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Low Morale at the Department of Labor

Friday September 12th, 2014   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:38am PDT   •  

dol-seal-history The U.S. Department of Labor must be an awful place to work.

We know that must be the case because of the things that the Department of Labor spends money on for the purpose of “improving” the morale of its employees. Kyle Smith asks some questions about some of DoL’s more curious expenditures:

An Aug. 25 letter from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to Labor Department Secretary Thomas E. Perez contains some pertinent questions about “a pattern of wasteful spending and mismanagement.” We’d all like some answers.

Why, for instance, is the DOL entering itself in public relations contests, often winning them, and then flying top brass to posh locales to pick up the awards at lavish ceremonies? At one such party, the PRSA Silver Anvil Awards in Manhattan, tickets were sold for $375 a pop. Taxpayers, according to Chairman Issa, apparently picked up the tab for a DOL flack to attend. Is the DOL working for the American laborer, or spending our money to polish its own image?

And how, Issa would like to know, did DOL manage to spend $2,637 a week producing posters to be placed in the elevators in the agency’s headquarters building? DOL has blown some $600,000 on these posters, which are evidently aimed at celebrating the agency’s work to its own employees. Of whom there are nearly 18,000. Maybe, the next time Washington is wailing about the impossibility of reducing spending on anything, someone should mention the DOL’s poster squad.

Issa might also ask, while he’s at it, why the agency is prompting employees to waste their time participating in a poetry contest, or logging on to a website to vote for “favorite saint” status for the New Deal Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, for whom the department’s headquarters building is named. (Perkins did indeed win a whimsical online poll, Lent Madness, which department spokesman Carl Fillichio trumpeted as “our small salvation” during the sequestration “crisis”. Fillichio, by the way, is also the official who traveled to New York, apparently on our dime, to accept that Silver Anvil award that acknowledged his skill at relating to the public.)

In the private sector, these kinds of expenditures are the kind of things that ethically troubled executives do to try to improve the morale of their employees as they attempt to distract attention from more troubling matters.

Consider the case of Boeing’s former CEO Phil Condit, who was compelled to abruptly resign in disgrace in 2003 ahead of news breaking of a major defense contracting scandal at the company. Condit’s tenure at the top of the aerospace giant frequently involved poetry recitals by company executives at lavish private parties/training sessions at his estate for the express purpose of improving their morale as the company sought to significantly boost its production without boosting either the pay or the numbers of its labor force:

Of course, none of this can happen without good relations with the workforce. And Condit has introduced a surprisingly touchy-feely approach to this issue. To break down barriers among senior managers, he has enlisted the help of David J. Whyte, a Seattle-based poet and philosopher who has also worked with AT&T, Honeywell, and Eastman Kodak. During a series of weeklong meetings in 1994 and 1995, senior managers capped their sessions with a trip to Condit’s house for dinner, then gathered outside around a giant fire pit to tell stories about Boeing. Whyte says he and Condit asked them to write down negative stories and toss them into the flames to banish the “dark” side of Boeing’s past. “Phil believes that the stories you tell are the legacy you will leave behind,” says Whyte. Condit also asked managers to keep inspiring stories.

That’s really not that much different from what’s going on at the U.S. Department of Labor with its endless supply of new posters “celebrating” the government agency’s “work” and its participation in PR contests. Oh, and its own poetry contests for employees.

These are your tax dollars at work. If only they were going toward getting the Department of Labor to do some productive work….

Featured Image:
U.S. Department of Labor: Have You Ever Wondered What the U.S. Department of Labor Official Seal Represents?

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September 2014