- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

The official government investigation of the public official seemed damning — running a private business from his government office, improperly placing a friend on the government payroll, and billing the government twice for services performed. The investigation by the State Department inspector general was reported to Democratic Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd and California Reps. Howard L. Berman and Tom Lantos, one of whom leaked it to the media.

The media went wild but, somehow, the fact the Justice Department had reviewed the evidence previously and refused to pursue criminal charges was lost in the frenzy. The official was smeared by the report’s release but was unable to answer it fully because he was not advised whether further charges could be filed.

Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, earlier head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was selected by the president to shake up the government broadcasting agencies to make them more open to diverse views. Studies have shown public broadcasting was overwhelmingly liberal rather than balanced and Mr. Tomlinson’s supposed sin was to push for a Wall Street Journal weekly public television program to give the other side one lonely voice on the public airways.

Government bureaucrats do not like to be told what to do by their bosses, especially something new, even though their political leaders clearly have the legal authority and responsibility to direct them. The IG investigation was triggered by a bureaucrat who approached the Democrats with a suspicion something fishy was going on, meaning he did not like it. For the uninitiated, leaks are the weapon of choice in Washington’s lethal and perverse bureaucracy gotcha game.

Start with the charge of putting a friend on the payroll. As a former head of government personnel can attest, more than 90 percent of mid- and upper-level promotions in the government are by a name request for a specific individual. A Merit Systems Protection Board study found 40 percent of managers admitted seeing examples of manipulating the system to hire favorites. So it is OK for the bureaucracy even if it is against the law but political appointees are supposed to hire enemies or strangers? The report charged there was no competition to fill the position but ignored that political executives have legal means to appoint assistants outside the competitive service.

At the end, the only charge that stuck was that the appointee did not file paperwork. After all the legal bluster, he simply forgot to intone, “Simon says.”

How about the supposed double-billing? Mr. Tomlinson was charged with billing 14 days for work at both the board and the corporation. But he was a part-time employee of both and it is not unreasonable to assume he worked for both many days. At most, this looks like a clerical mix-up and should be addressed by accountants for possible adjustments between the two rather than inspections.

The charge of running a business was even sillier. Mr. Tomlinson lives in Middleburg, Va., and has an adjoining horse farm called Sandy Bayou Stables. His most successful racehorse won $140,000 over a few years. Most of his horses run out of the money and it looks like a hobby at a big net loss. How was he supposedly running a “horse-racing operation” from his office? The IG concluded he devoted “an average of one e-mail and 21/2 minutes a day” to his horses from his government office. Under this standard, every federal employee would be in jail. Messrs. Dodd, Berman and Lantos certainly devote more time than that on politics and personal business from their office.

In any event, Mr. Tomlinson spent more time on government broadcasting business from his farm and residences that he did on horse business from the office.

Mr. Tomlinson’s case is by no means unique, although extreme. Bureaucratic self-protection reigns and overwhelms efficient management. Federal judges have now ruled no reforms can be made in the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security, with half of the government’s employees, without the approval of the same unions who sued to stop all reform.

While the system remains mired in inefficiency, a recent government study found the average federal civilian worker receives $106,379 a year in total compensation — twice the $53,289 wages and benefits earned in the private sector. Citizens pay dearly for their bureaucracy but they get games and politics instead of efficient work. The bad news is that George Nesterczuk, the senior government official over two decades responsible for personnel reform, the one GOVEXEC.com called the government’s “pay-for-performance warrior,” has just retired.

The forces resisting change are enormous and even the legendary Mr. Nesterczuk departs with less than complete success. One cannot imagine how it will work at all without him.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is the director of the Federalist Leadership Center at Bellevue University.

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