Our Leaders’ Core Values, Revealed By Sequestration By Mike Penland

Washington Post
July 17, 2013
Pg. 17

As I sit here on my first furlough day, I have the opportunity to think about what has occurred in the country I’ve dedicated my entire life to serving. Am I concerned about losing 20 percent of my pay for 10 weeks? You bet. I have bills like everyone else, but we’ll get through that. What I really feel is disappointment – disappointment in my government’s leadership. The president and the Congress – both liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican – have let us down.

The vast majority of those in the Defense Department have grown up as active-duty airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines. We come in early, we stay late, work weekends and do whatever is necessary to get the mission done. Are there outliers and those who take advantage of the system? Sure. But they are the exception and not the rule. For the majority, our compensation is job satisfaction and a feeling that we are making a difference, serving a grateful country in ways that many in the private sector never get a chance to.

I can remember when the Air Force first put our “core values” in writing. My commander made everyone in our squadron memorize them and recite them from memory. I thought this was a waste of time. But since then I have realized that those short few phrases are much more than words; they describe what and who we are. “Integrity first.” “Service before self.” “Excellence in all we do.” Those words guided me as I rose through the ranks. Today I’m concerned that they do not have the same meaning to our current leaders.

I was always taught that our people are our greatest resource. And they are. As a commander I always focused on my people. Those dedicated folks, both military and civilian, are the backbone of our military and they serve without question.

After more than 30 years of service, I see that what sequestration (and how we have chosen to address it) has really done is to remind us that, no matter how much we have served or sacrificed for our country over the years, in the end we are nothing more than employees.

What our elected leaders have taken from us is not money but our trust, faith and confidence. In my mind, this is far worse than a temporary loss of pay.

The writer is a retired Air Force officer who is now a civilian employee at the Pentagon.


4 thoughts on “Our Leaders’ Core Values, Revealed By Sequestration By Mike Penland

  1. He makes all of this fuss about the core values- what is the violation by the federal government? I can generate any one of thousand questions about how the nation is being run, but the only specific issue the author brings to light is his furlough. He is a civilian (a double dipping one at that)… by definition he is just an employee. His retirement check still comes in the mail every two weeks. The possibility to be furloughed was written in his contract, so while unpleasant it wasn’t illegal. So in the end, if he doesn’t like the effects of sequestration let’s have real conversation about that, instead of pontificating on high about values without any real analysis on their application.

    I am more than eager to engage in dialogue concerning the application of sequestration (or the value of sequestration itself), but articles like this make me angry. Let’s talk about the strategic and tactical implications of sequestration, and even its effect upon people in the DoD. Only after we’ve rationally examined the policy can we start to apply considerations of value.

    • I don’t know the impact where you are Brian…but the impacts are significant here. Good point on someone with a retirement making the complaint…not all are so lucky…I do consider it a break in trust, further… we made a big deal several years ago about all of us being Airmen including our civilian DoD members not just people in uniform…as such, I look at our civilians here in OTS as Airmen as well…not “just employees.”

      If I were furloughed it would hurt financially… it would also hurt emotionally. There is a statement in there about your worth if you think about it. We will furlough civilians… but not members in uniform…not members of Congress… not congressional staffers… so that says these folks must be at the bottom of the ladder and considered expendable…don’t you think?

      It will hurt here at AU… we have a lot of civilians… where does the work go when they are not here? The work is not going away… it is rolling onto everyone else’s desk…Sundie and I have insurance claims with Harley’s cancer that are going unpaid…TRICARE is run here on base by civilians.

      Further… we will lose people because of this… and who we will lose? Our best…the ones that have other options. So what will our civilian work force look like in 3 years? It looks like the sequester will continue into ’14…the best will be looking for other work. Who will we get in their place?

      Your points are valid in that we need to have a deeper convo about the sequester and the utter leadership fail there… but I think we are remiss if we do not address what we have just told our civilian counterparts.


      • First, big picture- your response actually makes an argument as to why and how we should be concerned about the civilian furloughs. The original author made none of those points- he basically just said “I was furloughed, I don’t like our civilian leadership, core values matter, elected leaders ‘took from us our trust’ (trust in what he doesn’t specify, but I think it is reasonable to say elected leaders… but rhetorically speaking, if they still have our trust that’s a good thing right?)” Your response places your own values and personal experience on top of the article. The problem is that because he doesn’t actually make any of those points, every person who reads the article will superimpose their own personal disappointments over his rhetoric to fill in the gap. So in terms of communication and critical thinking, the article fails to unify perspective and provide a workable thesis to discuss. If he wanted to make any of the points you just made, then at least we could discuss the merits of the argument. Here, there is no argument… just a sequence of statements whose relationships we are left to infer.

        Onto the content. I don’t mean to minimize the value of civilian personnel (on the contrary I have nothing but the highest respect for most of them), but the fact is that the possibility of furlough is written into their contract- in fact, the amount of furlough days permitted is very closely regulated. While this seemed unlikely when they signed their contract, the possibility was always open. Furthermore, the ire of the author is not at the military/DOD who executed the furlough, but at the law makers who limited military resources. So if self-worth with respect to surrounding military employees is an issue, it was the DoD that lowered civilian working hours, not elected officials. So this doesn’t seem to be the author’s point. Addressing your argument, I can understand how a civilian would feel undervalued. However, I think this is where strong leadership comes into play- the military supervisor should make clear how valuable that individual is to the team’s success, how unhappy they are that these are the circumstances etc.

        Regarding the loss in capability (whether to process paperwork or fight a war) I think this is an immensely important issue on which we could have a very constructive conversation. The author doesn’t even hint at this.

        And yes, the best civilian personnel will leave and find better jobs. In fact, this is exactly what I expect them to do, and what I would do in their shoes. Will this have a profound effect on the quality of our military? I certainly believe so, and I certainly think that this should be highlighted. Again though, you make an argument while the original author doesn’t even come close.

        Civilians are a vital part of our team, and many are highly capable with a phenomenal work ethic. As leaders, we need to ensure that they still feel part of the team and that despite actions that we cannot control, that this does not reflect upon our appreciation of their value or skill. I completely agree that this needs to be addressed. But that the Washington Post publishes this article which has no logic or reasoning (not even irrational reasoning- I literally don’t even know how to connect the statements) makes me angry. It’s not that the subject isn’t valuable, or that there aren’t things to be said, but that this is probably the worst possible representation of the topic.

        But even more broadly, when I first read the article I wasn’t even sure that DoD treatment of civilians is what he was talking about. I thought he might be referring to how the general incompetence of elected leaders have wasted the effort of generations of servicemen; how he is now paying the price for poor policy decisions in all areas, that we as servicemen require an implicit trust in our civilian masters and their mismanagement of it is a betrayal because of a generally flaccid national state. But again, I’m reading into what he’s saying and this is the mark of a poorly written article.

        In any case, I would remind the author that we serve at the pleasure of the state, not the other way around.

      • So…FIRST: Poorly written article
        SECOND: We agree…

        I really inferred a lot in reading the article…I am just a tad surprised we are not hearing more on the furloughs…that is disturbing to me. Our CCS is really going to get hurt with a 20% pay cut…but nobody seems all the concerned in the public sector. I was just happy to read a piece on the furlough…something that appeared to be from the heart.

        Working for the government always had a sense of security about it. Civilian friends comment on that often… I don’t think those comments will be so readily made…and we all know what is behind curtain number 2…right? The RIF and the SERB will be the next shoe to fall.

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