With the election coming up, no wonder we’re miserable

Presidential transition is already underway, months before the election. You might want to get involved. Just avoid picking political sides.

By now you’ve heard the news.  The United States ranks a middling 23rd out of 143 nations in the “happiness” index. It could get a lot worse because a slow-motion train wreck of an election is coming. That and a potentially ugly presidential transition threatens to keep people at one another’s throats for the next year.

Two things to know: Presidential transition has already started. And you can participate!

Panelists on an online webinar put on by the AFFIRM group the other day talked all about transition. The speakers, all current or former federal executives, said that helping a transition can be professionally rewarding and even fun, although it requires setting aside your personal politics. Which, when you think about it, you pledged to do when signing up for a federal job in the first place.

Beth Killoran, the chief information officer of the Government Accountability Office, pointed out, “Transition started a year ago, because of what is statutorily required and what the General Services Administration has to do.” She’s former deputy CIO at GSA. She was CIO at Health and Human Services. “I actually had to do the onboarding of the new politicals as part of the transition team,” she said. Before all that happens, so-called beachhead teams, often heavy with campaign-connected people, will come in to start gathering information for the subsequent transition teams.

Jim Williams was, among other things, acting GSA administrator at the end of the Bush administration and oversaw the transition to the Obama administration. GSA ascertains the winner of the election, but long before that it establishes office space and generally makes sure the operation runs smoothly. He said that the Bush administration gave him instructions to make a “seamless and gracious” transition.

So far, it’s always been seamless, although not always gracious. Still, Williams said, “One thing I would say for anybody in the federal government: volunteer. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s always the opportunity to put your best foot forward and get to know the incoming team.” Even when the incumbent president is reelected, “there will be a changeover of people,” Williams said.

Obvious though they may seem to career employees, the specific duties and operational constructs of an agency or a department often mystify and incoming politicals. A lot of information comes in briefing books. Those can lay open everything an incoming will need to know, or not.

As former Office of Management and Budget official Mark Forman put it, “What do people want to know what did people in the agency want to put in the books are not the same.” Briefings can grow complicated, he said, because people at different levels and on different programs or bureaus will each need different sets of information.

That information transfer is therefore a chance to enhance your career and reputation. Roger Baker, who worked on the Veterans Affairs transition team for the incoming Obama crew in 2009, said, “The problem with the briefing books is that’s what they’d like you to know. And, you know, largely, as far as the transition team is concerned, that’s not what they’re worried about. What they’re really worried about is what is it you’re not telling them.”

If you tell them in a non-political way, you can enable a good relationship with the new political team and maybe enhance your own happiness on the job. Williams urged an evenhanded approach to the incoming and outgoing.

“Your job is to support the elected officials,” he said. He added, “Remember how you’re treating the people going out.” In the complex of government, think tanks, non-profits, contractors and law firms, people go and come ’round again.

Forman said to look at transition as a time to shine, but also as a chance to change things for the better.

“I think you need to come in and say, here’s what I think needs to be changed, or here’s what’s broken, what are the options,” Forman said. And let them know your recommendations. “And,” he added, “you also have to provide some credibility that that you can actually succeed in implementing that recommendation. If you answer those three questions, I think you’re gonna be pretty well situated.”

Yes, in many ways the upcoming election looks grim. But don’t let it make you unhappy as a government employee. Transition is a legal and political process, but it’s also an exercise in human relations.

By the way, the World Happiness Report is put together by Gallup, something called the Wellbeing Research Centre and hoity-toities from the University of Oxford. At 23rd happiest, the U.S. is way below Finland, Denmark and Iceland, which rank 1, 2 and 3.  But we’re way ahead of the three most unhappy nations: Lesotho (maybe it’s the elevation), Lebanon and Afghanistan. And we’re happier than  #30 China and #72 Russia.

Nearly Useless Factoid 

By: Michele Sandiford

Per TSA regulations, you can bring a bowling ball into the cabin in carry-on luggage, but not a bowling pin.

Source: TSA

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