TCS Daily


Felon-Friendly Congress

By Henry I. Miller - January 11, 2008 12:00 AM

 
Often, what emerges from Congress is a parody not only of good government, but of common sense. The chairman of the House subcommittee on the federal work force thinks the feds should actively recruit felons into government employment. "The federal government is one of the places that has not been doing enough to help give people a second chance," said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. "We can't lead where we haven't been," so Davis intends to introduce a bill to make the federal workplace more felon-friendly. Never mind that rehabilitation of felons is largely a pipe-dream: According to the Department of Justice, more than 50 percent of convicted felons re-offend. (And that statistic includes only the ones who are caught. I'm reminded of the story about the mother who told a friend her son was in jail for something he didn't do. To the friend's query, "What didn't he do?" the mother answered, "He didn't run fast enough from the police.")

This proposal is not a total loss; it would provide great material for Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno and David Letterman: Picture one of Tony Soprano's ex-con cousins as a file clerk in the Witness Protection Program.

Rep. Davis's brainstorm reminds me of a federal program of about 15 years ago, at which time I was the director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Biotechnology — a lean operation with a half-dozen professionals and support staff. I was asked by a senior agency administrator to take on an "underprivileged" Washington D.C. high-school senior who would work part-time, her salary paid by a federal jobs program. I didn't really need another file clerk or secretary's helper, and I had selected my existing staff carefully for their motivation and competence, so I demurred. But the administrator pressed me, saying that she needed to place a certain number, in order to "make the agency's statistics look good." Finally, after she promised me a straight-A student, I agreed.

But an A student from a Washington D.C. high school was less than I bargained for. "Mandy" couldn't spell or fill out forms or answer the phone correctly and took an hour to deliver an envelope to another office in our building. She spent most of her office time playing computer games or gossiping with other participants in the jobs program. Mandy's deficiencies were distracting and disruptive to everyone else in the office. The staff's efforts to train her were met with sullenness and "attitude." I noticed that the others in the office began to frown while Mandy was around.

Then Mandy became pregnant. The only difference in her performance was that she spent more time talking on the phone to her boyfriend.

When I complained to our administrator that the experiment had been a failure and that Mandy had to go, she responded that it might look as though I were firing Mandy because she had become pregnant, which would both "look bad" and "compromise the agency's statistics."

I was disgruntled, but I relented.

For another few months, my colleagues and I continued our futile efforts to enhance Mandy's skills. The frowns deepened.

Finally, Mandy herself provided the solution to my dilemma.

One afternoon, my secretary came into my office, closed the door and told me that an audit had revealed that Mandy was sending notes to her friends using our FedEx pre-paid envelopes. I thanked her, gritted my teeth, and telephoned the administrator. I told her that if Mandy showed up in my office again, I would call the FBI and report what the theft of government property.

Mandy was never seen, heard from or mentioned again.

While my experience hardly constitutes an indictment of the entire program, it was not dissimilar to that of many other FDA managers. These kids lacked self-discipline or a work ethic and resisted our best efforts to impart them. They showed no curiosity or initiative, let alone gratitude. Their presence actually detracted from the efficient working of the government (such as it was).

Inevitably, those same deficits will doom Rep. Davis's program, which will begin with proven anti-social elements. Federal managers forced to participate will find, to their chagrin, that many felons are manipulative and dishonest, and that they themselves will be pressured not to evaluate the new employees negatively, because it will "look bad" and "compromise the agency's statistics."

The burden of the Davis initiative will fall squarely on the backs of government workers and managers — and the American taxpayers who employ them. The essential functions of the government — providing national defense, assuring the safety of food and drugs and air traffic, and so on -- must be kept discrete from the parts of the government that dispense welfare. Otherwise, the managers of those at the lowest rungs of the federal bureaucracies will have even less to work with - and our government agencies will become even less efficient and effective.

Dr. Miller is a physician and a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He was an official at the N.I.H. and F.D.A. from 1977 to 1994.
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16 Comments

I suspect half of Congress are Felons
Why should this surprise anyone, especially coming from a democrat.

Can we say Jefferson, LA?

More fundamental problem, not being able to fire incompetent employees
Employers seem to think they have to wait until someone commits a crime before firing a 'special' employee.

There is pretty much nothing more damaging to a team's morale...
...than some bad apple being tolerated by Management (for those reasons mentioned in the article or others). It can be more damaging than even having a bad boss.

It kills motivation, big time. The smart & productive figure that they can slack off because when called to account they can pull out the "You let Mandy do that and WORSE" card, and the managers can only resort to bullying over that obvious point for the workers who are too afraid to stand up for themselves. For employees like me, I point blank tell them "Fire me, then" and the bully is left w/o a single dilithium crystal in his warp reactor. (I *love* doing that in staff meetings, in front of my co-workers too)

Oh, and to the Roys of the Forum: The same phenomenon occurs with our tax code. Only, thanks to the magic of with-holding and all the myriad of loopholes and exceptions that serve the same role as Soma does in 'Brave New World' to our every day critical thinking skills, it is not so "In Your Face" for the productive members of our society as the bad apples of work are. But for those who think of it when they are forced to, it is no less damaging to our economy for the exact same reasons. Nobody likes to carry the weight of deadwood in any sphere of life.

I agree with the first post
Most of Congress are criminals in my mind until there is more accountability and public recalls. It is a real shame how they can state one thing to obtain votes and do another while in Congress.

Were ripe to vote in the next Hitler, I mean Hillary.

We already spend enough on criminals keeping them alive with their internet access, TVs, etc.

I like Ron White's line. Not only does Texas executes the most people, it has an express lane. There has to be a limit and stiff accountability herein as well.

I would require that the convict live with a member of Congress in their own home that supports them.

