In which I attempt to advance my English writing skills from poor to mediocre.
Why government projects are always late and overbudget
Published on May 18, 2004 By dreamtime iliaster In Business
I talked to yet another government recruiter last week. They always say the government has a shortage of engineers, which means that they're doing everything they can to hire the best engineers. They're lying.

They talk about fat pensions, strict forty-hour work weeks, and complete job security, but those inducements only attract slackers - those things repel good engineers, who don't want to be stuck on a team with someone who is only there because the firing an employee who hasn't committed a felony is virtually impossible. They talk about how selective they are, when in fact they are an order of magnitude less selective than the average large industry firm. The salary is low. That, in and of itself, isn't bad. But in a department where the expenditure per person is higher than in industry, it shows that management doesn’t understand engineers. The recruiter told me about all of this great billion-dollar equipment I'd get to work with, how I'd get to see things I never would in industry.

His spiel reminding me of a project my lasers professor told me about. Two labs were attempting to accomplish the same thing; one was a government lab, the other, a small university research lab. The government researchers had a multi-million dollar budget, used cutting edge technology in two different fields to accomplish the task. They spent their entire budget over the course of two years, and came out with a design that wasn't reliable for more than a few days at a time, as one would expect of a design that incorporates advanced research. The university lab spent less than ten-thousand dollars, used decades old technology, and created a rock solid design in less than six months. A small team of good engineers working on a shoestring budget will produce better work than a gigantic team of mediocre engineers with no spending limit, and they'll do it more quickly too.

When I asked this recruiter how bad the bureaucracy was, I got a you-wouldn't-believe-me-if-I-told-you laugh followed by tales of byzantine rules and regulations and hostile management. At places like Microsoft, managers act like it's their job to move furniture out of your way so you can concentrate on your work. Even the interview process is ridiculous. The turnaround time ranges from six months to a year, compared to weeks, or even days, at top engineering firms. I don't understand it. All of the hoops I have to jump through only create more work for them.

Even so, I wouldn't mind if I could be assured of working with a group of dedicated people, as I would be in the foreign service, or the civil service, but all of the slacker engineers I know ended up working for the government. Working on a team where one person doesn't pull their weight is a nightmare. I can't even imagine what it would be like to work on a team where no one pulled their weight.

I want to want work for the government, but the government is doing everything in its power to keep me from actually wanting to work for the government.

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