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Posted by Bob on June 18th, 2010 under Coaching Session, How Things Work

A commenter asked me if managing engineers was different from managing anybody else.

Before the Civil Service reform Act of 1978, the entire civil service as we think of it went from grade GS-1 to grade GS-18. The top three grades were called the Super Grades.

If you were a GS-15, if you went to a military installation you were given the accommodations of a Colonel. GS-18 rated a Lieutenant General. Above that you were a political appointee. If you count through the grades, you will find a GS-13 was major and so forth.

The job description on each level was extensive. So when you got to the super grades they really got intense. Then in the early 70s, I believe, the guy who founded Avis wrote a short guide to management called “Up the Organization.”

One of the many excellent points stated shortly in that book was his opinion of Job Descriptions for high level executives. He said simply that if a guy who has reached THAT pay level NEEDS a job description, he doesn’t BELONG at that level. The whole point of high-level management is that you MAKE job descriptions by getting the job done.

By 1978 they got rid of the Super Grades and established the Senior Executive Service, the SES. GS-16 became SES 1 and 18 became SES 3. Before that, all grades came with a set of numbers in the middle showing your specialty, none of which I remember.

So you might be a GS-1856-16, the middle numbers showing your specialty. So you could be a GS-6324-5, meaning an economist at grade 5, or you could be a GS-6324-16, meaning you were A grade 16 economist., a one-star general equivalent.

One thing the Civil Service Reform Act did was to get rid of that middle four numbers above grade15. The restrictions on where you could be transferred to were removed.

You were no longer an economist by trade. You were a Manager. It was assumed that you could manage a section of the defense Department or a section of The Forest Service or be in charge of a supply section of the GSA.

When you get to that level, you simply cannot know all about what is being done, no matter how many years you have been an economist or a negotiator or a building supervisor. You go in, find out what needs to be done, and get it done.

Naturally none of the political appointees understood the point of that. So when my boss was murdered and I took a job as a Reagan appointee, the politicals there showed me their new organization chart. I groaned inwardly and looked as interested as I had to be to keep my job.

I groaned because I knew that that organization chart is the standard way career people have been defanging the new administration since George Washington’s nephew turned out not to be enough and he hired another worker.

Each new administration comes in with plans to “change things.” So the careerists say, “Well, to really change things we have to reorganize.” And the happy little idiots spend their first year reorganizing and triumphantly bring their shiny new organizational chart to the President.

Which means they haven’t done ANYTHING but change names and shift people around.

If you are taking over a business the question is not whether you have a new organization chart. The only question is always The Bottom Line.

What led to the creation of the SES was to end the endless worry over Job Descriptions and who was in what department. I was in the first Administration after the passage of that Act. What had the New Philosophy changed?


We all remember what was done when intelligence organizations committed criminal errors that led to September 11, 2001.

They created Department of Homeland Security. Not one single failing of the old system was addressed.

Yes,  if you can manage engineers at a high level, you can manage office supplies at a high level. Your job is to find out what needs doing and how to do it.

  1. #1 by BoardAd on 06/18/2010 - 10:40 am

    Thank you,Bob!

  2. #2 by Dave on 06/18/2010 - 11:23 pm

    How such an abomination as the Federal government came into being is a longer story than most of us suppose. You also have to remember, that the state and municipal governments have been through history and to certain extent still are competing and in some respects equal abominations.

    The difference, though, is that the long arm of real financial reform never made it to the Federal government, so that to this day, it cannot produce honest financials, and untold billions simply disappear without a trace. At the state and municipal level, billions disappear also but the tale is told where the money went. That was not true, however, before the state and municipal government financial reforms of the 60s and 70s, nor how much more corrupt the state and municipal governments were until the mid-20th century.

    People have to be doing something real, so we are continually told, but the actual reason for much of the growth of government is owing to the fact that people as whole have a devil of time finding something real to do.

    Also, there is a great deal to be said for doing nothing and government as a whole is a great sink for the collection of people doing nothing and the trick of earning a living doing nothing.

    In contrast, it is certainly an onerous charge against Mommy Professor that she so resolutely believes in doing something, and that has long been a real danger.

    But now none of this matters, because government finally got around to killing the goose that lays the golden egg and can no longer finance itself. But that does not change the fact that large numbers of people can find nothing real to do. Economic depression in fact makes it worse.

    It is important to see it for what it really is and not get lost, for it is usually better to do nothing, than to do something.

    Why life is like that, I have not the slightest idea.

    BUGS equips you nonetheless. And nonetheless, reckonings wait. They really do. Never lose sight of this business of reckonings that wait. It is very important to be equipped for them and woe unto those that aren’t.

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