Watchword for 2023: Resilience

Don't waste too much time looking back at a weird 2022. Too much is possible in 2023.

Chaos. Meltdown. Mess. Nightmare. Total breakdown. Debacle. Be thankful you don’t work for Southwest Airlines. This week, at least, the hapless company owns those words.

In western New York, city officials, the county executive and citizens are yelling at one another about the storm response and how long Buffalo was paralyzed.

A reader commenting on a New York Times story about Buffalo and Erie County said, “Let’s be reasonable. What happened is unprecedented. Knock off the finger-pointing and get to work fixing things.”

Good advice.

In taking stock of life and work at year-end, another word comes to mind: resilience. If anything, 2022 has brought a great demand for resilience, a quality that the airline needs to re-acquire.

Federal agencies have their own resiliency challenges. The pandemic forced changes in how and where individuals work. Technology offices and employees showed remarkable resilience in adapting. People learned to work remotely at an unprecedented scale. CIOs and their staffs found ways to make remote work efficient and secure. Still, the condition that remains fluid. So-called hybrid working — some days in the office, some at home — could turn out to be a long-term resiliency test.

Legislation brought literally trillions of dollars for new programs that continue to test agencies’ abilities to carry them out.

A case in point: the PACT Act, the official title of which is The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act. It adds more than 20 health conditions presumed to stem from burn pit and Agent Orange exposure. The Department of Veterans Affairs itself says the law brings the largest expansion of mission in the VA history.

Easy to say VA will take in potentially a million more veterans for this care. And thousands of new employees. But the reality of the law will stress the agency and require resilience to scale up.

Agencies ranging from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Customs and Border Protection and the Indian Health Service and nearly every other agency will get more money than they had last year. The IRS was basically flat-budgeted, but that doesn’t account for the $80-some billion from infrastructure legislation. Largess is great, but expanding in way that’s responsible, accountable and effective will take real thinking and work.

The expiring year has tested people’s resiliency at the personal level. Inflation and a bear market for stocks and other securities took a bite out of the Thrift Savings Plan accounts of millions of federal employees and retirees. If you’re still working, the shrinkage is on paper. If history is prologue, the market will come back, so resilience means the mental fortitude to keep investing.

If you’re into the required minimum withdrawals and living even partially on your TSP or 401(k), shrinkage is another matter. How do you change spending patterns or make other changes to preserve your capital?

Our organization. and our readers-listeners, will continue to miss Mike Causey. He would have had great advice. Looking ahead to 2023, as a resilient organization, we’re cooking up some great ways to maintain coverage of those issues affecting federal life. My thanks to readers who have emailed me with ideas and suggestions. Keep ’em coming. Though I still wish I could saunter across the newsroom from my studio to Mike’s office and compare notes or share a joke.

I spend a little time, but not too much, looking at the annual compendia of notables who passed in the previous year. I mean, Bill Russell was 88? I still remember watching him with my dad in the shabby, smoky old Boston Garden, where a legless man sat in the stairwell selling pencils.

Yeah, 2022 was a crazy year in a lot of ways. They are all. But we humans are wonderfully resilient. Southwest says it will resume normal operations today, so anything is possible.

Spend a few moments pondering the last year, then toast the new. 2023 will bring some great opportunities. Let’s get started. See you Monday.


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