You mean, this isn't how they "recruit" now?
"A member of Congress thinks the feds should actively recruit felons into government employment."

You cannot possibly expect me to be surprised
Of course they like felons... What kind of people do you think are up there in the Capitol building?

Regardless of party affiliation...

Regardless of ideology (if any)...

Regardless of geography...

What do you call a self-centered, manipulative, scheming, two-faced, immoral, godless, philandering, dishonest embodiment of pompousness?

A politician. And the degree to which the above listed traits may be measured in intensity is directly proportional to the level of success of said politician.

Welcome to America. Feel free to move around the room and get to know people...

Fire away!!
The solution, (unfortunately not available due to the tyranny of majority), is to get government out of the business of deciding who can and who cannot fire someone.

In government jobs, that is obviously not possible, but in the private sector, I have an idea:

You want to fire someone for being late, unproductive, and stealing from the company? Fine. You are free to do so.

You want to fire someone for wearing an orange shirt (assuming you don't like orange shirts)? Fine. You are free to do so.

You want to fire someone because they are a woman or a man, pregnant, Black, White, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hari-Krishna, gay, straight, fat, thin, blonde, brunette, short, tall, smoking hot, or two-bagger ugly? You are free to do so.

I don't want to work for or with people who can't stand me anyway...

It was never government's business in the first place.

So, just who is this Danny Davis?
http://www.opencongress.org/people/show/400093_danny_davis
http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.asp?cid=N00004884
http://www.house.gov/davis/biography.htm

And here is another bill of his(3rd link):
"...2nd Chance Act...is designed to rehabilitate and to prepare ex-offenders for a ***healthy and positive reentry*** into normal society once they are released from correctional facilities..."

***- my emphasis.

His biography lists a PhD from some place called "Union Institute & University."

From their website: Union Institute & University is an accredited, private, international university that has, since 1964, redefined higher education by placing learners at the center of their own education.

It is a distance learning school. I see no evidence it is or is not a diploma mill.

So, it would appear that this Felon-friendly proposal is another over educated congressman's touchy-feely, waste of time, money and resources.

Or maybe he is just trying to make jobs available for his Chicago constituates.

I don't really care but you did misrepresent this man's vita
Davis' academic credentials appear to be as good as any and better than most. His biography shows that he earned a BA degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He also earned a masters degree from Chicago State University. His doctorate is from Union Institute in Cincinnati. But doctorates are research degrees so being at the school is less important as long as the students have access to library resources.

Although one can use any library to get information, the physical library is less important as time goes on because most important journals now have on-line content, albeit for a fee.

So he has been brainwashed at some of the best liberal schools?
To me, many of the degrees in education I see now is a bit of a disappointment. You mention BAs, Masters, Doctorates, but for what and in what? And what real purpose does half of these obscure majors really mean other than you goofed off going to school since you did not want to work?

Oh yes he has a Doctorate in Wingdingdo Theology. So he must have credentials. Credentials as what? A person that is avoiding a real job.

I see the problem is that government and education is a very lax and the easy job route to take now. Jobs where there is very little responsibility now and fear of being laid off and being responsible for your actions.

Until they are ran like private businesses, governments and institutions will suffer or need larger sums of money to run. I heard a hundred stories of trying to get rid of government employees that are goof offs. And meanwhile we have to hire more so that a hundred can do the work of five real workers.

So why couldn't the government run like a business and have real assessments of their personnel yearly? Be like a real company and lay off the bottom 5% each year and replace them with potential real workers?

Then we will have a more efficient government with a lot less overhead. And then maybe work with our educational institutions to churn out real workers other than a doctorates in bullsh*t to which the people with real degrees from other countries have to fill.

It will never happen
Government, by it's very nature, is not efficient. They do not have the profit motive like corporations.

Show me in history where any government was efficient? In fact, I might argue that it is better that it is unable to achieve everything it tries to enact.

A better alternative would be to make government smaller as in a balanced budget and reduction in all spending? This will not happen until people vote for responsible representation, something I doubt will happen ever again.

Withholding? Deadwood? Soma?
I heard my name being called.

"Oh, and to the Roys of the Forum: The same phenomenon occurs with our tax code. Only, thanks to the magic of with-holding and all the myriad of loopholes and exceptions that serve the same role as Soma does in 'Brave New World' to our every day critical thinking skills, it is not so "In Your Face" for the productive members of our society as the bad apples of work are. But for those who think of it when they are forced to, it is no less damaging to our economy for the exact same reasons. Nobody likes to carry the weight of deadwood in any sphere of life."

Well, I've read this through three times, turned it upside down and squinted at it, and I still can't make head nor tail out of this comment. What could it possibly mean?

Could you please rephrase it, rewording it for intelligibility? I assume the message is heartfelt; at least I should be able to understand it.

@ Union Innstitute & University they ..
offer 4 (count em) Doctorate programs, 2 in Philosophy, 1 in education and 1 in psychology. I don't know about others, but philosophy and psychology are extruded and coiled bull ejecta. Just almost as good as have one of those "honorary" doctorates, eh? Just pay the cash, fill out the form and turn it in. Ability to reason and think logically afterwards not included.

N A Z I s were efficient
That's the price to be paid for 'efficient' government.

Actually...
...there were plenty of inefficiencies in Germany during WWII. Hitler forced funding of quite a few pet projects that were a waste of time, and that would never have been pursued had the free market had a say. Also, the war was certainly not handled efficiently, as any fool could have told Hitler that a two-front war was not sustainable. But Hitler only wanted "yes men".

-Bob

They killed a lot of people efficiently and...
they did industrialize quickly. The machines for the blitz were not made overnight.

Don't disagree free enterprise could have done a better job in the long term. But free enterprise, is free, and socialists are intolerant of freedom.

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