Pretty sure a top cryptographer or security expert should be worth several times that, especially if they are also dealing with classified information and safeguarding all the data collection (e.g. if the NSA is going to spy on us, wouldn't you like that to be as secure as possible?).
This is another reason why we're going to enter an era of corporate feudalism. There has been a cycle of:
1. perception of gov't incompetence
2. normal people ask 'why are we paying people so much for doing a bad job?'
3. gov't pay scales fall further behind private industry
4. rise in relative mediocrity
I think voters largely don't realize how much competence actually costs in the market now and will vent about their justified perceptions of inequality by preventing equalization of pay between the gov't and private sectors, but that will paradoxically just make things worse in the long run as the private sector snaps up all the talent and we end up with a barely-functioning federal bureaucracy.
It's not just a 'perception of gov't incompetence': it's a widespread phenomenon. Government employees tend to excel at working organisational politics (i.e., in serving their organisational customers) rather than in serving their taxpaying customers. Government work is a kind of kabuki theatre, in which everyone agrees to praise the emperor's new clothes and ignore the boy who points out that he's naked.
The unfortunate thing is that government work is really important: it requires the best and the brightest, not the lazy and the uninspired. Patriotism should of course be a sine qua non for the civil service, but so should excellence. We should pay market rates, but we should pay them for market quality.
Raising rates without working to improve quality would mean getting mutton when we pay for lamb.
First of all, let's make sure we look at the full scope of civilian life with a sober eye. Anyone working the counter at your local Post Office could easily work the register at any grocery store in your town. And any medium to large company has plenty of internal politics. Don't make the mistake of comparing the worst case of government to some idealized notion of private enterprise.
Second, take a look at what happens to people who do leave the government. Very often, their salaries go up in the private sector. This is especially true for specialists like the folks who work at the NSA. Seems like they can hack it.
Folks who have not worked for the government, or very close to it, have a hard time comprehending the fundamental differences between government and private enterprise. For one thing, when you work for the government, many rules of your job carry the force of law. Being too flexible might not just get you fired, it might get you prosecuted.
And there are so many rules. I'll give you one example scenario: a person leaves their job, and a subordinate steps up, takes on their workload, and does great.
In a private company, you'd just promote the subordinate. You already know they can do the work, you retain institutional knowledge, and it's easier to hire junior positions. Efficient and effective.
But in most federal agencies that would be illegal, as it might permit some form of corruption. The subordinate would have to keep doing the extra workload, while the supervisor requisitions a new position to replace the old one, and then runs a (highly regulated) open public application process. The subordinate can apply too, of course.
This is not because the supervisor is some terrible inflexible or dumb person. The rules are just stricter and more burdensome in the government than in private enterprise.
Why? Because everyone loves to believe the worst about the government, so it's easy to sell voters on the necessity of a shitload of burdensome rules.
So: if you want people to act smarter in the government, you have to give them permission to act smarter. Firing has little to do with it. You have to give people the opportunity to try things and make mistakes in good faith.
Have you ever worked for government? I'm a civilian contractor in a software architecture role to a public safety agency in a state government. Half the "senior application developers" haven't written code in 15 years and don't know what a unit test is. There are maybe 2-3 individual contributors for each manager. Not team lead, manager, and is in a $105-110k+/yr position that does annual reviews, on call scheduling, etc.
The floor I'm on has 25-35 developers, DBAs, and BAs, and I can count on one hand the number of people who could get hired into a junior technical position at my employer. There are people who are unironically counting the days they have left until they can retire and draw their pension when they have more than 5 years left.
> Anyone working the counter at your local Post Office could easily work the register at any grocery store in your town.
And they'd take a 60% pay cut to do so, wouldn't they? Anyway, this is about folks in technical roles. Running a register and handing out stamps isn't particularly technical.
> Second, take a look at what happens to people who do leave the government. Very often, their salaries go up in the private sector. This is especially true for specialists like the folks who work at the NSA. Seems like they can hack it.
Well that's sort of tautological, isn't it? "The people who get a civilian job are capable of getting a civilian job." These folks are in the "Patriot, not inept" section of the diagram.
> Firing has little to do with it.
Firing has a lot to do. I've spoken candidly about my colleagues here with higher ups in the agency. They've openly bemoaned their inability to fire anyone, especially the people who they know for a fact do nothing all day. Those people are soaking up hundreds of thousands, even millions a year, in taxpayer dollars, doing little work of substance or value, and preventing their positions from being filled by someone capable.
It's like saying "corporate work" instead of "Google work".
State level agencies are obviously going to be low-level dreck. The NSA is completely different, and has some of the smartest people on the planet.
It's intellectually lazy (read: dumb) to apply an anecdote to everything, like saying "black guy committed a crime, therefore ALL black guys are criminals". Be smart and more deliberate, instead of being intellectually lazy.
I've been in enough situations, both in the corporate and government sides, to know that each situation is unique. I worked at/with large companies (Intel, IBM), medium companies (Cadence, ATI), and several small startups, along with government (NSA/other agencies). They all have their own unique properties, and I can't say "huurr durrr government employees are all lazy" when it's obvious they aren't, just by looking at what the NSA does.
It's always fun to see Google introduce a new product that the NSA already made years ago...
>State level agencies are obviously going to be low-level dreck.
However, I know a lot of people who have worked or currently do work in government, up to and including innovation fellows at the federal level.
I think you're responding to a point that I didn't make. I never said that government tech workers are top notch; in fact I know they generally are not.
My point is that even if you could fire anyone with no process, you would still be stuck with the inflexible structure that government tends to impose on any employee. You would still have trouble recruiting. Why aren't you a government employee? Because it would be too hard to get fired there? No, because it's more enjoyable to work in private industry. Me too.
Management basics: you cannot fire your way to success. You have to hire and empower great employees.
Firing is about efficiency; but what customers and stakeholders really want is performance. It's like saying "my car is running out of gas--I better take off the roof rack." Cutting does not provide forward momentum.
Fundamentally, people want to believe that the reason that government sucks, is because government workers suck. The reality is that government sucks because it imposes structural limits on the empowerment of employees, which harms flexibility and recruiting too.
And those structural limits were put in place, because everyone thinks government workers suck! It's a circle of pain.
BTW I would not spend too much time feeling superior to government tech workers. Governments waste a shitload of money on contractors too. And the rest of the tech industry tends to look down on government contractors about the same as government employees.
Yes, I'm still a government contractor because after doing this for 10 years, nobody in private industry will touch me. Once you get that .gov stank on you, it seems nobody else wants you (the polite term is "not a cultural fit", which I've heard over and over and over again) :(
My state starts doling out pensions at 5 years. A friend of mine worked for a state senator in the 90s for 6 years. He's got something like $1200/mo guaranteed during his retirement for 6 years of borderline political work ~25 years ago.
I know it's a politically charged subject but I don't see why from an economic/mathematical perspective it's any better than moving the same investments to the market. Or at least if you're going to keep the pensions, only give them out for full service (20 years) like the military, and make it easier to fire a government worker for poor performance.
I shouldn't be able to sit on my thumbs for a few years and have my mortgage covered by the taxpayers during my retirement.
State pensions are in trouble because govt pensions are allowed to assume overly optimistic rates of return.
Not everybody has family to fall back on in retirement, but we still don't want to let them simply die. So the money has to be given somewhere.
I think you are confusing pensions with social security. Social security already provides that bare minimum mandatory safety net.
I see no real alternative to freedom here. Let people make their own choices. Over the long term you can't really conjure up better investment returns and better retirements for people by decree. The wealth has to be there.
If not, the running out of money part happens either way.
It's worse on average, it's better at minimum (ignoring, for this analysis, municipal bankruptcy)
> My state starts doling out pensions at 5 years. A friend of mine worked for a state senator in the 90s for 6 years. He's got something like $1200/mo guaranteed during his retirement for 6 years of borderline political work ~25 years ago.
Assuming a 2% of highest full years salary per year of service formula at typical retirement age (a fairly generous public, non-safety pension), with 6 years of service that would require a base salary of $120,000 over the highest paid year of those six, that’s—today, not in the 1990s—a fairly senior staff salary for the California State Senate, which has the highest legislator and staff salaries in the nation.
Your description is not necessarily impossible, but it's extremely far from typical.
piling up overtime and sick and vacation days saved over previous years, people are frequently able to 2x and more their salary for pension calculations.
Yes—with a long career over which to save (especially since public employers tend to have vacation allocation which increases with years of service)—and an hourly wage rather than salaried job so that they are eligible for overtime, and participation in one of the systems that hasn't adopted controls to prevent pension spiking, sure.
But not with a 6 year stint in political staff position.
And the "political staff positions" are the in the same state bureaucracy as the other agency employees. They're not treated differently for retirement based solely on the fact that they work for the legislature.
