Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reasons Washington is Broken, Part 17

Since I moved to Washington, DC, I have obtained piece by piece of a massive jigsaw puzzle. No one bothered to explain the rules, or what the picture is supposed to look like when you're finished with it, but that's just not how things work here. Because I don't believe that truth ought to be granted on a need-to-know basis, I have written about what I've uncovered. Perhaps enough of us will chip away at the Sphinx long enough to find the answers to the riddles it holds close to the vest. What follows is another one recently explained.

Today's Politico print edition speaks about the process of obtaining employment on Capitol Hill.

Getting a job in a Hill office is rarely a straight-forward process; rather, who you know, where you're from, and inside-the-Beltway recommendations can sometimes matter more than the experience detailed on a resume. In fact, a survey of congressional offices found that most of the best jobs aren't even posted on official job websites, according to a House compensation study produced last year for the Office of the Chief Administrator.

The majority of House offices did not or rarely used job advertising sites and other Internet tools to recruit for staff openings, including the House.gov website run by the House, the survey found.

Nearly 74 percent (emphasis mine) of House offices answered "not at all" when asked if they posted open positions in newspaper advertisements. And 78 percent said they didn't post jobs at career fairs, 63 percent didn't post with diversity-promoting organizations, and 61 percent didn't advertise in trade or professional publications.

Connections are the most popular way into a job, with an overwhelming number of House offices replying on referrals from current employees, a friend's or relative's referral, or internal job posting, the survey showed.

"It's tough," said one former Hill veteran. "Getting a job up there often depends on little more than the right friends or the right home-state connections. Many jobs are landed by word of mouth and buddy-to-buddy recommendations. You won't see these jobs in the 'help wanted' section".

Since so much in Washington, DC, revolves around the Hill, much of this pertains to other jobs in the city. Though all men are supposedly created equal, it is curious that the Aristocracy lives on, despite our assertions to the contrary. When we talk about needed reform and the challenges facing us, Washington culture is often extremely averse to revising the status quo. Those who work in government are loyal to their superiors because their livelihood depends on continuity. As shown above, they owe their jobs frequently not to their own suitability for employment, but purely based on favoritism. This isn't exactly democracy at work, as originally designed, though it is curious that this arrangement is followed by almost every member of Congress. Do as I say, not as I hire. If Republicans, God forbid, are to take control of Congress, they should expect their grandiose ambitions to be similarly thwarted, since they will find themselves defeated by the system.

Non-profits and similar enterprises also closely allied to Congress live or die based on adequate sources of funding. They hire those willing to tether their career plans to a very specific set of skills, since keeping coffers filled also depends heavily on lasting connections and who one knows. The irony is that there are simply too many NGOs or PACs in DC competing for scarce economic resources, which is why they must constantly justify their own existence to donors. True democracy would be half as many 527s or non-profits working together instead of at cross-purposes, but everyone wants a piece of the pie. Moreover, many want to be in charge of something, no matter how minor or modest it may be.

If we want Washington to let go of its ways, we need to eradicate this shameful systemic hypocrisy. The system as currently set up benefits those with privilege, wealth, and means. It, in effect, locks out those who are not born into favorable circumstances. It shortchanges the working class, the disabled, and since most hires don't seem to take diversity into account, it also locks out minorities. Nothing could be more unfair, and, for that nature, un-American. Do we really want to live up to our ideals, or are we content to preserve a mindset that runs contrary to all that we say we are? Until we do, we can expect Washington to always work against us, not for us.

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