The old saying was that “the ends don’t justify the means.” In the partisan struggle for power, we spend plenty of time arguing about both ends and means. But it often seems to be argument for its own sake.

NOTE: pick the correct link

The Left says that the sun rises in the morning, while the Right says that the sun sets in the evening. As departed Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously put it: “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

To which we modernly say: “Oh yes, I am!”

But here’s the thing — let’s say that you win your partisan argument and you gain power and you have the chance to put your ideas into action. The question is: Can you? Do you have the means to do what you believe is right?

Today, big time political leaders seem so concerned with their legacy (i.e. their own egos), that they don’t seem to be willing to do the hard, unglamorous, work of building a government that functions well. Legislation is sometimes more for show than anything else.

We make a show of being all things to all people, even if chasing after too broad a scope, given our limited resources, dooms us to failure in every category. But equally important are the specific issues raised by our human resources policies.

First, the civil service system was designed to avoid the spoils system where a political victory meant awarding a whole slew of patronage jobs. We want continuity, institutional knowledge and professionalism.

Light bulb front of black blackboard

The top policy jobs are political appointees and they should direct policy, but when you allow the political layer too much power over the civil service layer, you end up with corruption and distortion of policy. And if it becomes known that government jobs are merely playthings of the powerful, how can that be good for recruitment or retention?

Second, in Hawaii the old system of vesting retirement after 10 years went by the wayside a long time ago. But the question raised by the system that replaced it is whether it can attract and retain the kind of talent needed for effectiveness.

If I am a young person and it takes 25 years to fully vest, do I really want to make that kind of commitment? Obviously, there are fiscal issues to be considered, but aren’t those due mostly to the scope problem which I talked about earlier?

Third, in Hawaii an employee has to wait a year before working in the same industry over which they had regulatory jurisdiction. Good retention mechanism, but dismal for recruiting people.

Pay People Adequately

Fourth, while no one wants to pay everyone in government an excessive salary, if you don’t pay key people adequately, such as IT professionals, you are doomed to a certain amount of dysfunction in implementation. Government projects take a long time to do, and it is not helpful to have IT people leaving after two years to get paid twice as much in the private sector.

I’m not saying all IT people. I’m saying that the more complex the applicable law and the implementation, the more we need continuity in key IT staff.

Fifth, top managers in government should never be allowed to see their jobs as permanent fiefdoms because of Lord Acton’s law that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We must stop believing that the education system solves all of our human resources problems.

Managers in government aren’t owners and in almost all cases, they didn’t build the organizations that they are in, so they have no right to think of themselves as demigods. It is far harder to destroy a government agency than a private business, so government managers sometimes get the idea that they are more competent than they truly are.

Sixth, we must stop believing that the education system solves all of our human resources problems. It doesn’t. Education cannot stop when one graduates from school. Learning is a lifetime thing and mentors/coaches are needed throughout.

Seventh, I don’t have to tell you because everyone is talking about it, but Hawaii is an expensive place to live and that hampers both recruitment and retention.

Obviously, solving that problem is easier said than done.

My point is that if we aren’t willing to do the hard, unglamorous, work on the human resources side (and that is a long-term project), we can have all the big ideas we want, but it just won’t matter because we won’t translate those ideas into effective action and results.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lot of good things about our government, particularly as compared with other parts of the world. But we have to be vigilant, to seek continual improvement.

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