And it's certainly possible to build up a lot of vacation and flex time (not strictly OT but it's still paid out at a reduced rate) in 6 years.
Notice, also, that if you only give pensions for 'full' service (say, 20 years) you create a big incentive for people to stay exactly 20 years ... both people who should leave at 18, but stay 2 more years 'doing time', and people who get screwed because their boss knows they have to stay 2 more years (kind of like H1 abuses). There's no good reason to not make them increase linearly with time.
Institutional investors have access to investment opportunities that individual retail investors don't. Many pension funds are big LPs in VC, PE, and hedge funds.
Because we don't want a race to the bottom?
I'm a government scientist. Maybe I'm biased. But it seems to me that if your government cannot compete for the best and brightest in your country, you are doomed.
Ideally, of course, we'd compensate both secretaries and scientists appropriately. But we don't seem to be able to manage that.
The idea that the little guy needs to be made more financially insecure so those at the top can benefit from something more "financially solvent." This applies to business (less pensions, more dividends and share buybacks) and government (less pensions, lower taxes [for the rich]).
Also, IIRC, private sector pensions are quite common for CEOs and executives. They're only less common for the little guys.
This pretty much sounds like the majority of fortune 500s I've worked for. Software Engineers started by being interviewed by non-technical managers, worked there for 20 years becoming 'Senior' or even 'Enterprise Architects', when at most they'd be very junior or intern level developers / engineers at my current employer.
These things happen everywhere, but in the private sector, that inefficiency only lasts as long as the rest of the company carries it. It's the taxpayer funding and political difficulty in fixing that make the incompetence of government employees more problematic.
I guess you could give up medical care, internet and having an education, but if you're going to do that why not just 'vote with your wallet' with your taxes too and move abroad.
> That's such a load of bullshit.
Assuming you don't know each other and talk this way IRL, then it seems to me a violation of HN guideline 1:
> Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say face-to-face. Don't be snarky. Comments should get more civil and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive.
I once heard some "war stories" from someone who had previously worked in a state government office, about the fistfights that broke out between government employees, and the difficulties in keeping malware off the boss-of-the-boss's computer as he routinely visited NSFW sites on state-owned hardware during the workday. That stuff simply doesn't happen in workplaces where people can easily be fired for gross misconduct.
There's good money to be made in actually doing the work that government employees don't do. And that's why no one close to the matter makes a great deal of fuss about them not doing it. If the work needs to be done, and there is no way to force those nominally responsible for it to actually get it done, they can throw more budget at the problem and get a contractor. If you know enough about the problem to say why the direct employees can't fix it, you also know enough to do it yourself and get paid.
> And they'd take a 60% pay cut to do so, wouldn't they?
I wouldn't say the Post Office worker is overpaid just because of that. Private-sector pay for many such positions is shameful and exploitative.
I think in general large organizations that don't specialize in writing software are often pretty bad at it.
0. CS Commission sets a minimum written score for oral interviews. Score is arbitrary and largely designed to limit number of interviews to an acceptable number (20-30 total per vacancy).
1. Commission asks applicants the same questions, in the same order, asked by the same commissioner. Scores are subjective but on a 1-7 scale.
2. Does the mean score surpass the 60% pass rate? If yes, applicant moves to next step.
3. Does the applicant, in their background investigation or oral interview, admit to any explicitly listed disqualifying acts as listed in the Commission's rules & regulations? If no, applicant moves to next step.
4. The written and oral scores are averaged based on a prescribed weighted formula. This weighted score is 0-100.
5. Is the applicant a veteran? Add a certain number of points.
6. Give the top three names to the hiring body (varies by position).
7. Is a veteran in the top three? Guess what, they get the job no matter what.
This question obviously only applies to a subset of veterans. There's a civilian analog to many military jobs and the military's training and experience in those fields can stand on its own without preferential treatment for the most part.
A combat veteran may make a good post office manager or a good cop but it's probably better off for everyone if he's only given preferential treatment in the latter role.
In practice, the veterans benefit becomes meaningless once you advance in specialist grades (GS-09+). But it will get you the glorious position of elevator operator in Carlesbad.
There's two ways this is true in state and/or federal government:
(1) hiring into specific programs which are essentially designed as welfare hiring programs (these aren't big today, but there are a few of them still.)
(2) special, broadly-applicable civil service hiring preferences (mainly for certain disabilities and military veterans.)
At first I thought the sysadmins were deliberately slow-rolling all of my requests, many of which amounted to running a single UNIX command... turns out they honestly didn't know what they were doing (I asked you to fix the permissions on this directory - 6 weeks ago).
We've gone from:
Me: Can I have sudo privileges so I don't have to bother
Me: Can I have sudo priviliges so I can fix it myself?
Them: What's soo dough?
I'm sure if you trawled through my history you'd be able to piece it together.
1. tolerance to short-term career uncertainty varies greatly between individuals (e.g. changing jobs, moving, having money in the bank to cushion the cashflow turbulence)
2. the gov't largely underpays in dollars in return for high career stability
3. if level of tolerance to short-term disruption is strongly positively correlated to general 'ability', then the government will end up with on average less capable workers
Not saying this is necessarily true, and certain fields are probably exceptions (do people who choose to become cryptographers prefer a quiet peaceful life?) but certainly the movers and shakers of industry are people who can stomach enormous amounts of short term risk.
And there are also heuristic arguments to think (3) might be true on average. Like, if people with more money in the bank can take more short term risks, and it's usually the most capable people with that cash available (because they had more earning power in the past), then 'valuing career stability' might be a negative signal for candidate ability.
The staff of government have to work within whatever decisions get handed down to them from the political process. The political process does not always prioritize staff flexibility and initiative. To the contrary, it's a favorite pastime of politicians to play up public distrust of the government.
In terms of government staff, a lot of people go into the government not because it is generically stable, but because it's the only place you can do certain work. If you want to manage a public park, you have to work for a government. If you want to catch criminals (and your name is not Sherlock Holmes), you have to work for a government. If you want to fly fighter jets, you have to work for a government. If you want to create policy and regulations, you have to work for a government. Speaking of the NSA--if you want to legally hack into a bunch of stuff, you have to work for a government.
In competencies one can do anywhere, like deliveries or contract management, I think you're onto something with your idea of seeking stability.
But I think the attribution might be backward. It's not "the government is made inefficient and inflexible by the lower quality of people who work there." It's more like "the government is made inefficient and inflexible by political law making, which makes it hard to attract the most dynamic people."
Governments don't refuse to fire incompetent people because of "political law making". They refuse because firing people is hard, emotionally draining, legally risky and something that managers will only do when properly incentivised. Without competition or profit there is no incentive to rock the boat and pick a fight at work, so why bother? Some noble idea of higher quality public service? Fat chance.
My point is that in government, there is a hard divide between the people who make the rules, and the people who implement the rules. The people who make the rules are rewarded for distrusting and limiting the capabilities of the staff.
In private industry, it's the opposite. Executives ultimately are judged by the performance of their staff, and they have great flexibility in how they organize and delegate authority down the chain.
Firing is not the key secret to success. Dictators can fire anyone whenever they want, but as you point out, their governments are not necessarily any better, and in many ways worse, than the U.S.
In 23 years in the private sector, I've only once had reason to fire someone because they didn't do their job properly, and I've seen exactly one more developer fired in the companies I've worked in for similar causes.
The thing is, in most cases you can move people "sideways and effectively down" - there are always grunt work that needs to be done where they can do better relative to the role.
I'm not saying that's always done, e.g. if the gap between abilities and performance is huge. But in my experience it usually can.
And often, if things like performance improvement plans doesn't work, it costs less to simply freeze pay etc. for such employees until inflation does its magic and they're no longer expensive for their reduced responsibility or they decide to leave (but such employees often hang on and quietly accepts their diminished responsibility because they realize they were lucky not to get fired).
I don't believe in firing outside of extreme cases, and neither have most of the companies I've worked in, but that's not the same as not being prepared to take action to move people out of roles they're unable to perform well. Personally I see it as a sign of an unhealthy corporate culture and poor hiring if a company need to regularly fire more than a very tiny proportion of employees.
I never said it was. My comparison would be on termination for dissatisfactory work.
Regardless, the attitude that poor performing people can just be reassigned and/or languish seems to be one held exclusively by those working for companies that can absorb waste (or governments). I worked at IBM, I saw it plenty. Peer quality and management's tolerating of low quality work are among the many reasons I left.
But you're telling me and other SMBs that now in my small business of 6 people I can just move people? Or otherwise that I now have an unhealthy corporate culture? Many companies can't afford waste, and as strange as it sounds, can't often afford low-salary, low-skilled labor. Humans are our biggest expenditure, we can't just keep adding indiscriminately even with modest growth lest we hurt our customers with increased prices. Though your intentions and sympathy are admirable, the approach has led to corporate bloat and an inflated supply of employees in the field (at least in software).
