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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

We need more government sacrifice

Question: The conventional political wisdom is that the American public will reject politicians who propose or embrace a plan to bring the federal budget into balance through tax hikes and/or deep spending cuts. Is this a leadership challenge without a good solution? Can there be leadership without follow-ship?

I'm a firm believer in Americans' ability to accept sacrifice in times of crisis. Our history is full of examples of selflessness and generosity when they are needed most. From the rationing of the World War II era to the charity bestowed on the victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Americans step up when they hear the call to service to do what's necessary.

When it comes to the federal budget deficit, however, the message has been cloudy. The stimulus may have helped avoid a total meltdown of our economy, but few feel its impacts. And it is difficult to prove what would have happened without the stimulus spending. At the same time, most Americans--many of whom are unemployed or have had severe cuts in pay and benefits--have felt the effects of the recession. But in Washington, federal employees have rarely felt the same pain.

I believe that our government system needs to attract the best and brightest. And it used to be that, like the nonprofit world, many would take a pay cut for the opportunity to serve. During the years of prosperity, federal salaries and benefits continued to increase, which was necessary to compete for top talent. But now, during the recession, those salaries did not go down. So many comparative jobs in the government sector now offer equal or higher pay, better benefits and more job security than their private-sector counterparts.

President Obama's move to freeze federal workers' pay and soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner's jettisoning of his private plane are wise moves, but they are mostly symbolic. Our leaders need to be willing to do more and cut our spending down to the point we are just about to hit bone. Once our citizens see that their leaders and government workers are willing to sacrifice, as they have been doing, they themselves will be more willing to make further sacrifices. And this is how we will get the momentum to once and for all address some of the major issues, like Social Security, that, if not reformed, will bankrupt our nation.

If you want people to get behind you, then you must lead--not by words or promises, but by example. And that's how our elected officials can best ready the nation for what is inevitably to come.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  December 1, 2010; 9:46 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Crisis leadership , Economic crisis , Followership , Government leadership , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership , Self-Sacrifice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Looking for love from an unloving public | Next: The federal budget as metaphor


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I'd say $2.8 billion a week in Afghanistan is bankrupting our country,I'd say not allowing Medicare to negotiate bulk drug prices is bankrupting our country,I'd say lending financial institutions taxpayer dollars at .05% and borrowing it back through the Treasury Dept. at 4% is bankrupting our country.I'd say federal loan guarantees to private"colleges" is bankrupting our country. There's plenty of stuff bankrupting America but it certainly is not Social Security!

Posted by: clary916 | December 4, 2010 6:38 PM
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Mr. Goodwin, like many good citizens of this country, trumpets a call to arms for deficit reduction by proposing to cut government to the bone. Unfortunately, he does not illuminate what he would cut; however, the implication of his treatise suggests that a prime target are overpaid federal employees with overgenerous benefits.

I've heard many people say, "Just get rid of those fat, lazy federal employees, and things will be much better!" Okay, these people are entitled to their opinion, but what get's lost in the debate is that federal employees are taxpayers and consumers as well. Think about it, like everyone else, federal employees will be asked to sacrifice a portion of their healthcare and retirement because of restrictions that will be placed on Medicare and social security, and they will also feel the bite of increased taxes. However, unlike private sector employees, they will also have to sacrifice their pay, their health insurance and retirements benefits, and once these are gone, they're gone.

I will concede that times are tough for everyone right now, and federal employees have been insulated from the pain a bit. However, I strongly believe that the economy will strengthen and many people who are now suffering, particularly those in the private sector, will have the opportunity to bounce back through increased economic activity.

To these citizens, I offer this challenge: When you do bounce back, will you be there for the federal employees, and say, now it's time to give a little back to our hardworking civil servants who stood along side us during a time of great national need?

Given the tenor of the national debate on this issue, I don't hold out much hope of that happening.

Posted by: pr41 | December 3, 2010 1:50 PM
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If you've "hit bone", that means your perforated the skin, allowing infect to enter the body. You've also just vital ligaments and nerves that may not be repairable. Instead of making the patient more fit, you've maimed him for life and possibly crippled his limbs, making him incapable of carrying out his essential duties.

Posted by: AxelDC | December 3, 2010 10:14 AM
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The only way to trim the operating budget in any organization is to get rid of expenses.
Expenses come to work on two feet and leave on two feet.

Posted by: tripferguson1 | December 2, 2010 7:50 PM
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Instead of analyzing the federal budget and cutting wasteful programs as promised, politicians have chose to cut one group of middle-class federal employees' pay. In Washington, federal employees have felt the pain every day of every year in both good times and bad for decades. We earn less than our private sector counterparts while more is demanded of us. We do this because we take pride in serving our country and keeping down the cost of government. We accept a real pay cut for the opportunity to serve. The private sector, contractors, lobbyists, politicians, appointees, and old money can afford to live in D.C., but most federal employees commute significant distances, because we can't afford to live in D.C. where we work. Federal salaries have increased slightly to defray rises in the cost of living but have not attained parity with private sector counterparts. During the recession, costs of living have continued to rise for federal employees--services, health care premiums, etc.

The military pay & benefits package exceeds the value of the civilian pay & benefits package, but military pay is not frozen. What the U.S. pays foreign nationals working for the U.S. federal government overseas is not frozen. Private sector pay for equal work is not frozen, including for contractors working side-by-side with federal civilian employees. Pay for many federal employees is not frozen.

More significantly, federal employees deal daily with wasteful spending mandated by Congress and the Executive Branch but lack authority to stop it. Cutting middle-class salaries is an easy political act compared to cutting the extensive, untouchable, wasteful programs that federal employees witness and administer every day.

Posted by: brunog | December 2, 2010 10:09 AM
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True the government needs to tone down. There are many arguments as to where those cuts are due. The problem stems from being multiple leaders. Addressing the whole goverment program does little to resolve the focus needed for each area.

If I'm told I have to cut back on everything, I have a difficult time focusing on where to start, how to start, and what impacts my action will have. We, as I refer to the problem, try to get our arms around everything without embracing anything.

It's like eating the elephant. Put it on the table and it overwhelms the guest. Serve it one bite at a time, and the guests go back for more and more...

Posted by: jbeeler | December 2, 2010 8:37 AM
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