Go to Homepage  

Turn and Face the Strange…


editorial pixA new administration, like the new millennium, lurks just around the corner. But people keep asking their friends in government the same old questions.

"How will the election affect your job?"

"Are you…" Excited? Ready to get even? Scared? "Will they kick you out into the street?"

The questioners, though well-meaning, don't understand the basic fact of government life: things don't change as the result of an election. The victors, regardless of their political stripe, spoil very little. Even the president can only appoint a minute number of friends and cronies to government jobs. And those appointees, regardless of past experience, know so little about government operations they soon succumb to the agendas of their civil service staffs.

At worst, the process amounts to a four-year cycle of inconvenience. Eighty percent of all political appointees can be trained to give a good imitation of statesmanship in less than six months. Those that resist the training will vanish, removed by their own party as political liabilities.

Change, when it happens, comes from the staff. Opportunities arise from gaining a new boss. Proposals shelved for years get dusted off. Sometimes the new appointee's ideas, enthusiasm or demands spark a conversion in a particularly crafty or ambitious federal employee -- or several hundred aggressive federal employees -- and a major new program takes flight. But new federal programs and new initiatives only happen when the employees who do the real work of government change their goals and work to make those new goals a reality. Timing, not ideology, determines who gets the glory.

Much more often, the federal work force holds the brave new administration at bay with the semblance of change. Old programs get new names to flatter new management. "Zero Defects" becomes "Quality Assurance" becomes "Total Quality Management" becomes "Business Process Reengineering" becomes…

The irony is that the perception of change can prove just as powerful as the act itself. Featured mystery writer Earlene Fowler discovered that once people started seeing her as a published writer, instead of as the office worker or clerk she used to be, their entire attitude changed, sometimes in ways Fowler neither expected nor wanted. On the political front, sometimes the United States "Beyond the Beltway" sees a new way of doing business in renamed program and charges ahead at the state or city level, forging something new out of another administration's discards.

Sometimes, perceptions shift because someone simply doesn't do what you expected them to do. I doubt if any of us on the Crescent Blues staff will ever view another email interview quite the same way after experiencing this month's Michael Moorcock interview, for example. But by the same token, what Moorcock wrote forces you to reexamine what you thought you knew about his writing, his music and his many other interests.

Maybe that's the key to succeeding at change -- reexamining what we thought we knew about ourselves. Only then can be sure we want to change, or whether we need to. As federal employees learned years ago, change for change's sake accomplishes nothing.

But bone deep change in a handful of people, or even one, can and does move mountains. This warty, wonderful federal structure of ours didn't spring fully formed from the head of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or even William Jefferson Clinton. It grew from a never-ending succession of changes within the hearts and minds of the individuals who governed and those who allowed themselves to be governed.

To give that thought a New Year's spin, if we can change our government, we can certainly change ourselves. So in keeping with this millennial year, why not skip all the lesser resolutions and go straight for the big one. Why not change yourself into the person you want to be. If you want to be a writer, an artist, a non-smoker, whatever, go for it. Instead of punishing yourself for breaking your resolutions, applaud yourself for pursuing your goals. Could there be a better incentive for change?

The staff at Crescent Blues joins me in wishing you and yours the very best in 2001. May you revel in all the changes you choose to make and in the things that you allow to remain the same.

Jean Marie Ward

Click here to share your views.