My comment applies to that too: One fired out of hundreds of people I've worked with.
It costs money to hire and fire people all the time - most of the time chances are good it's cheaper to shift people around than get rid of someone to hire a replacement.
> Regardless, the attitude that poor performing people can just be reassigned and/or languish seems to be one held exclusively by those working for companies that can absorb waste (or governments).
In my case my career has been almost entirely startups. It's worked fine.
> But you're telling me and other SMBs that now in my small business of 6 people I can just move people?
That's how it's worked in every small company I've worked in.
> Or otherwise that I now have an unhealthy corporate culture?
Yes. I for one - as someone generally seen as high performing - would leave if I found myself in a company where people got fired all over the place. I don't want to work in that kind of toxic environment. As such you're creating additional risks when you keep firing.
> Though your intentions and sympathy are admirable, the approach has led to corporate bloat and an inflated supply of employees in the field (at least in software).
I work in software, and as I mention, I'm not seeing it. What I keep seeing are low performing people who often become good at obscuring how poorly they perform because they know if they stick their head out, they'll face the axe rather than a chance to find a better fit.
And many are very good at it. I've had CV's from people with very distinguished careers that couldn't code fizzbuzz if their life depended on it.
A sign of how dangerous that is, is how often I see people call out e.g. performance improvement plans or training plans as a "trick" that will get you managed out. Because some places they are used mostly to get rid of people rather than to improve people.
It sets up an extremely adversarial environment, and I suspect that given a perpetual lack of understanding of the need to actually provide proper training and support for new managers in tech, that peoples capability to obscure low performance far exceeds managers ability to root it out most places.
what I did see on a major scale was manipulation of the performance system to force people into leaving.
When an employee's performance is actually negative, i.e. they make things worse rather than better e.g. due to personality issues, then moving them around isn't going to work well.
A lot of the time people are just not in the position that's right for them.
And a lot of the time the right position for such a person is in a different company.
If I may posit a third for consideration: for-cause termination is such an insurmountable bureaucratic hurdle that supervisors pragmatically opt to pursue inter/intradepartmental transfer, effectively making the employee "someone else's problem".
And, if the top of the organization is dysfunctional, making termination much easier (especially where 'easier' means 'no obligation to cite justification') just gives the psychos and empire builders more unchecked power.
If termination were easier but 80% based upon a majority of coworkers signing a document stating "this person is not doing their job properly" you could raise accountability and euthanize the empire builders at the same time, but somehow I don't think when they say "it's too hard to fire people" that's what they're aiming for.
Fair enough and thanks for the clarification. In that case, I definitely agree with your perspective, both logically and anecdotally.
These aren't heuristics, they are all speculative. We can speculate many other reasons too:
For example, people value career stability when they have children and other long-term, serious obligations.
Many people work in government because they face discrimination in hiring and promotion in the private sector, such as women and minorities. Even Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg says that's why she ended up in government.
Finally, it may be hard for HN readers to imagine, but most people don't seek the life of an SV entrepreneur. It's not that they would do it if they could and settled for something else; they want something else.
I could add more speculation, but without some data I don't think I'm adding much.
I don’t think this is true anymore, at least in the UK you’re likely to be TUPE’d to Capita or Accenture at the drop of a hat, then laid off in 2-3 years anyway when your job is offshored.
GCHQ has similar problems recruiting. And they also have to contend with the class system, exacerbating it.
You’re not wrong though. I know someone denied an MOD posting because they were Irish and had a chemistry degree.
We’re looking for passionate individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds, who are intuitive and curious about technology, computer networks and security, and want to make a real difference to the UK.
To apply for these roles, you have, or expect to obtain shortly, a degree in any Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths subject or a Bachelor’s or Masters’ degree incorporating ethical hacking, digital forensics or information security. Alternatively, you have a thorough understanding of networks and protocols, including experience of securing and protecting software and networks.
Along with an aptitude for problem-solving, you like to keep up with changing technology, and are able to grasp computing concepts and to apply your knowledge above and beyond academia.
BTW the NSA equivalent does hire school leavers and even advertises on the busses locally as I live in spook county (befordshire)
That is seriously odd assumption. It sounds like confusing "personality trait that appeals to me on emotional level" with ability.
Plenty of inable unstable people around as far as I can tell. Plenty of low ability risk takers too.
I assume the instability appeals to them because they can move on before anyone realises what a pig's ear they have made of everything.
Most of the highly competent developers I have worked with have spent 7 or more years in one organisation.
From my anecdotal experience, therefore, tolerance to short-term disruption is negatively correlated to ability. However, I would be reluctant to make any assertion that links potentially unrelated traits like these.
In my (again, anecdotal) experience, organisations with more stable positions have a greater proportion of people who value that stability for its own sake e.g. those with primary care responsibilities (e.g. for children or disabled dependents); those with voluntary commitments (e.g. scout leaders, special constables); and people who have cause to worry about discrimination (e.g. those from demographics that are poorly represented elsewhere in their profession).
That correlation would be one that I would be slightly more comfortable to assert.
My own experience in the public service was not so much of people unable to do their jobs but people unmotivated by them. My welcoming speech included the warning 'don't get attached to outcomes', and this was in a department disliked by the elected party where a lot of people had already been forced into early retirement.
I think it is rarely that extreme. Preference for stability rarely means complete inability to deal with instable situations. Also, let's not overstate instability of average tech job. It is not that bad.
It's far more typically because of inherited wealth, which has no bearing on ability but is quite often misinterpreted as such.
This above argument could easily be wrong, but assuming that inherited wealth reveals nothing about ability on average seems like a rather strong claim.
Whether it's fair that parents can try to give their children an advantage, of course, is a totally separate question.
Among the flaws with the argument though, are an assumption that he could track the market (or that it would be a good idea), which is a flawed argument because Bogle didn't even start the first index until 1975, and until the 90's index funds had a reputation of being terrible. It was an undeserved reputation, but the idea of dumping hundreds of millions into an index was just unheard of.
Again, it's also an issue that there was no way to track the market prior, so what was he to do with the money from the age of 18-28? There's also the issue of the article I read assumes the absolute minimum value it could find for the value of Trump's brand.
While I think Trump valuing it in the billions is absurd, so is stickering it at $30 million, even before the election. It seems in bad faith to me to choose the weakest possible version of the thing you are arguing against, especially if that's the only possible way to make the math work out.
There's also a fundamental difference between you being cavalier with your money, and me being cavalier with our money.
Being tax payer funded changes accountability, investment horizons, and access to capital. The CEO of Twitter gets to put whoever he wants in wherever, and eats the costs if it works bad, but to ensure responsible fiduciary practices with our collective wealth we, the taxpayers, demand less aggressive and efficient practices to limit corruption and incompetence.
This is a conscious social decision, to move slower and more carefully, and will hopefully be minimized with increasingly robust Civic Tech. Alternative federal structures would historically point towards oligarchies and widespread corruption.
The difference is that when a company takes your dollars and put it towards their new SAP system to hopefully upgrade their shitty web services, wasting $100 million, you don't fell you have any agency over what happens at all.
On the other hand, when the government invests money in a huge SAP project that then fail, you do feel entitled to rage about it, since there are actual ways you could have acted to prevent this waste (convoluted that the process may be).
But the money the government owns isn't yours in any real sense, since most of it is unaffected by any formal action you can take. In fact, you might in practice be more in control, by the avenue of complaints and media campaigns, of money you've given to private enterprises. At least on the extremes, it is certainly easier to get your favourite pub to buy new lamps than getting the Army to get some new artillery.
Not for me, I moved to London as soon as I graduated, but later moved back to a medium sized city, as a compromise.
That "someone else" is often a hardworking, loyal employee who does their best to earn their pay (thank you, to those people!!). But their attitude is ground down over time by watching those other people do literally nothing, and eventually get promoted "because seniority."
So I fundamentally disagree with your premise that you could transplant that population into a business. I'm certainly familiar with freeloads in business, but I'd struggle to come up with an example company where 1/5 or more of employees do no work at all over multiple decades and then retire with a pension.
I disagree that firing isn't a big part of it, but you can't just have more firing. You need to let managers do their jobs in a way that isn't just following a checklist in a binder, which also involves hiring latitude, pay latitude, etc. All stuff that could be abused, but some abuse is better than uniform shit quality at high expense.
One easy example from both government and big industry: how much money do we spend on sending people to get mediocre extra degrees from mediocre schools that don't actually have anything to do with their job responsibilities but is a requirement for a certain promotion level?
Much of the information in there carries the force of law; that is, a hiring supervisor cannot legally deviate from the process even if they think it is dumb and hurting their chances of getting the best candidate.
