Nearly 25 years have passed since publication of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by John Gray. Gray is a relationship counselor. He was trying to get men and women to communicate better.
Maybe he should join the Donald Trump administration. Or the Democratic Party leadership. Because the failure to communicate is widening.
I think one reason federal employees might have trepidation about the forthcoming Trump administration has to do with style and approach.
Politics aside, you have to give President Barack Obama credit for having a sharp sense of how to be president from early on. Unlike Jimmy Carter, he didn’t try to actually read every page of the Defense appropriation bills himself. Or carry his own bags onto Air Force One. Unlike Richard Nixon, he didn’t festoon the White House guards in silly uniforms.
Obama used this week to thank and praise the federal workforce adroitly. The so-called impact report manages to both credit the civil service and offer a paean to administration policies. As Nicole Ogrysko reports, the White House also awarded several career employees recognition for customer service. That’s smart politics and human relations.
Trump is unorthodox, his approach unfamiliar. He says he eschews the daily intelligence reports. Politico reported his queries to the EPA sparked fears of a “witch hunt.” He’s stated he wants to change civil service so it’s easier to fire people. All of this has caused understandable consternation in the federal workforce.
Trump comes to the presidency from such an unexpected vector and with such an unusual style that it’s hard to tell what sort of relationship he and his appointees will forge with career civil servants. The reality is that it will vary by appointee and agency. I know feds who remain enthusiastic about their work regardless of the agency head. I also know those who count the days to retirement under the same circumstances.
People tend to pre-judge an incoming boss by reputation. But that approach leaves out an important variable — you. Try this: Take the new crew on, assuming their best motivations, then let them run a few plays and see how things go. Some will turn out to really be jerks. But my experience, in general, says you forge your own relationship and things work out fine.
Feds have been here before. Bill Clinton cut the federal workforce by approximately 300,000. George W. Bush favored outsourcing as much agency work as possible.
Election results necessarily disappoint people. My first presidential vote came in the Ford-Carter matchup of 1976. Here’s the sequence since then: Carter-Reagan-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush-Obama-Obama-Trump. Through 2016, that’ll run six Republican terms and five Democratic. Half the people are going to be growling over roughly half the elections.
At some point, you let it go and get on with business. Those in the civil service can lead the grumpy politicians. A New York Times story headline reads, “Al Franken Faces Donald Trump and the Next Four Years.” A photo depicts a grimacing Franken, worn shoes on his battered federal-issue desk. We all face the next four years. That’s federal life — every four years brings the potential for big change. In his thank-you video, Obama says of federal service, “Your good work has never been more important. So keep doing it.”