Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Tales of the shutdown (IV): Who wants to work for a dysfunctional employer?

By Patrick Hanlon Best Defense guest columnist You may have heard the mantra before, “If the government were a business, it’d go belly up.” Well, I think we’ve all caught a glimpse of what going belly up might look like. This is what happens when an organization runs out of money, and it happens to ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

By Patrick Hanlon
Best Defense guest columnist

You may have heard the mantra before, "If the government were a business, it'd go belly up." Well, I think we've all caught a glimpse of what going belly up might look like. This is what happens when an organization runs out of money, and it happens to companies all the time. But when companies go under, their employees don't always stick around and hope for the best. So, I can't help but wonder how current and future members of the military and intelligence community would react to the federal shutdown if they adopted the private sector mindset.

In the business world, nobody works for free. So if the military and intelligence community were like private industry, many of their employees would not come back from the furlough. Those employees would take their valuable skills elsewhere. Sure, they might not send their résumés off to our adversaries, but they would certainly go work for someone that didn't make a mockery of their livelihood. Good business leaders constantly evaluate employee morale and adjust compensation to keep their people happy and productive. Sadly, it's pretty clear that supporting our public servants is not high on Congress' priority list. (Anybody know what does qualify for that list?)

By Patrick Hanlon
Best Defense guest columnist

You may have heard the mantra before, “If the government were a business, it’d go belly up.” Well, I think we’ve all caught a glimpse of what going belly up might look like. This is what happens when an organization runs out of money, and it happens to companies all the time. But when companies go under, their employees don’t always stick around and hope for the best. So, I can’t help but wonder how current and future members of the military and intelligence community would react to the federal shutdown if they adopted the private sector mindset.

In the business world, nobody works for free. So if the military and intelligence community were like private industry, many of their employees would not come back from the furlough. Those employees would take their valuable skills elsewhere. Sure, they might not send their résumés off to our adversaries, but they would certainly go work for someone that didn’t make a mockery of their livelihood. Good business leaders constantly evaluate employee morale and adjust compensation to keep their people happy and productive. Sadly, it’s pretty clear that supporting our public servants is not high on Congress’ priority list. (Anybody know what does qualify for that list?)

Not only would there be an exodus of employees, but the number of job applicants and prospective military recruits would drop dramatically as well. Right now, Uncle Sam has a bit of a reputation problem. In the private sector, nobody wants to work for a turbulent company that can’t manage to cut paychecks for its employees. Think about it: Would you have applied to work at Bear Sterns or Circuit City when they were collapsing? Probably not. So why go work for a dysfunctional government?

But in the end, the military and intelligence community is not a business. And its employees will return to work and pick up right where they left off. The men and women who serve in the military and intelligence community have a mission to complete regardless of how much Congress gets in the way.

As a defense consultant and Army reservist, I have a unique perspective on this shutdown debacle. If the leadership at my firm withheld my paycheck and sent me home to make a political point, I wouldn’t think twice about quitting and applying elsewhere. But when the Army is forced to cancel drill, neglects to make the yearly payment on my student loan, and advises that it might not be able to pay for my Airborne slot in two weeks, I can’t do a damn thing about it. All I can do is pray that some folks on Capitol Hill wake up and acknowledge the demoralizing effect this shutdown is having on federal employees and servicemembers.

Patrick Hanlon is an Army reservist. This essay contains his own personal views and does not necessarily represent those of his employers, including the U.S. Army.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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