My example of the subordinate who can't just get promoted has happened to two personal friends who work for the federal government (both of whom have graduate degrees in their field of work BTW). To be clear, there are "promotions" in federal pay, from say a GS-9 to GS-10. I'm talking about a promotion into a different position, like from a specialist to a manager (to use generic example terms).
I wouldn't claim that the government has the best of the best across the board. In some areas they do, like fighter pilots or criminal investigators. In others, they generally don't, like web application developers.
What I disagree with is the idea that the government is full of incompetent people, who just need to get fired for things to speed up and get better. It ignores the reality of how the government really works, and therefore who joins the government and why.
Because most high quality employees don't want to work somewhere where low quality is rewarded.
Nobody said it's full of incompetent people that need to get fired. But they are there as they are everywhere. I disagree with the idea that getting rid of lower quality employees won't help. It ignores the reality of quality disparity and implicitly encourages low quality due to no accountability.
It should be noted this same problem exists at many entrenched, older, large companies as well.
Have you ever worked or contracted for the government? Are you trying to say they're not incompetent? I'm just wondering which division of NASA you worked for.
Well, all other things being equal they wouldn't. We cannot infer that those who are civic minded are more/less competent from that though.
In practice there are numerous reasons why highly talented people are willing to sacrifice from organizational flexibility and freedom of expenditure work in those organizations. The easy one is meaning. You don't have to be civic minded to get more out of helping cancer researchers get research data than making Accounting Excel Plugin v12.3. Variety and scope of challenge is another. Few companies can offer the kind of influence that being on a national standards org can. And since the gov can't really be salary competitive, it tends to compete on work/life balance - pensions, paid vacation, flexitime, sane office hours, no unpaid time on-call over weekends, etc...
For people like us though the answer is even clearer: cool toys. Oak Ridge National Laboratory works at scales so large I've literally had to google what the metric prefixes they were using meant as they were so huge as to be unfamiliar. Data centers, tools, software packages, etc chosen for cost and market fairness, and not just because some VPs golf buddy got wood from a slide deck...
Me, personally, like many here could be making roughly an extra car a year by working at RandomConsulting Co. I would wake up earlier, yell at my family more, be sitting in random office environments with smelly people constantly, lie-smiling while blowing smoke up customer asses in dumb meetings routinely, travelling 15 hours more every single week, be in airports all the time, and fundamentally trying to trick customers into building my resume while also being forced to follow their crappy tech choices and crappy tech environments...
Instead I'm building highly scalable open source, license free, BigData solutions on Kafka, Kubernetes, and Akka driven by F#. We're saving stupid money we get to use for schools and hospitals instead. I can tell my boss to suck an egg if I want, wear comfy clothes, and there are formal processes in place to protect my decision-making... Worth the financial "hardship" to have a pure, tech-driven, position, IoW.
If allowing those things results in a net better experience than forbidding them, maybe they aren't really problems after all. Maybe favoritism & nepotism, in particular, are good ways (within limits) to build strongly-functioning teams.
There is no comparable position in the private sector (there isn't even a comparable position in different land agencies), and there is no way you could pick someone off the street and expect them to be versed in that legislation without a similar timeframe (and no agency will ever foot the bill to train you on it either. They'll just leave the position empty and the work to pile up for years or decades until a similarly skilled person becomes available).
Unfortunately, the biggest issue that this particular agency is facing has been a multiple-decade campaign to hire externally to the agency rather than promoting internally. The result has been a body of upper management from the public sector that neither understands said legislation or how it applies.
I worked at NASA for 6 years and almost fell out of my chair when I read this. Switching from NASA to Google was the most stark contrast of incompetent people late in their careers having political infights to keep "their" funding to people who didn't care about funding and just did the fucking work.
I can think of 10 people I worked with at NASA who absolutely could never hold a professional position in a place that requires revenue or useful contributions.
I'm not aware of any scientific studies, but I spent a decade on active duty, and seven years as a reservist so far. When it came to technical jobs, almost everyone was terrible at their job, which was usually an incredibly narrow and overly simplified version of what the job would actually be in the civilian world. Everything is compartmentalized to the point where even if you excel at your individual responsibilities, you would still be terrible in the broader field. Almost every marketable skill I learned during my time in the military was something I did on my own time that was completely unrelated to my day job.
After I left the military and transferred into a different kind of technical role, eventually I started helping with interviews. 15-20-year government service veterans with incredible resumes and sr. titles are regularly found to be unfit for even an entry level job.
There are exceptions, but the rule in the military is incompetence. Its not that there's something inherently wrong with people, its just that the military recruits intelligent people, trains them very poorly, and then never lets them do anything remotely interesting or challenging. They just follow whatever steps they were told to complete in training over and over again for the rest of their careers.
As with anything, there are exceptions. Some tiny parts of the military do interesting work and have developed a culture that's reasonably conducive to innovation and fostering talent. From what I've heard, parts of the NSA used to be like this, but the lack of ethics among the organization's senior leadership ended up being partially responsible for the reorganization. Additionally, there are other people that manage to become really good at something in spite of being constantly strangled by the government's attempts to hold them back. Some of the most brilliant people I've ever met started out in the military, but the overwhelming majority of people that serve in technical roles are unfit to do anything besides put asses in seats for the defense contracting industry (which 95% of the time isn't any more capable of specialized technical work than the military).
Not really. Don't get me wrong: I like the people in our post office. But they'd be killed in the private sector.
At my local grocery store (Safeway), they'll add a new cashier if the line becomes long. The Post Office? Nope! During busy times, I've seen the line go beyond 15 or 20, and there's this only 1 slow clerk taking his time, chit-chatting, in no hurry at all.
Or the DMV. Visit the SF DMV if you want to see government at "work".
> At my local grocery store (Safeway), they'll add a new cashier if the line becomes long. The Post Office? Nope! During busy times, I've seen the line go beyond 15 or 20, and there's this only 1 slow clerk taking his time, chit-chatting, in no hurry at all.
Because Safeway has enough manpower to do that.
> Or the DMV. Visit the SF DMV if you want to see government at "work".
I've actually been reasonably satisfied with the approach the CA DMV takes, which is to do everything possible to make people not have to visit the DMV in person. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy online driver's license renewal was (they even had a mobile version).
I'd take the USPS over, say, the customer service experience on the US legacy airlines any day.
I can assure you, the cashiers at Safeway make significantly less money than the USPS staff. And accounting for guaranteed pensions, even more so. Most are minimum wage employees with no job security.
And to answer your speculation: there are employees at the Post Office. You can see them through the doors.
And finally: why isn't the office staffed properly, given that these holidays like Christmas aren't exactly new and unforeseen?
I'm personally just fine with paying the postal workers a living wage, even if it means the lines are a bit longer.
It pays about the same as a retail job ($12/hr & 30hr/wk starting in my state) but you get to deal with infinitely worse clientele -- that never follow simple directions, thus need to come back three times, more pissed each time. There's rarely any downtime, as the lines are 30+ people long and every terminal is full.
Additionally, due to bad pay, they have high turnover. And because the state is cheap, no sane person would open an new franchise because they don't make money unless the line is packed out the door.
Well obviously. If the employee is competent, then of course they are more likely to leave. This exact method of adverse selection, where the good people leave, is the exact problem.
It's not a given that this is better (or worse) in private companies than government overall.
That said, I think the difficulty--or at least the consequence of the difficulty--is exaggerated. As a practical matter every large organization must contend with red tape, much of it self-imposed. Most government agencies, much like most corporations, impose more red tape than the applicable law necessarily requires. Consistency and repeatability demand process. Red tape is merely an epithet for process that appears wasteful, especially out of context.
IMO, government salaries suck because of the politics: Congress is more likely to increase expenditures if that money is laundered^Wfiltered through private contractors. Bureaucratic inefficiency is just a convenient narrative for why Congress prefers outsourcing. Over the past 50 years almost all the increase in expenditures for Federal work has gone to private contractors. The size of the federal civil service has increased by about 20-30% since the 1960s, but budgets have increased several times that.
 See, e.g., https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/omb... from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/omb/budget/Historicals
Anything the government does is a Due Process issue. Due Process is a very complicated subject, but fundamentally the issue is this: the Federal government is composed of three separate, co-equal branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. At a very basic level and with rare exception (i.e. national security), Due Process means that the government (here, the executive branch) must be accountable; that is, anything the executive branch does which might deprive someone of a right must be reviewable for legality by the courts in case a person wants to challenge the action. If the executive didn't have some affirmative burden to justify, a priori, its actions, then except for the most gross violations the courts would be relegated to rubber stamping executive decisions. In other words, when the legal justifications for executive action are hidden from the courts, the executive is effectively usurping the power of the courts to decide on the constitutionality of government actions.
