration scares make federal workers (who are about to be furloughed) look bad. Unlike some sequester-proof members of Congress, who sleep (with maid service) at their offices, the feds have to pay rent or mortgages. A one-day-per week furlough for them represents a 20 percent pay cut.