The true value of public service

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    Sydney Paul

    There been news recently of raises given to high-level government employees (some of which was incorrectly reported). It got me thinking about how in the Virgin Islands we have too many “high-level” or “advisory” positions created which are given exorbitant salaries. On the surface, it seems like these advisory roles would benefit the community in that more ideas are being brought to the table, but I don’t think it’s been an efficient way to use our financial resources. If you have let’s say 10 advisory positions who are averaging $100K salaries, that’s $1 million spent a year that should be producing tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue or savings for the VI based on their expertise, in theory. Is there a genuine motive to bring fresh ideas or these individuals simply in it for a cushy job? Is there a way to really measure the success of what they bring to the table? In a broader sense, this story brings to question, for me, what the true value of government/public service should be.

    Many people desire government or federal jobs firstly because of the financial security it provides, which is totally understandable. In fact, government workers get paid higher on average than private sector workers and receive more benefits. With the mindset of financial security in mind, however, the occupation can sometimes become just a job rather a career path of value. A government career path “of value” should benefit all because the person cares about the service they provide. I believe the mindset of simply having financial security diminishes the quality of government services in many respects because people care more about the paycheck than their actual duties…maybe doing the bare minimum…sometimes not even being adequately qualified for the position. Then there’s the discussion of our government being too large (too many employees) for our population size, which is tied in, but a totally different discussion.

    If we were to lower the salaries of these positions of advisors, legislators, deputy assistants, policymakers…these high level created positions etc., would it weed out those who are simply in it for the money and keep those who genuinely want to share ideas to better the community? Would those who are qualified feel like they were getting adequately paid? There’s a fine line here, but I think it’s a legitimate discussion in order for us to find a fiscally responsible balance between giving adequate pay to the right amount of workers, who are qualified and care about their job, that produce results that improve our community financially in the long term. That $1 million I mentioned earlier could have given some raises to attract quality teachers who will have the resources to produce well-prepared students to enter our workforce and give back, for example. Just a thought.

    Justin Moorhead

    Sydney. The problem as I see it is threefold.

    First, we are overstaffed in many government operations, electing to use manpower where technology/automation is better able to deliver services more efficiently and cost effectively. Were there a better alignment of manpower and automation/technology we could pay salaries that are commensurate with the talent we truly require attracting and retaining. Because we deploy manpower inefficiently and inappropriately, there is an overall dumbing down of compensation. We under pay for many of our jobs choosing quantity over quality of employees.

    Second, employment accountability is lacking. Meaningful oversight of government spending flushes out incompetence and sub standard performance. Executive and agency management is held to a standard for delivering quality and efficient services. Lack of performance requires that the employee upgrade their skill set or loose their job. This requires meaningful, regular and non-biased performance evaluation. The present practice of hiring yet another employee to do what those already employed should be doing ends. Being satisfied with underperformance while consuming considerable government resources ends. Political leadership and agency management must take seriously their responsibility to ensure the appropriate use of government resources to achieve defined objectives. Government employment becomes true public service rather than a reward for political affiliation, nepotism or popularity.

    Third, the private sector needs broadening to be in the position to offer diverse employment opportunity. Our limited private sector offers a narrow band of employment opportunity. Prospective employees with skills and interest that fall outside of that band must either look to government as the employer of last resort or relocate.

    Many who take government employment themselves become part of the problem, over time. The absence of employment alternatives translates into an unwillingness to ‘rock the boat’ politically or performance-wise. These individuals then clog the system and preclude the advancement of others who, because of age or better training, may be more willing to try and bring about effective change.

    Sydney Paul

    I agree totally with your statements. Technology and service automation is sorely lacking. Some might find the vision for more automation to be threatening to job opportunity, however, what many fail to realize in the Territory is that government services should be a small percentage of a society’s workforce anyway. Like you mentioned, the private sector should always be the largest economic driver.

    I’ve always described government culture in the VI as a mix of complacency and apathy, and the lack of performance evaluations feeds that. Changing what our government culture has become means breaking down decades of learned behavior. For millennials like myself, it almost seems like we have to wait for most currently employed to retire so that we have the opportunity to bring about any amount of effective change in terms of redefining the value of government services. That is gonna take too long.

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