Reviewable means that there has to be a paper trail documenting the reasons for an action, such that a court can reasonably conclude that an action was a lawful exercise of power. Even when the executive has wide latitude, it typically must still document why it made a particular decision. If an action is not properly reviewable, often times the courts will restore the status quo ante as the courts will not assume that the action was legal merely on the say-so of the executive. How this plays out depends on context.
When courts say that someone has a "property interest" in their Federal employment, they're alluding to a set of relatively high legal standards that must be met before the government can take away certain pre-existing benefits. (They're not alluding to the Takings Clause.) You also have a "property interest" in granted Social Security benefits. Some Due Process contexts have less strict standards for reviewability (i.e. for a detention or arrest often all the courts expect--or could ever expect--is an officer's stated justification), and some contexts have higher standards (administrative agencies like the FCC, particularly ones with significant discretion, often have to document in exacting and excruciating detail their reasons for instituting or changing a rule.)
But Due Process is a fundamental (if not the fundamental) principle in Anglo-American law--that the government must be able to account for its action such that they can be reviewed for legality by courts. This is an affirmative burden, and was the very first limit on power imposed on the sovereign. (See, e.g., the Magna Carta.) Because it's so fundamental you cannot simply remove this burden altogether. Historically and conceptually it's the one restraint from which all the other restraints on government power flow. It's most important to safeguard whenever a lone individual is subject to government discretion; and especially in such cases it's really difficult to craft exceptions that don't swallow the rule or which migrate to other contexts. Normally when the government tries to game the courts by relying on legal technicalities, the courts can, theoretically at least, see through the ruse and change how the law should be applied by resorting to the underlying substantive facts. But when you weaken Due Process you weaken the court's ability to see and consider the substantive facts, thus you weaken their power to restrain the government categorically.
This is entirely unlike the private sector. In the private sector there is no such underlying affirmative burden wrt reviewability. Corporations can and do destroy paper trails, such as by requiring employees to discard documents older than a year or two. Unless they're knowingly (more or less) destroying evidence of a crime, and not violating some specific legislation regarding record keeping (e.g. the relatively recent Sarbanes-Oxley), it's perfectly legal even though the reasons for doing this are exactly to make it prospectively more difficult to hold them accountable in any future court case. Due Process, like Free Speech, is about restraining the government. It has nothing to do with private behavior, per se. So, for example, when you speak of Due Process in the context of a private civil suit, the issue is preventing the court (i.e. the government) from acting capriciously or favoring one litigant over another, and Due Process rules apply to litigants only in so far as they're necessary to properly restrain and channel the power of the court. But generally speaking, unless and until a court or other government actor becomes involved, principles of Due Process are irrelevant to the private actors.
I don't know if this is a problem in the US, but something else worth mentioning is that for many jobs, public sectors pay much more (higher pay, better pensions, more sick leave, better job security, ...). So it isn't just about firing people for incompetence. 
If the govt should be increasing pay to match market rates, then it should also be decreasing pay to match market rates.
With respect to STEM career fields, that's a gratuitous no.
For an idea of what a grunt GS-12/13 engineer's salary in Silicon Valley (highest locality adjustment in the country) looks like, see ; management is at GS-14/15 level. For the sake of completeness, other locality rates can be found here. Keep in mind that it takes 18 years to progress from Step 1 to Step 10. Not all federal organizations apply the GS scale (the NSA may be one), but they don't deviate far from it either.
This is true in some cases, but not all. I was hired at the GS-11/2 level without any prior government/military experience. A coworker of mine worked as a contractor for a few years, and was hired as a GS-15 last year. This is all in Silicon Valley (although he has a tech background, while I do not).
If your colleague was hired into GS-15 Step 1, then it would still take this person the same 18 years to progress up the ladder to Step 10, assuming no irregular increases in pay.
If coming from private industry, entry step is often negotiable; prior industry salary serves as basis, so it wouldn't surprise me if this person started at Step 10 (not that it matters after Step 5 based on Bay Area locality).
In any case, GS-15 is a management position.
Who is the Fraser Institute? Looking at their website, they seem to turn out libertarian and conservative arguments. For example, playing down income inequality, complaining about difficult investing in oil and gas, "Top 20 per cent of families pay 56 per cent of all taxes in Canada", etc. Wanting to reduce public sector pay would fit with that.
Better ignore everything they say, then!
> Top 20 per cent of families pay 56 per cent of all taxes in Canada
If that's wrong, then why not cite why? If it's correct, I suspect there's a good reason for it (e.g. progressive tax structures work and are objectively a good thing for society).
Choosing to talk about what the rich pay, rather than how they have siphoned wealth from society (i.e. how much of their ill gotten gains should they be allowed to keep, rather than how much do they give) is not a "fact" even if it is a true statement, it is a political position, a rhetorical strategy, and a framing device -- it is an assault on your brain, an attempt to trick you into accepting a conservative frame covertly without being honest about it: "I'm just stating facts, what's wrong with that?" Well, everything is wrong with that. There are trillions of facts yet they state this one. For a reason, obviously.
You can reconstruct perfectly an ideological argument (of any ideology) based only on the sequence of facts they choose to present.
Who did JK Rowing rob to get her money?
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has done its own reports on this .
This also seem to be true in the UK, but at least there they say the gap is closing .
The IFS report says what I've also observed and what this  economist article states:
"Wage differentials are relatively small in the public sector. Lower-level workers, such as secretaries, are usually better paid than their private-sector equivalents, whereas higher-level workers are worse paid."
I worked in military medicine, and the IT department at one of the hospitals was entirely staffed with (in some cases well-meaning), but wildly unqualified staff.
Mostly this was people who were previously department secretaries and who turned out to be just generally incompetent, unmotivated or abrasive. As they couldn't be fired, they were promoted to IT. It was a dumping ground.
Their "Database Administrator" literally didn't know what SQL was and that's how it was for everything. One of them told me to my face (I was a contractor there to train them on an app): "I'm only going to be here for 5 more years, so I don't really want to learn all this."
In my limited experience this depends on the area. For example I know scientists who work for the government because environment and policy is their passion and for better or worse the EPA is/was the place to be. First choice not second.
But I've also met developers that work for state government and... I don't think they could handle a private industry job for the most part.
The southern states where I grew up and went to college both lauded people who were able to secure government jobs. No matter how grueling or toxic a work environment becomes and no matter how inefficient workers become -- everyone stays in those jobs for the pension.
In cities and areas where education in literacy is higher it's as if the market "pushes" that desire out, and the perception around having a government job is largely negative (excluding contractors).
I wish there were a way to increase competition for gov jobs and change the perception of them without resorting to privatization.
With the government, your target market is every citizen (plus visitors, immigrants, etc.). The private sector has to create its market by providing a product or service, whereas the government is obligated to provide some products and services.
What incentive is there for government to squander talent and keep itself workforce weak?
Politicians' incentives are not to create effective government, but to keep getting elected. Having an ineffective government satisfies their financiers' desire to have less competition for top talent, and gives politicians an easy problem to campaign on fixing during election season, by never targeting the real problems.
Break some windows so you can claim credit for trying to fix them, and then blame the opposition when it doesn't work. It's a game where everyone wins, except the dupes that keep voting for them.
How do you know? I know a couple of talented, hard working statisticians that work for the census. They tell me a lot of good work gets done there. Well, at least until this year when they have suffered complete demoralization after a Trump political appointee crashed their china shop.
ISTM Trump governs exactly like any other republican would govern, which is nearly the same as any democrat would govern. His vilification and resulting election are a property of the media/content landscape more than they are due to anything particular about him. I stand by my initial impression, that the "problem" is that Trump is an asshole.
You've just described every large institution I've ever worked for.
IME, large companies that were well insulated from competition were way more dysfunctional than the government, too.
So you are saying that government employees are greater at serving the people who actually matter. Not the people who should matter, but the people who do.
Imagine a startup that focused on its customers' customers (maybe once or twice more removed) instead of the people paying it. Would anyone be surprised if it gets out competed by a different startup focusing directly on their customers, even if at the cost of their customers' customers?
This isn't unique to government. I've seen private organizations where employees will make choices that benefit their own department at the cost of the overall organization. I sometimes wonder if a natural selection-esque drive behind this is the reasons that inefficiency grows as organizations grow.
> We should pay market rates, but we should pay them for market quality.
I think this would fix a lot of problems, but implementing it is going to be a nightmare because it isn't just the rank and file employees who you need to do this for. You almost have to start at the top, and from what little I've worked with governments, you are looking as a massive cycling of employees and a large loss of institutional knowledge. Also, given that much of how any government agency works is dictated by some of the same people who would be replaced under this, you are looking at having to pay people much more than even going market rate because of the extra costs of working the position.
For example, hiring good government IT is not just going to mean having to pay market wages, but also having to account for paying people to work in dead languages and eldritch abominations built by poorly managed contractors who often still have rights to the software that prevent the government employees from doing major changes (lots of contract security).
