Reclaiming 'Good Enough for Government Work'
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “good enough for government work”?
Is it the jaded, ironic usage, suggesting low quality, the bare minimum, etc.? Did you know the phrase originated during World War II, and was originally a compliment, meaning unparalleled work that surpassed the most rigorous and demanding standards?
U.S. Navy Captain Gregory Burton, the commander of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, spoke to a group of FMA members in November, 2017. He gave a poignant history lesson, reminding us about the monumental effort Pearl Harbor, and the country as whole, took in response to the devastating attack that thrust the United States into World War II. He spoke about the importance of relationships and partnership between federal employees and the uniformed services to recover the U.S. fleet.
Captain Burton illustrated his point by sharing about the extraordinary effort performed to return the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown to service – performing three months of work in the span of three days – to enable it to return to service. The carrier was badly damaged in the Battle of Coral Sea, but the remarkable effort and partnership quickly returned the carrier to fight in the Battle of Midway, considered a turning point in the war in the Pacific campaign. It is said that Japanese Naval Air Commanders mistook the Yorktown for another aircraft carrier, because they assumed it was far too damaged in the Coral Sea.
That is what we’re talking about when we talk about federal managers, because that spirit of selfless service, of determination to complete the mission on behalf of all our fellow Americans is alive and well today, more than 75 years removed from the Battle of Midway.
However, across the government we see distressing proposals that would break the promises made to generations of federal employees and eliminate earned benefits. Proposed increases to pension contributions, elimination of the FERS annuity supplement, and severe reductions to or elimination of both CSRS and FERS cost-of-living-adjustments, are all on the table nearly every year. This is in addition to the near-constant threats to due process for federal employees.
All of this reminds us of former Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), who was a staunch advocate for feds. Speaking to his colleagues at a committee hearing before his retirement, Voinovich said, “It just drives me crazy that more departments don’t really stand up and start raising you know what when we don’t give you the resources you need to get the job done, particularly in management ... I think you ought to stand up and fight and not get rolled. Make a big deal out of it. Get the president involved. If I’m going to get the job done, I’ve got to have the tools to get that job done.” Voinovich’s words harken back to that spirit that helped the country recover from Pearl Harbor and turned the U.S.S. Yorktown around.
Like the U.S.S. Yorktown, federal managers have faced difficult challenges – threats to due process, threats to pay and benefits, and diminished resources. But through it all, the resilient workforce has remained true to its calling and its mission, rising to the challenge to perform its exceptional work to the very best of its ability. Work that was deemed “good enough for government work.” That work is still being done today; we just don’t appreciate it as such anymore. Much of it seems taken for granted. But at FMA we will do our utmost to restore the luster to the phrase “good enough for government work.”
Written by the Federal Managers Association (FMA). To learn more, visit their website: FedManagers.org
Posted in Hear it from FMA