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The Forum > General Discussion > Political capital in public service

Political capital in public service

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Political capital for a public servant in the bureaucratic system is simply defined by how much one is liked by the people who would determine their career.

When a public service office worker works hard to reduce crime rate through statistical analysis, he is being liked by his team leader. When a public servant creates computer programs which track patient progress, he is being liked by hospital administration.

A public servant can also be liked by his superior by his connections with ministers by meeting with them regularly in coffee sessions.

And a public servant can also be liked by pushing popular buzz word driven agendas like creating a “business intelligence projects, staff by top risk analysts, costing 2 million dollars, utilizing the latest development standards, process orientated and aim to reduce wastage in the department”. The project probably sounds really good on paper, on the public servant resume and cost a lot of money with a lot of nice buzz words, but in the end, it might not help the public in anyway, in many cases in Adelaide, the project end up failing with the project manager promoted to higher up position.

Unfortunately, more often than not, political capital such as connections and creating buzz words driven projects usually worth more than hard work in the South Australian public service. And managers are usually people who are promoted through their political ability rather than technical know how. Accountability is usually absence in the South Australian public service, millions of dollars every year is being wasted on failed IT projects, with half of the budget gone toward paying for public servants traveling in the name of “training courses” and creation of “analyst” positions for their friends.
Posted by savestarfish, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 12:22:16 AM
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You are quite right about the political aspect of the public service. Despite all the impressions and assurances given to the public to the contrary, most senior public servants that do well (ie have longevity) in the system are political positioners whose main aim is to keep everything orderly below them. They have the bad habit of skimming the best ideas of the people below them for themsleves while leaving those very same people to the political vagaries of the organisation. These days, if you can't present yourself very well, particularly by public speaking, you won't get very far - even if you're the intellectual equivalent of Einstein.

You're also right about the buzzword agendas. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change as long as politicians directly and indirectly determine who the senior bureaucrats are. A most unfair situation, I believe. The other thing pollies like is the idea that their departments are somehow doing cutting edge things. All of a sudden some pretty mundane activities become flavour of the month as all concerned quickly develop a warm inner glow.

There are classic examples of some senior bureaucrats who spend their whole life unmolested asleep at the wheel, with not even a prod from their peers. Having said that, there are also lots of hard-working people in the PS, who never reach the height they should based on the work they have done.
Posted by RobP, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 9:36:16 AM
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The issue I have with the SA public service is this, the first IT programming job I had I was told by the manager that

“If I want to work with good people, I shouldn’t be in public service.”

The project she ran meant to last nine months, it took more than three years, in the end, it was transferred to another group. It turned out that she spends most of the budget on a “training course” staying in a nice hotel interstate. Most of the team didn’t have relevant skills for the job. How could they? She herself knows nothing about the technology behind the project and only got to her position through family connection. The project manager and the business analyst spent most of their time attacking one another behind close doors, convincing senior management that things were going well, networking in cafes and pubs, and the rest of the time, intimidating anyone below them who dare to speak out.

In the end, she was restructured out, but the project manager and the team responsible was promoted, and the failed project was forgotten.
Posted by savestarfish, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 8:59:50 PM
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The second job I had started when a manager received some funding for medical research. The first thing he did with that money was to hire a size eight cruise ship hostess to work as a “project officer” underneath him. They spent much of their time giggling in meetings and travelling to meetings. Two months later, he used the left over money to hire a programmer to do the real work which was me. I found out that in addition to a project officer and a manager, I also had to report to another technical manager who only got promoted because the previous team all got up and left the government. The technical manager had no experience writing computer programs, but decided that creating a whole lot of standards and processes look excellent on his resume. The standards and processes add on 50% time in the development process, which suits him very well, considering he was going to get marry in six months and needed the over time money to pay for his honey moon. For the medical research project I worked on however was crippling.

In the end, 75% of the 50% of the medical research funding went into the actual project. 50% was spent of a “project officer” and 25% of that 50% was spent was bureaucracy.

And since the senior managements were only too contend to be in their secure public service positions, they were happy to let things go.
Posted by savestarfish, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 9:01:38 PM
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