I think that any large bureaucracy, including ones in big corps, attract people like this.
This is certainly true of my last employer. Let's just say it's a famous Fortune 500 company, in heavy industry.
I have seen a great many people promoted to their level of incompetence.
I had the combination of having good technical skills but terrible organizational political skills.
This company currently has a director of Cyber Security who doesn't know what ICMP is or why it's not feasible to block all ICMP traffic on internal firewalls & switches.
Having no technical abilities but outstanding political skills have served her well.
Maybe some groups within the NSA need the best and brightest, but the government in general doesn't. A lot of government work concerns accounting and administrative tasks that are neither intellectually challenging nor do they have a clearcut equivalent in business. Most government agencies cannot be run like businesses, because there either is no market to speak with or the markets for their 'products' are not free and open.
All you need is people who get their work done.
> but we must also make it easier to fire people (or manage them downwards) for incompetence
That only works if you start at the very top. If you get what I mean.
Is there any basis for this claim and the others? It's repeated by many, but that doesn't make it so. It doesn't describe the people I know that work in government.
No, they don't. Billing rates are fixed based on the experience and education levels of the people working on the contract. If the government says they won't pay more than, say, $250/hour for a security expert that is all the contractor is going to get, and that in turn limits the amount the contractor can make. Pay at government contractors is better than the government itself, but it is still shit compared to the rest of the tech industry. This is particularly true when you look at variable compensation (which is virtually nonexistent in government contractor land).
The employee’s compensation is more about the number of pimps^H subcontractors between him and the contract.
Another example are service based contracts where the government pays a fixed price for delivery of one or more outputs. Those outputs might just happen to align with what particular employees do. These things are generally aligned to make the contractor more money vs the employee. But the employees are well compensated, and the overall deal is good enough that they don’t lose a lot of talent.
I'm not talking about consulting, I'm talking about standard T&M contracts. There is a limit to how much an individual can be billed out for, which by necessity limits their compensation. As for what people are billed at, the government auditors require proof of credentials and experience.
> Another example are service based contracts where the government pays a fixed price for delivery of one or more outputs. Those outputs might just happen to align with what particular employees do. These things are generally aligned to make the contractor more money vs the employee. But the employees are well compensated, and the overall deal is good enough that they don’t lose a lot of talent.
This generally happens at small contractors for small contracts. Contracts so small the big boys wouldn't even notice their existence (assuming they even qualify to bid). The vast majority of people working for government contractors are not in this position.
Which means that your managers are still getting paid civil servant wages, no matter how well paid the contractors working under them are. Consider how well run a tech firm would be if it paid less and less competitive salaries the higher up in management you go.
(Assuming 40h per week, 47 weeks per year because systematic staff shortage and EU-duration holidays because that’s what I’m used to).
$250/hr billed usually results in $125-140/hr in the contractor's pocket, and $110-125/hr for the place that sent them out.
My sources are VPs from some of the large contingency recruiters, founders of some mid-range consulting shops (~500 person headcount), and having to help run a smaller consulting shop (~20 employees) in the past before going fully independent.
As for the rest, I am not talking about consulting-style contracts where a company is billing out people individually. I'm talking about contracts for development of bespoke systems, provide specific services, and so on.
When Raytheon gets a contract, they get it to build X. They need to account for the work, and the amount they get paid for labor is the number of recorded hours times the agreed-upon rate for that specific type of labor. There is frequently also a soft cap on the number of hours that can be billed in specific periods. The billed rate covers not only the employee salary but also benefits, overhead, and profit.
So for instance, if, within a given discipline like "security", there are 6 experience levels (1 = fresh-out undergrad, 6 = most senior), and within those, 4 maturity levels (20th thru 80th percentile, say), then the 80th percentile of, say, level 5, will be a very high rate.
Because it's HN, and the comments above were referring to boutique security consultants ("top NSA specialists work[ing] for contractor firms"), I assumed that's who we're talking about. Cybersecurity, especially, has become a domain where institutional constraints have been lifted in the last few years - it requires less on-paper experience to get up to the "level 5" above.
On the other hand, and in agreement with your comment, the aggregate labor rate for a large contract (I'm sure $1B qualifies) could not be too out of whack with industry norms, and this would be a significant constraint on rates.
NSA leadership has clearly acknowledged the impediment:
The big change these days is there’s a supply-demand imbalance between the outside and the inside
Total compensation for [SV and other cities that tech start-ups call home] jobs can reach $200,000 or more, meaning even relatively junior cyber professionals in the industry can make more than top officials at the NSA.
We have some of the best talent in our country. We pay them less, but a lot of people prefer working in the public sector for a variety of reasons. Some are idealists who want to build a better society, others like the flexible hours and the paid sick leave for their children, others again like the relative stability or safety or the fact that they get to work on big projects.
I think the bad image comes from the fact that our scandals are public. When the banking sector does a big project that fails you typically won't hear about it. When the government fails, you'll be reading news articles, blogposts and the likes as well as having researchers from prominent universities trying to pour their take on what the government needs (typically to ask said researchers).
The public sector does fail more though. I think there was a study in the 00's that showed around 75% failures on major IT systems in the private sector and around 85-90% in the public sector. But then we have to digitize an un-digitizable law, so I think this is only natural.
In my municipality we don't do complete failures often, but we don't always succeed in implementing as successful as we wanted, leading to a lack of benefit realization.
That being said, we operate around 370 different systems 50-70 of which we've build ourselves, and most of these are working fine.
I think I'm a nice example. I get headhunter a lot, and I could be making a lot more money in the private sector, but I prefer the public sector because I have Children and since my job comes with paid lunch breaks I work two and a half hours less per week. On top of that, I'm not expected to work 40-50 hours a week despite being in management. I sometimes still do, but then it's typically for interesting projects such as heading the digital voter registration process during elections.
This may be very different in America, but I suspect that the NSA would be able to attract the best of the best on image alone.
NSA has a booth and so does In Q Tel and a few others, but these are very sparsely attended. Where you'll see a line of 200+ for Facebook and maybe 1 person for NSA by accident sort of thing.
A number of the 3 letter agencies have very nice job propositions (you really can do work you can't do anywhere else) but their processes and bureaucracy (not to mention pay etc) really leave quite a bit to be desired.
For example a number of the NSA Presidential Fellows are ridiculously amazing, but for some reason (maybe my lack of exposure) I've not found them to stay in their role, or to necessarily be super positive about it.
Similarly when we were getting offers even with a lot of the red tape out of the way (e.g. already having a high level clearance), it would take months for paperwork - in the meantime you could get a few offers and deadlines for many of the well known companies.
Again similarly there were likely a handful that went to these agencies over the last 6yr and they were never our best + brightest; if you were drawn to that sort of work it made more sense to do a PhD with a NDSEG/NSF fellowship and do an internship at one of the military labs/NSA then to spend years there.
I worked for a well known (in this area) science non-profit agency, and while we did attract good talent, after I moved to the private sector (and literally earning twice the salary) that I found much more brilliant people working at the high paid private sector jobs.
So while I agree that public sector jobs can attract good people, I think that most of the best people are in the private sector where they can earn more money.
I have the opposite perception about this in the US: government jobs seem to be 'butt at desk 9-5' where private sector provides the opportunity for flexibility.
Having worked in public sector (for a small gov't agency in NYC), I know for the fact that most voters or taxpayers don't hear much about most of botched projects or millions of dollars wasted extravagant IT purchases that incompetent gov't career bureacrats make. Or why the last president of my organization was "forced" to resign years ago after a major IT f'up. Normally, there would be no firing, but the scale of the f'up was so gross that the president had to resign, but, despite his public standing as the head of the second largest library system in the country (funded by taxpayers and private donors), nobody got to hear what really happened.
I have a friend who worked for the NSA. We had a heart to heart over drinks about a year ago. She asked what I thought about her working there. I responded, honestly, that if I didn't know her personally I'd be starting to wonder if she was, for whatever reason, unable to pass muster at Google et cetera. Not the best decision to drop that after a day of drinking together. But I'm glad I did--it was apparently the nudge she needed to quit.
Going to work and feeling like you're working on secret, cutting edge kit with the smartest people in the country is tremendously important to many people. The NSA lots its veneer of whiz kids confidentially cracking codes for good with Snowden. It now feels like another federal bureaucracy.
Postscript: She now works in the private sector and is thrilled with how much closer to her intelligence her new colleagues are. If you work for the NSA and are not a numpty, you're selling yourself short.
the NSA is a bit overhyped there
If you're newer than 3 years at facebook or google, there's no way in hell you're going to have any work life balance. And even if you make it past the 3 year mark, it still depends on which team your on.
So she stopped being an indirect servant of popular will, and started selling ads. Great.
> She now works in the private sector and is thrilled with how much closer to her intelligence her new colleagues are.
