Friday, April 5, 2013

The NWS Reward for Employee Idealism - Revisited

Some time back, I posted a Web essay regarding how the National Weather Service (NWS) rewards the idealism and dedication of its employees.  Recent events have pushed me toward an update of that essay.  Nothing has changed fundamentally, however.  NWS management has, by and large, continued to be ignorant of and uncaring about how their counterproductive choices and management decisions can affect their employees negatively.  And the employees have, by and large, doggedly persisted in the face of rampant mismanagement to put out the best forecast products they can, given all the constraints imposed on the process by their managers.

In other words, the employees must struggle to find ways and means to work around the challenges and obstructions forced on them by their managers.  And their reward for managing to accomplish this end year after year, decade after decade?  More of the same nonsense, often redoubled in its inept stupidity!  Many NWS managers continue to live in a bizarro world, where they think their employees are working for them!  The fact is, the vast majority of NWS employees are busting their asses to serve - not their managers, but rather their customers, the American public!  These incompetent managers should be working to help their employees become successful, but most of them clearly demonstrate, day in and day out, that they believe it's the duty of the employees to make the managers look good!

The economy is in deep trouble right now and the government bureaucrats (from the politicians down to the middle-level managers - like NOAA management) have no clue how to make the hard decisions about where to cut their budgets.  So they decide that across-the-board cuts are the way to avoid having to make any difficult decisions.  And that's true - it does indeed prevent them from making any tough choices.  Rather than reward their productive employees and penalize, or even eliminate the unproductive drones (yes, Virginia, there are unproductive drones in the Civil Service!), they simply spread the burden equally among them all.  They thereby penalize the  productive employees and organizations, while effectively rewarding the drones!  I saw this happening when I was still a NOAA employee, and my sources make it clear that this has never changed.  It remains true today.  Why is that?  One obvious explanation is that the people making the selections for NOAA and NWS management positions are either political hacks who have no understanding of what these organizations do and how they really produce anything useful to the taxpayers, or they're clueless careerists who don't really care a whit about the organizations they're pretending to manage.  The net result is the same:  remember the old saying "shit rolls downhill"?

As it stands, my friends at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) have been unable to fill vacancies in key forecaster positions for quite some time, now.  This works a hardship on everyone in the SPC.  It might be possible, through some questionable practices indulged in by some other NWS organizations, to overcome some of the resource limitations plaguing the SPC.  But they (the SPC)  steadfastly have refused to engage in shady administrative practices, preferring instead to do things "by the book".  Here's the most likely outcome to the process:  as their budget limitations force them to deal as best they can (via legal means) with the cutbacks, someone is watching them, ready to pounce.  If they continue to maintain the high standards of productivity and product effectiveness they've achieved in the past, then someone is bound to say "Well, things seem to be going along just fine with your limited resources!  Why should we restore them? You obviously didn't need them!"  In other words, by making the system work with less support, they may never get back the resources they had before the cuts!  Even worse, deeper cuts might well follow - "If you're getting by so well with less, then we should be able to reduce your resources still farther!"  That is their "reward" for their hard work and sacrifices!!

As I noted in my essay, the dedicated, productive public servants of the NWS - the forecasters and their support teams - are trapped by their own ethics.  They can't bring themselves to fail to serve the public just to make a point!  Until they fail in their duties, everyone in the management chain above them is happy and secure in their positions.  They have nothing for which to apologize or to explain because the workers refuse to allow failure to occur!  And their employees' reward for that inevitably will be more cutbacks, more inept, stupid management decisions, more worthless hardware and software procured by a system destined only to fail until the forecasters figure out how to make the clunky systems actually work, despite their patheticaly bad designs.  Forecasters don't want to look themselves in the mirror in the morning and see the face of failure to serve the public.  So they keep the system from failing, despite the efforts of their managers to screw it up.

But the incompetent, worthless managers likely contemplate their faces in their mirrors and congratulate themselves for having figured out a way to be totally incompetent and still get performance bonuses and promotions for their mismanagement.  Perhaps they feel the stupid ones are their employees, who work so hard making the system work and getting little or nothing positive in return!

This is how we repay our dedicated public servants.  Is it any wonder they often give up and become cynics (i.e., they become what they despise!).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I'm not ready yet to throw in the towel!

From time to time, I'm reminded of the times of pure goodness brought into my life when in the company of friends and family.  Pink Floyd said it well in their song Free Four from the album "Obscured by the Clouds"-

The memories of a man in his old age
Are the deeds of a man in his prime.

I was struck by the importance of that when I first heard this song - as a relatively young man.  Time has only heightened my perception of the significance of the message therein.  In today's electronic world, where so much of what passes for communication is by electronic means, the simple act of meeting and spending time together requires more commitment than sitting at a keyboard.  Personal, physical contact is an act, a deed, if you will, that requires effort and often involves costs.

In the electronic sphere, where most of the conversation is through a keyboard, we have the sorry spectacle of flame wars, miscommunication, divisiveness, outright nastiness, anger, and just outright ugliness.  Such "communication" doesn't involve the intimacy of physical proximity, where your nonverbal communication is at least as important to the process as your spoken words.  It now often involves Internet "memes" - mostly graphic images with a few words - that inevitably oversimplify and serve only to divide us with slogans and generalizations or to reinforce existing beliefs.

If you go only by the torrent of what passes for communication via the keyboard, it's not difficult to become cynical - disillusioned - with humanity.  Yes, there are some efforts to communicate at a deeper level than political/religious/social memes, and there some items that carry messages of hope and happiness.  But I sense a growing alienation from one another and anger in the USA and the world.   Perhaps we are building toward a James Kunstler-esque apocalypse that will shatter today's world and leave us with a "Mad Max" nightmare of predatory gangs, dying technology, and violence.  That is certainly one possible future for us.   But it's not the only one.

The electronic media are full of dire predictions - doom and gloom that will proceed if we continue to depart from a (largely mythical) ideal past state, if we continue toward a theocratic oligarchy, if we continue toward socialism, if we continue toward thought control, if we continue toward a "one world" view that abandons our national chauvinism, if we continue toward atheism, if we continue toward ecological disaster, if we continue down any of a vast array perceived paths to dissolution and degradation.  And the Internet allows free rein to pessimistic slogan-mongering and superficial thinking.  We as a species are vulnerable to demagogues of all sorts, who claim to see evils around every corner and are trying to rally us to them for guidance about what to do.  And all too many of us are willing to follow them, unable or unwilling to pierce the fog of words and slogans.  There are few voices calling for thoughtful, careful, honest appraisals these days.  It's mostly about rallying against something, not something positive.

But when I pause and ponder those moments in my past to which I look back with the most happiness, they're dominated by occasions when I was in the company of certain people.  Friends and family who've somehow managed to pierce the barriers that separate our seemingly isolated minds.   We've achieved real communication by the simple act of being in each other's company, sharing something we enjoy - food, drink, the natural world in all its beauty and harmony, art in its many forms - and, above all, that companionship of others in our journey toward personal death.

What we say in our words is nothing when compared with what we do with our lives.  And what we do usually falls short of what we say.  Few of us can say we've availed ourselves of every possible opportunity to be with friends and family.  Social media can bridge that gap only so much.  Treasure those moments.  The act of sharing space and time together with friends and family will produce the memories that comfort you on your deathbed.  I doubt that "keyboard moments" are capable of that.