Surviving dysfunctional 'families': Getting caught between the legislative and executive branches

I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague the

other day who works in a position nearly identical to mine and for an

organization that is very much like the one I work for. We spoke for nearly an

hour and after hanging up, I realized that although we shared very similar

hopes, expectations, goals and objectives, our strategies for achieving them were

going to be very different. Why? Because of our "parents."

Not our biological parents, in this case, but the often

dysfunctional branches of government that we lovingly refer to as the

legislative and executive branches of government. You can call one dad and the other mom (it doesn't matter which), but no matter what size your governmental

organization, you are a product of mom

and dad.

When mom and dad get along, and we happen to be one of their

favorite offspring, we can be showered with goodness, whether it's free-flowing

funding or loose oversight. To be one of the favored children is to be in


However, when they don't get along, heaven help us. We can

get caught in a tug-of-war between the two branches in which the children have

to fend for themselves. Woe to you if you are one of the unfavored, left to

scramble for the crumbs available after the preferred children have received

their blessings.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how good you are or how

hard you try, much of what you can or can't do is a byproduct of the

interaction of these branches of government and the political winds that are

blowing at the time.

I know that many of the things that my colleague has

accomplished would be nothing short of a miracle if I could pull them off in my

environment, just because the political climates in which we operate are so

very different.

I say this not to be negative, but rather to remind you to

put your situation in perspective when making comparisons with similar

government organizations in other cities, counties, or states.

People like to make comparisons of cities or counties that

are "comparable". But comparable is a relative term. The fact of the

matter is, you might be part of the best darned IT shop in the nation for your

agencies relative size, except for the small matter that you have a staff of

only three and your funding is nearly non-existent. You can't compare your

situation with a "comparable" agency that has twice the employees and

plenty of funding for new initiatives.

Despite this reality, there are those (possibly including

yourself) who won't look at the particular circumstances and will fail to give

you the credit you deserve for your efforts. Therefore, we must be careful when

judging ourselves and looking at benchmarks. It can be too easy to criticize

yourself and jump to the wrong conclusions. The important thing to remember is

to do the best that you can with what you've got and try to effect the change

necessary to make things better.

Fortunately for us, our system of government ensures that

change does come every so often (sometimes too often), and the situation that we

find ourselves in now may not be the same situation months or years down the

road. If you become the favored child for awhile, be ready to step up and make

the most of the opportunity—for those times can be short lived.

So although I can't effect the same kinds of change my

colleague can at the moment, I can do my best to move my organization in the

right direction and plan for the time when the winds of political change are

more favorable—then, I will be ready.

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