Not only richer, but less moral and more likely to pat herself on the back. Even better.
You do realize Google does more than sell ads, right? Search and Maps alone are tremendously useful tools, not to mention the dozens, hundreds of other products. Drive, Docs, Photos...
Proftable? Not so much.
Google is a surveillance company that currently makes money off ads, and gathers data through Maps, Search, Drive, Docs, Photos... Think about what happens when the current ad bubble pops.
The fact that it is legal for them to do this is the problem, obviously.
For example, the government argues to this day that it is ok to do drag net collection of phone meta data.
Having access to every single person that you have called, counts as spying in my book, even if they aren't listening in to the conversations specifically.
I certainly agree with you regarding previous handling of phone metadata, among other issues such as secret interpretations of law, but I was satisfied by changes/fixes made in the USA Freedom Act. What current issue are still outstanding which you believe need to be addressed? (Serious, I like to learn and would be great to know if I am missing something).
What claim don't you think is true? Was the NSA not indiscriminately scooping up and querying communications between US citizens?
Correct. That would be a very big deal in my opinion. After reading through the hundreds of source documents leaked by Snowden, I did not find evidence of any sort of mass collection on US persons. Only foreign collection, which is the job of a spy agency (Perhaps plenty of ethical arguments there of course, but that is besides the matter of USPI collection/reporting).
You break the HN guidelines quite a bit like this, so we'd appreciate it if you'd clean up your act.
The problem is that a normal tax payer doesn't interact with the R&D scientific side of the government. To them, their local BMV office (state govt) is representative of the entire (state+federal) government bureaucracy. When reports of government pay leading/lagging private industry come out, their first thought is that BMV worker, not the PhD engineer building mine sweeping robots.
The federal government doesn't make this any better by keeping NASA on GS tables. If NASA made the jump off the GS system (the Air Force and other DoD agencies have with lab-demo ), I think it would go a long way in separating scientist/engineer salaries from bureaucrat salaries. Once the separation is in place, you'd think it would be easier for the R&D pay tables to get higher bumps than the normal GS tables. OPM does have special pay tables for engineers at the lower end of the GS spectrum  so there is some precedent for giving scientists/engineers pay priority.
The talks of a federal pay freeze in 2019 have not helped morale at all for the younger S&Es I know. It's miserable to get a 1.85% COLA increase when your peers get a 7-10% raise. Patriotism only carries you so far and it seems like the NSA is figuring this out the hard way.
$166k/year isn't bad, by any means. But it isn't competitive for a PhD scientist or engineer with equivalent experience.
In Georgia we have the DOT that handles road construction etc..., and the Department of Driver Services that handles drivers licenses.
You’re right, state bureaucracy is confusing!
I honestly don't understand why someone would work for the NSA given the choice.
Believing in what the organization does (which could include several different narratives about why its work is good and/or legitimate and/or necessary)
Recruitment via channels that civilian firms aren't using and offering people an educational and career path they didn't expect to have
Recruitment via family, friend, and teacher channels
Wanting to get to know lots of secrets
Wanting to work with smart people
Wanting to work with fancy hardware (for some subspecialties)
Wanting to have one's unusual abilities appreciated and put to use
Wanting to be paid to work on cryptography at all before the 1980s
Wanting to be in a spy movie/novel
Wanting to get to perform real attacks against real people and organizations and not go to prison for it
I know I've met people in all of the first three categories, and I imagine I've met people in the other categories and not known it.
A bit tongue in cheek, but that's the people NSA should least want. They should be looking for those who want to know only the minimum amount of secrets to get their job done.
> Wanting to have one's unusual abilities appreciated and put to use
That's a hard too I'd imagine. I wonder if many end up going in thinking they'd be writing kernel exploits all day and end up twiddling excel spreadsheets or porting a bunch of scripts from python 2.4 to 2.6 once they pass the clearance process. It's not something they could check in advance and not something they could advertise much if they want to tell others when they look for employment elsewhere.
> Wanting to be in a spy movie/novel
Wonder how much the recruitment appeals to those tendencies. Just like with wanting to know secrets bit. They probably really don't want people who think themselves as James Bond. Though when recruiting college kids, I could see them pulling a bait-and-switch.
> Wanting to get to perform real attacks against real people and organizations and not go to prison for it
That's a tough one as well. If there is a desire and tendency to attack real people and organizations, there are probably red flags to look for in there as well. Did they already attack? Did they break the law? Did it bother them that they broke the law? Will they continue to break rules and possibly leak classified info...
> I know I've met people in all of the first three categories, and I imagine I've met people in the other categories and not known it.
Yeah I was offered something like that from a teacher in college. But I was an international student so it didn't possible.
To your attack point, when I was in the Marine Corps, one of my drill instructors said something to the effect of "You know why I joined the Marine Corps? Because it's one of the only jobs where you can legally kill a [expletive]." He didn't work in intelligence before coming to Parris Island but did have an active Secret clearance. Some people are just psychopaths and that doesn't necessarily preclude them from a security clearance. And there are plenty of folks who simply want to fight the enemies of $COUNTRY and aren't necessarily psychopaths because of it.
How confident are you that he actually earnestly meant this? I've heard DIs / SOI instructors say things like that on several occasions, but it was all pretty clearly within the context of trying to be "motivating"....they didn't come across as actually psychotic.
If that's their idea of "motivational speaking", there's a whole new set of problems.
Could be yeah. I guess was thinking of TAO mostly where say someone would be working on accessing Juniper routers and that's all they know. They can't be going around browsing through all the programs and capabilities.
> And there are plenty of folks who simply want to fight the enemies of $COUNTRY and aren't necessarily psychopaths because of it.
Agreed. I meant "red flag" in way that it should be look at more in depth. It could be they are driven by patriotism or they just like to break rules and get a high from that.
Rosa Park consequences went well beyond being arrested for one night. I am pretty sure she would prefer if she had the option to escape them - she did not. Altrough she did eventually left the city, due to consequences imposed on her there.
But more importantly, the concept of patriotism is orthogonal.
I was amused by this as I have worked in a lot of DoD environments where a tie is "overdressed" and makes others uncomfortable. Likewise for a lot of environments where the uniform is a hoodie.
also NSA Intern/FT pay was much much lower. I'm not sure where you're seeing that they match
The top pay was 150k so that closely matches Amazon new grad offer of 145k which is what my comment was responding too.
There is a type of work and a class of problems that can only be legally pursued in a federal agency like the NSA.
A little off topic observation here, but people who can't handle adhering to a business professional dress code are exhibiting a low resilience personality. Not a good thing.
Not to mention the reality that a button down shirt, slacks and a tie, when properly fitted, are not constrictive at all.
Show up in such an environment wearing a suit and see how much your self-expression is valued.
LOL @ the idea of anyone in private industry giving me the opportunity to do that.
These are some of the smartest, yet most normal people in the world. They don't go apeshit about free food or Silicon Valley startups. You'll never get fired, and you can raise a family perfectly fine, especially with the great schools in the area. After about $70k in salary, people are generally happy anyways. They're perfectly happy with dealing with pure tech challenges, because it's interesting to them.
It should also be clear that the NSA does everything per law. The NSA doesn't spy on US citizens. Remember the Snowden leaks revealed filters that removed US citizens communications. Why would a TOP SECRET program have filters to remove US citizens communications if they were trying to skirt the law?
I can't recommend the NSA enough. NSA caused me to understand that nothing is impossible and that everything in tech is small stuff and manageable. After the NSA, I rapidly did impossible things. (want me to list them?) I honestly don't understand why anyone would do obvious & routine things at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc., when they could be doing more awesome & surprising things at the NSA. It's always fun to see Google come out with something the NSA did years earlier.
Finally, and it should be obvious, going to work in a tie is a lot cooler than going to any job where people wear hoodies... but the NSA doesn't make you do that.. I do hate badges though.
It's the opposite of Silicon Valley, and it's great.
> After about $70k in salary, people are happy anyways.
Unfortunately living in DC/VA/MD on that you are competing with private companies which pay more and thus housing and well just about everything is a bit hard to manage on that salary.
> I honestly don't understand why anyone would do obvious & routine things at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc
What's stopping them from pulling a bait-and-switch. Telling kids they'll be doing exciting stuff that Google and Facebook haven't dreamed of yet, then being a stuck converting perl scripts to python, twiddling excel spreadsheets or writing TPS reports. I think most people would expect more routine working in a govt agency than say at Google.
If you're a contractor, you can just quit and find another contracting position. When I worked as a contractor at NASA, I routinely quit (3 times) when the job turned undesirable and then found another contracting gig through networking in under a month.
>Unfortunately living in DC/VA/MD on that you are competing with private companies which pay more and thus housing and well just about everything is a bit hard to manage on that salary.
No, these places (NSA and NASA) are in the not-so-close suburbs. When I was working at NASA at $85K I bought a condo and biked to work.
