Enabling mediocrity

I think it takes a lot of courage and unimpeachable character to create ripples of change in our government. It’s because the problems are systemic and have been festering for too long. This is not a sweeping statement as I’m sure there are agencies struggling to get their acts together to truly serve the public. But it’s a battle that would take a while to win. Even a visionary leader can’t effect changes in a short time. It would be difficult to steer a group of people used to mediocrity, power play, and a wrong concept of what public service should be.

Appointed leaders come and go, many of those in the rank and file know that. I’ve seen some leaders who started out with good intentions and hopes of making a difference. But they either left their posts prematurely or ended their terms tainted by the “evils” they sought to fight. Those who stayed often had to go with the flow. And that changed them in the eyes of people who  knew them.

Government employees are the lifeblood of their respective departments and agencies. They’re the ones who stay and watch a parade of leaders come and go. But employee qualifications and quality of services are among the problems often overlooked. The Civil Service Commission has programs to upgrade and professionalize government services. It’s a good start. But for now, many of us still have to deal with mediocre and unprofessional services.

Six years is a short time for appointed officials to make lasting changes. And to last that long in office, sometimes some of them are swept along the undercurrents of in-house politics. Government agencies are often like the proverbial kitchen where those who can’t stand the heat pack up and go. Those who opt to stay will just have to adapt.

These thoughts make me a little more forgiving (but not forgetful) of leaders who end up besmirching their own characters in the line of duty. It’s also no longer surprising for me when promising leaders leave their public posts to preserve their integrity. We tend to blame the leaders, for good reasons, for unbridled corruption and lack of progress. But perhaps we should also hold the rank and file accountable. We enable poor public management and service when we accept mediocrity. We become enablers when we choose to remain silent despite the sorry state of public services we have to endure. We inadvertently let unqualified or incompetent people rise from the ranks to take the lead. We don’t encourage behaviors that promote accountability. And that’s just sad given how rank and file employees can be agents of positive changes from within the organizations they serve.

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