Feds doing things amid general crabbiness

I follow only one Instagram account, and only sporadically at that, and on my wife’s phone. It’s called “Animals Doing Things.” It shows funny video snippets of animal antics. Unfortunately, it’s grown more and more contrived, as people lure their pets into doing things.

A far more sustaining diet for me is the observation of people doing things. In my work, it’s people doing things in, for or related to the gigantic enterprise known as the U.S. federal government. I’m drawn to the stories of people the general public hasn’t heard of, doing good work of which the public is generally unaware.

Some weeks the impressive ones fall into a particular domain, a bucket with common themes.

Some examples from just the past week cluster around aviation:

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  • Chihoon Shin, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator who’s an expert in helicopters. He has a knack for finding tiny little things that can cause catastrophe, such as the design and placement of a fuel cutoff knob on the passenger compartment floor. He doesn’t bang the industry on the head or bash choppers. He’s a fan, actually, noting that “to fly is heavenly but to hover is divine.” He uses experience and engineering skill to build cases with which manufacturers tend to go along.
  • Further up in the sky, Greg Mandt of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been a sort of godfather of the Joint Polar Satellite System. Satellite programs have unique rhythms, economics and occupying denizens. Mandt was singled out by some members of Congress for the way in which he’s managed JPSS, avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in program costs.
  • Jennifer Ross and Jaime McMillon are part of the first-ever all-woman FAA ground operations crew for shepherding a commercial space launch through the national air space. The launch has been twice delayed but is still set to go off soon. The interplay between FAA, NASA and, now, the burgeoning commercial space industry, isn’t widely understood. But rockets don’t get to space without first leaving the earth. At the least, someone — namely the FAA — has to make sure the airplanes stay away.

Feds are doing things across the spectrum of human activity. Last week I mentioned the irrepressible Vinnie Panizo of USDA, heading up the Feds Feed Families food drive. There’s also Treasury’s Corvelli McDaniel, assistant commissioner for revenue collections management. He engineered a banking mentor-protege program. Large, famous banks signed on to help small, minority-owned ones with managerial, financial and technology expertise. That in turn helps the minority-owned banks strengthen, among other things, their ability to become Treasury financial agents. You want equality in the country? Equal access to capital and sound management are major catalysts.

People doing things, unfortunately, often find themselves working in slightly crazy environments. Most of my Federal Drive guests have been working from home since whenever. Not just federal employees but also the contractors, lawyers, think tankers, analysts and association heads.

Now the federal government is trying to re-establish its offices. That in itself has become chaotic and nasty. To wit, just from yesterday’s headlines:

  • A whistleblowing Transportation Security Administration manager gained a meeting with Administrator David Pekoske, after Pekoske was chided by the Office of Special Counsel. Now airport screeners have clearer and more consistent protocols to protect themselves and the few brave airline passengers from coronavirus.
  • IRS managers complained to congressional committees about Federal Protective Service guards not wearing masks while checking IRS employees’ credentials as they trickle back to work.
  • IRS line workers in the National Treasury Employees Union, meantime, complain the agency hasn’t made clear how they’ll be protected from the virus “when sitting across from taxpayers.”
  • Office of Personnel Management Inspector General Norb Vint says he shares the concern of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about health and safety of employees. Connolly asked 24 IGs to look over their agencies’ reopening plans.

An atmosphere of zero trust seems to prevail over the whole re-opening effort.

The pandemic has produced a generalized crabbiness evident in many sectors of public life. But golly, with so many people doing things, good things, the federal workplace ought not be one of them.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By David Thornton

On November 2, 1868, the then British colony of New Zealand officially adopted a standard time to be observed throughout the colony, and was the first country to do so. It was based on the longitude 172°30′ East of Greenwich, that is 11 hours 30 minutes ahead of GMT. This standard was known as New Zealand Mean Time.

Source: Wikipedia