Q: How do you apply to work for the NSA
A: Call your mother and ask for an application form
That is a lie, but I understand why people would need to believe it in order to work for the NSA.
"Each of these agencies has slightly different protocols and safeguards to protect searches with a US person identifier."
- Developed the space lidar that will measure the polar ice cap melting
- Created a dashboard to monitor a spacecraft in deep space (and then ran ops for it)
- Developed learning models on a top500 supercomputer
- Optimization of 1000-GPU (yes) detailed simulation of the earth's magnetosphere
Yes, I knew that the industry will pay more, but honestly, I was young and just wanted to have a good time and stay around family in the area. The other jobs in the area didn't seem as exciting.
After that I went directly into fashion where I got to make a fashion magazine that included contributors like Cindy Crawford and other top fashion industry people, based solely on our creative draw (I never pay contributors, but each issue kept getting higher-and-higher profile contributors), and now engage with thousands of top fashion brands, dealing with the art, tech, and business aspects, an industry still largely separate from Silicon Valley.
Our magazine is print, but you can view it online as well at: http://www.issuu.com/futureclawmag/docs/issue_6
legal != right
> The NSA doesn't spy on US citizens.
I'm not a us[a] citizen.
Now there’s no way to pay a government employee market rate without a scandal. The public views government employees as conniving sloths, but doesn’t understand that they pay 3x for a contractor (including sales, legal, compliance, risk premium, profit).
If you make over $80k a year -- you are doing well in NSA [i]. The 150k number is pretty much fantasy land. With NSA on your resume I am sure a penetration testing firm would love to have you at 100k.
If I was an American, I would deny the premis. If the NSA is going to spy on you, wouldnt you like your fellow country men to refuse to work for them.
I often wonder if I'm the only person on this list that wouldn't work for them simply because I feel its WRONG.
> Pretty sure a top cryptographer or security expert should be worth several times that [~150K x several times]
Keep in mind that government salaries still do come with decently good benefits and vastly more job security than start-ups. That is attractive to lots of people especially late in their careers. Cutting edge IT-related positions aside, non-cutting edge jobs in government do not face such stark competition with the private sector.
The fellowship is really good money for grad school, about 36k, and you get good interning in the various national labs and good-ish mentoring (if you want it). My sibling was telling me about the dinners though, a real hoot. The old grey-beards from the pre-Apollo days really are clueless as to why all the fellows are leaving for the tech companies. They really just cannot understand why 'millenials' don't want to do the work. My sibling had to inform them that many (likely all) of the candidates are lying on their applications when they say that nuclear security is important to them. In addition to that, the ability to make more money, not have a black hole on the ol resume, and be able to talk about their job to a Tonder date are important. From what I was told, Tinder really blew their minds (pun not intended). I guess they don't get out from behind the fence much?
- Switzerland: Switzerland is undoubtedly one of the richest countries. I contribute this largely to the fact that they have a direct democracy. All laws are voted upon by the people which makes lobbying much harder. Who profits from lobbying? Almost exclusively BigCos.
- Singapore: Singapore pays it’s top officials a competitive salary. The Prime Minister earns close to 2m dollars. As a result, Singapore attracts higher qualified staff for state positions.
- Estonia: Estonia’s growth since its independence some 25 years ago has outperformed nearly every Eastern European country. The reasons for this growth are their lean government, a high degree of digitalisation (nearly all government services can be accessed online), and an innovative culture at the state level.
In brief, a lot of the inefficiencies in government agencies come down to the facts that in many countries these agencies are intensively lobbied, risk-averse and - as stated by you - do not reward performance (i.e. efficiency improvements and innovation).
Also Switzerland is notoriously bureaucratic. Even very simple tasks require visits to one of the many, many small government offices that dot the landscape and each interaction always costs hundreds of dollars ... even when the act itself is basically "print out a piece of paper and give it to you".
But I fully agree that direct democracy creates better quality of government in general.
It still might be challenging to get a decent raise short of leaving for competition though. Pay is very easy to address in the grand scheme, the work environment, the politics at many levels, the organization, the idea that you could and will go to prison if you were to violate a policy or blow a whistle, inability to talk with your spouse, peers, or even coworkers about work, etc.. those things are hard and they probably suck there.
I am not aware of any exceptions to the law, unless you mean the Special Executive Service. You can - eventually - make it into the Special Executive Service (SES), which pays somewhat higher (around $200k per year, depending on specifics). But that typically takes 20+ years of service and is reserved to less than 1% of the total workforce of a lab or agency. It is extremely rare for someone to be hired directly into the SES, unless that person is a presidential appointee.
Which means that under ordinary circumstances, my lab cannot offer a Nobel Laureate more than $200,000 per year.
I'm not saying that there is no civil servant anywhere who makes more than that. But such positions are extremely rare. The Vice President only makes $240,000.
If you read the fine print, the executive order allows agency-level directors of the Department of Veterans' Affairs who are physicians to be paid market rates. That is probably who these people are.
This exemption doesn't appear to apply to any other agency or profession.
Also, that $995k for the CEO is just the base salary.. his full comp package is about $6.5m
But you should not compare compensation for the top tech experts. It is not in general the function of the government to develop technology. There are some exceptions (for which there are opportunities for sweetening the pot), but in general government manages things, buying tech when needed.
Majority of it's bureaucrats are very expensive, non-fireable paper pushers. Non-fireabilitg leads to a huge waste. Raising the GS rates will make government even more expensive. To fix things you need to completely reorg promotions, allow for easy firing, do a RIF and give those remaining significantly more authority and autonomy.
Current schedule is pretty generous already once you factor additional pay scale multipliers and benefits. And if you must raise pay for top tech, at least go for the NH schedule, not GS. My 2c.
I disagree. The US Government is the single largest investor in R&D in the country, and does much of that R&D work in house. The National Institutes of Health, by itself, does the vast majority of basic and applied biomedical research in the US. That research feeds commercial R&D. The commercial guys can't afford to do the decades worth of basic research needed before a new medical treatment can be tested in human subjects.
NASA, DOE, and DoD research labs basically invented the modern world. NASA and DoD developed spaceflight, satellites, satcomm, GPS, and digital computer networking. NASA was the single biggest purchaser of, and investor in, integrated circuits right up to about 1970. NASA did much, if not most, of the grunt work to make commercial aviation safe enough to be commercially viable. The US Navy did much of the early research work in radio, due to the need to communicate with a worldwide fleet, and is co-listed with MIT as the primary US innovators in radar.
> Pretty sure a top cryptographer or security expert should be worth several times that, especially if they are also dealing with classified information and safeguarding all the data collection (e.g. if the NSA is going to spy on us, wouldn't you like that to be as secure as possible?).
I don't want to deny your argument, but as I often write on HN, the "interesting salary metric" is not the salary per se but "salary minus cost of living [in the respective region where you work]". I would bet that the costs of living are much lower near Fort George G. Meade than in the Bay Area.
The reality is that the compensation package for government workers primarily appeals to those with average to mediocre ability and a strong aversion to risk (often also a tolerance for boring, repetitive work and/or bureaucratic infighting). When was the last time you met a bright, creative superstar working at your local DMV office?
That's why the US Digital Service is actually a pretty good idea. Tours of duty are preferable to lifetime career hires. I'd like to see much more of the federal government adopt that model.
I feel like this has to be the biggest issue. When I worked in the DoD space as a constractor the amount of clearance required to work in an NSA SCIF would net a contractor a base of $160k a year (with benefits as you'd be working for a contracting company). With government employees making less to manage or do the same job as contractors, why would you stay on as a government employee? Most of the government employees I knew ended up transitioning to private companies.
For a comparison, in the 90s Singapore tried targeting a rate of 2/3 of private salaries for their public servants. I haven't seen evidence that this is still a format target, but their public services are fantastic. (Of course it's a small island country, so hard to compare with larger places)
For the kind of work that some divisions of the NSA does, it's the only place you can do it legally. If that's your passion and you don't want to risk fines and jail time, well you have to take the pay disadvantage.
so the first step is to pare down civil employment so that the general populace feels that they are getting a good investment. government needs to start selling itself on being a good investment instead of a jobs program. its not hard for the general populace to get this idea when there is news all the time about bloated pensions and high debt in their cities and states because of government pensions.
so since the 60s the size of government at all levels has tripled where the population hasn't. part of the explosion and state and local levels is from Congress funneling money to hire people outside of the Federal level but instead at local. then when the funding dries up the jobs tend to stay anyway
Pension, and other retirement benefits are awesome though. Over a period of time that actually makes up for everything else.
Lots of highly competent people out there in the market making big market wages ... and they fail all the time. Even just paying isn't enough.
Therefore I think government jobs shouldn't even compete on pay. In some areas they are higher than the free market though, and this is actually weird.