Some believe it is impossible for the government to ever change. Truth be told, I am often shocked when agencies merge or policies actually change. I am a bit pessimistic about the government’s ability to change. I have seen and experienced some government change, but more often than not, I listen to claims for change and wonder how in the world it will actually happen.
Why is it so hard for government to change? It is certainly not for a lack of desire for change. An entire political campaign was built on the word: change. If the desire for change is there, why does it feel like changing things in government is like making a cruiseliner do a complete 180 in less than a minute?
While basic change implementation is challenging for many companies, the U.S. government faces some particular challenges when it comes to making small and little changes.
- Checks and Balances. Yes, the helpful and wise system that our forefathers put in place for our country to ensure a free country is one of the things that slows our government down when it comes to change. Sometimes, it not only slows down the implementation of change, it can even stop it. In an organization, once the board of directors or leadership commit to change, all they need to do is the hard work of getting the rest of the company on board and working on implementation. Implementation within the government is challenging because not only is it important to get the federal workforce on board, but it is also necessary to get the three branches to agree, coordinate, and communicate to their agencies that report to them…instead of slow rolling decisions.
- Political Dynamics. Every time a new leader steps into office, new dynamics come into play. With a political system that experiences turnover every couple of years, change can go into effect during one administration, only to be completely undone 4 years later. Further complicating matters, political appointees can be delayed, and then only have about a year to make any changes. Most changes are also politically influenced, and then when the next appointee arrives, everything gets adjusted again. The constant back and forth can make for a weary federal workforce.
- Bureaucracy. The departments and divisions, the policies and procedures, and the piles of paperwork can kill ambition to change within the federal government. Many want to give up without even trying. Just locating the correct form can drain your day of necessary hours, but the processes and documentation trails do help maintain order within the government. Americans love stability. While it is frustrating to have to jump through the hoops, remember that the bureaucracy in our government was implemented for a reason. The problem is when the bureaucracy is followed without common sense or compassion.
While this may sound like a lot of doom and gloom for the government, the reality is that many great changes have been implemented throughout our history. Oftentimes, it can take years for everyday reality to reflect new law, but it does not mean we should not attempt to bring about change. You may not be a political appointee or head of an agency, but in the cleared world, we all touch the federal government in some way.
It is easy to get frustrated with the checks and balances, political dynamics, and bureaucracy, but there are things you can do to bring about small change.
- Identify what you can change or even just influence. Look at your agency or your team and find processes that you can improve.
- List out the various possible change outcomes that you can aim for, including best case scenarios or small wins.
- Determine what steps are needed, such as finding the key player(s) that will enforce change or gathering the necessary documentation that needs to be completed.
- Start working towards bringing about the change that’s needed. At some point, it is time to stop all the planning and to start setting up meetings and filling out paperwork.
Lastly, as federal employees or contractors, one of the best ways to bring about change is to be efficient at your work. Changing the public perception of the federal workforce (whether it is contracted or civilian) can go a long way in bringing about long term change. Suspicious and frustrated voters will keep the pendulum swinging back and forth from change to change.