One Bad Apple

There’s good news and better news, despite what you may have heard about federal employees. Like the Motor Vehicle Administration, the federal government has a bad reputation when it comes to employee performance and cooperation. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that characterization is undeserved. In their most recent time and attendance report, the GAO discovered a couple of things that should make taxpayers feel better about how their tax dollars are being invested.

Two Major Findings

  1. Agencies conduct performance evaluations to determine if personnel are being consistent in their reporting.
  2. Personnel reports show that individuals are honest in their time and attendance evaluation.

Agencies Turn in their Paperwork

While it may not sound like a marvel of administrative science, the fact that 22 of 24 agencies gathered together the data requested from GAO for the past five years is quite impressive. Of those agencies, 13 were able to hammer together every bit of data requested for the full five-year span. In any organization, filling all of the gaps over five years is a significant undertaking. The two agencies that fell short calculated their data in different formats, so the GAO was not able to aggregate their information with the others.

In reporting on their performance, it doesn’t seem that agencies were afraid to acknowledge where they had fallen short. And they also weren’t timid to point out specific cases.

There Are Bad Apples

While the agencies are reporting what they are required to report, they’re not finding rampant fraud and abuse. With headcounts in the thousands, it’s easy to imagine that work-at-home, on-the-road, and independent workers may invariably misreport or over-report their time and attendance. Yet inspectors general within these agencies aren’t finding report-worthy abuse. When they went digging, most agencies turned up, on average, less than one case a year.

Why the Bad Rap?

With data that seem to support the notion that employees are not abusing the system and that the system is tracking employee reporting abuse with zeal, why do federal agencies have a reputation for being less than efficient in their approach to work? The GAO study answers that question (in some measure) by pointing out that no two agencies seem to have the same rules for when to turn someone over to the inspector general or when to incorporate their offenses into the report. Thus, even a bad-apples-to-bad-apples comparison doesn’t really work.

Plus, it matters that negatives echo far more loudly than positives. If the GAO report is accurate, there are thousands upon thousands of employees who report their time honestly and dedicate themselves to truly earning their paychecks. That’s good news.

If the report is accurate about the frequency of time and attendance abuse, a single episode is not a process-heavy regular occurrence. It’s Halloween. Once a year. A little scary, and then it’s over.

The GAO report cries out that federal agencies, their inspectors general, and their personnel are actively seeking out the bad apple. (Do note the use of the singular “apple” there). In times when trust between individuals and their agencies is paramount, this news should not be overlooked. It’s a time for celebration. And should there be a report of bad news? Remember, it’s Halloween.

Written by:
Carl Pritchard
Human Capital & Human Resources
Media Type:

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