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Getting control over ineffective government hiring practices

Although many citizens suspect it, a little known dirty secret for getting hired in government is to have an "inside" track. Unfortunately, there are generally less than adequate controls in place to prevent hiring abuses.

As a performance auditor, I find that many public employees act as though their departments are synonymous with private enterprise and constructed for the sole benefit of themselves.

According to Black's Law Dictionary, a fiduciary relationship is "one founded on trust or confidence reposed by one person in the integrity and fidelity of another." Government employees are fiduciaries, working for an agency, which is comprised for the sole purpose of benefiting tax-paying citizens.

Over the years, while managing or conducting performance audits, I have listened to public employees complain about internal auditors reviewing operational efficiency and effectiveness. Such staff members are under a mistaken belief that internal audits are limited to general fund compliance and financial statement reviews.

A recent case in point, with which many Los Angeles citizens might recall, is when former Los Angeles City Controller, Laura Chick, went head-to-head with former City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, who wanted to block Chick from conducting a performance audit of his workers' compensation unit. The battle between internal auditors and management, over auditable areas of government, persists today.

Just as publicly traded companies are required to contract with external auditors for attestation of financial reporting, most government charters provide for both internal and external reviews. Certified auditors and accountants, much like lawyers and other licensed professionals, are held to published standards.

Theoretically, publicly held firms and government agencies could manage with just an internal audit function; however, in the very least, the absence of external oversight creates an "appearance" of conflict and less than manageable risk. Proper assurance requires separation of duties and objective reporting schemes, organizationally evidenced by the fact that most internal and external audit entities report to finance and audit committees.

As U.S. jobs wax overseas and our standard of living wanes, citizens ever-increasingly demand greater accountability from government and publicly traded companies. Responding to such an outcry, in 1993, the feds enacted the Government Performance and Results Act, aka GPRA, and many local governments followed suit. In a nutshell, GPRA requires federally-funded agencies to establish goals, measure results and report on related accomplishments. This all sounds well and good; however, how relevant is this reporting scheme?

Using a government agency, as a standard against which to measure itself, is much akin to asking a fox to guard the chicken coop. In private sectors, measuring organizational performance against a standard of "best practices," is relevant, since we can surmise, most private-sector organizations are in the business of making money. Because businesses endeavor to optimize profits, it also follows that they will hire optimum talent.

In terms of evaluating government, it is not necessarily what we know that gives us an answer, but instead, what we ask. Government and publicly traded companies have similar control issues with regard to reporting information; however, private enterprise has an effective control for ensuring competent hiring; their bottom-line depends on it.

Other than people failing to pay taxes, not much prevents government entities from ballooning to ineffective proportions. Further, job security in the public sector can often depend on hiring less competent employees.

A reasonable alternative to such ineffective government hiring, is to require public agencies to contract with external providers. For example, one such agent would conduct staffing assessments and develop job classifications, while another could screen prospective new-hires and develop a pool of qualified talent from which management fills vacancies. In order to prevent collusion, external hiring agents could be rotated or changed on a routine basis.

The last frontier for government waste will end when critical responsibilities are segregated and ulterior motives minimized.


  • Alan 5 years ago

    Agreed. Government needs to be accountable, but not watched by itself, but by an outside agency. Isn't that what Ross Perot wanted, but left alone after he and his family received so many death threats? Job description, performance eveluation, grading and "you're outa here" if you perform to progressive standards. Good article.

  • austin 5 years ago

    Wow this has really opened my eyes to the amount of government waste and abuse of privileges. I think a proper illustration of government that we are all aware of is that one little boy who no matter how many times you tell him not to do something he will still find a way to anger you by doing it again. Like this bratty little kid government needs to be given enough restraint in the form of internal and external controls that they've got no more "wiggle room" so to speak. Lori Perry I think you are just the woman to do it, we shall begin campaigning for your presidency!!! You will be the first sensible woman to run for president of the U.S.

  • S.H. 5 years ago

    Very well structured and written column Ms Perry, I am an editor at the LA Times and I would love to meet you and discuss this article further. I will contact you with more information, thank you.

  • WHM 5 years ago

    I certainly agree with the points you've brought forward. Having work in over 30 States, as a government contractor, I can attest first hand, that practices vary, and accountability for the most part is laxed at best. Some States, however, have adapted "best practices" accountability as can be seen in New Hampshire. These situations unfortunately are rare; yet they are encouraging from the standpoint that some people, and yes even some governments can live up to the expectations that we all expect. In places like New Hampshire, where the voting booth is still held sacrosanct, State and local officials are keenly aware of what expectations are held by the general populous. I enjoyed reading your article and look forward to your future columns. Nice job!

  • BO 5 years ago

    Truth of it is government must, without a single wavering moment, transmit a deafening “tone at the top” which, throughout human history has never happen. We humans are not competent or taught to distinguish truth from falsehoods. The deception starts at first mouthful of air and ends with our last gasp. The herd man is pitiful creature and absurd to behold.