(Bill Bott; January 10, 2012)

Well, we’re officially a week-and-a-half into the new year, and I have officially blown every resolution I set. I was eating much healthier until a trip to Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, and I haven’t run farther than the distance from the rental car place to the terminal. In addition, I was really hoping to get this article out last week. All resolutions, all toast by January 10th.

On January first, this article was actually about setting resolutions. Now that my heart seems to be more set on breaking resolutions than setting them, let’s look at two resolutions we should be breaking in 2012.

Resolution 1: This year we will stay in compliance with our mandated schedules.

This must have been a resolution for many of us in 2011 since there we saw a plethora of articles about states and counties bringing their processes back in compliance with regulations. Some places worked hard to get their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (formerly known as food stamps) back within the 30 days mandated by the feds. We saw permitting offices strive to meet a 120-day deadline for reviewing engineering plans. It seemed like everyone was finding ways to comply and wanted people to know it. It was the largest celebration of mediocrity since Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a playoff win.

It’s not that making the playoffs or being within your mandated timeframes is not an accomplishment. After all, when participation rates jump and the budget shrinks, it’s the true definition of “doing more with less.” However, the standard set is the lowest acceptable measure. It’s the “D” of processing.

This is a resolution we have to break. If we don’t, we are aspiring to be John Bender with a goal of simply passing the 11th grade with the attitude that “D” stands for “diploma.” While I don’t want to put down the people in the articles I read about getting back into compliance, or take more shots at Romo, last year I watched five states set a goal of serving SNAP participants on the same day they applied. I saw a permitting office shrink processing times from over a year to 15 days. The resolution should be to get our customers what they need, when they need it, instead of simply to “not fail.”

Break this resolution today by shattering the idea that it takes more than 100 days to get veterans a disability determination and start looking at the twisted, gunked-up pipes and how to fix them.

Resolution 2: This year I will read more.

When I worked in government, the state library had this wonderful service that clipped articles concerning government. Each week the library would send you links or scanned copies of what it had discovered that pertained to your job or may be of interest to you. I loved it, but it eventually became a burden. Like most of these services, the emails pile up and clog the inbox as we balance the demands of the job with our desire to sharpen the saw. This year, break that resolution.

I think this election cycle is going to be brutal on public servants. It seems everyone who wants to be in charge of government hates portions of government. Mainly, they hate us workers. There are too many of us; there are too few checks and balances to make sure we are working; and there’s so much fat that trimming it will bring back the rain and the crops will flourish.

We’ve written about the people of government a few times, and it should be no secret to regular readers or anyone who has been in one of our workshops that we think any focus on the people of government is like fishing at Petco. There are lots of fish there — you might even catch one! — but the result is so tiny that unless you’re pledging Delta Tau Chi you wouldn’t eat it.

I encourage you to read less this year (expect of course for Public Great). Whoever’s elected this year will learn (about a year from now) what veteran government workers have come to know: Our problems are not people problems, they are process problems. Change the process and the people will change with it. But change the people, and put them in the same bad processes, and we’re back to catching goldfish.

Have a resolution we should embrace? Or one we should break for sure? Tell us in the comments section!

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