Time To Rely On Character, Not Guidelines

The Secret Service’s response to its embarrassing Colombian prostitute scandal — like the GSA response to its infuriating Las Vegas spend-a-thon — says a lot about the bureaucratic mindset.

In an effort to prevent agents from engaging in future drunken romps with hookers, the Secret Service has tightened guidelines.  Agents working overseas now are “banned from drinking on duty, visiting ‘disreputable establishments’ and bringing foreigners into hotel rooms.”  These are viewed as “common-sense enhancements” of existing rules, and will be accompanied by more “ethics sessions” for staff.  In short, the Secret Service, like the GSA before it, is relying on more regulation and more bureaucracy to solve its problem.

Does anyone really think, however, that the wording of regulations is what caused this scandal?  Does the Secret Service really believe that the agents who got drunk in a strip club and took Colombian streetwalkers back to their hotel rooms consulted the employee guidelines before they guzzled their first shot of vodka?

The problem is not with regulations, but with people.  If the Secret Service has hired agents who thought their behavior in Colombia was acceptable, then the problem runs a lot deeper than tweaking the terms of Regulation 12.3(b)(iii).  The processes that led to the hiring of the agents failed, and the training that helped to shape their behavior also failed.  The Secret Service needs to take a comprehensive look at how it selects and schools the people who protect our President.  It needs to figure out how to identify, hire, and promote individuals with qualities like responsibility, dedication, and judgment — because the agents involved in the Colombia scandal sorely lacked those crucial qualities.

It’s time our government understood that we must put our faith in people, not regulations.  You can’t regulate reckless people into responsible people.

The Unemployed Need Not Apply?

The Huffington Post has an interesting piece today about help wanted ads that specifically state that those who are unemployed need not apply because they will not be considered.  It’s one of those weird stories that make you shake your head and think for a while.

The one employer quoted in the piece explains that the rationale for their policy is to avoid unnecessary work by their HR people.  They want people who are happy in their current jobs who might be lured away; they don’t want to be bombarded with a bunch of resumes from unemployed people who probably aren’t qualified but who are desperately hoping they might get lucky.  A spokesperson for the National Employment Law Project, on the other hand, says that employers who try to exclude applications from the unemployed are bad corporate citizens who are falling prey to “sad and despicable” propaganda.

As the article points out, it is not illegal for employers to discriminate against the currently unemployed in their hiring decisions.  And I suppose you could give the employers in question credit for being honest about their preferences.  Wouldn’t an applicant rather know of an ironclad policy that will eliminate any chance that they might get a job, rather than spend the time, money, and emotional capital involved in applying for the job?  If the policy exists and will be enforced, amending a want ad to cut any reference to that policy seems to be a pointless exercise in exalting form over substance.

The reality, though, is that virtually everyone has been unemployed at some point in their working lives, and that many unemployed people have lost their jobs for larger economic reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their work.  Whether a person currently holds a job clearly not an accurate proxy for the qualities that make a good employee.  Ultimately, employers who flatly refuse to hire the unemployed will just be hurting themselves — and maybe they will come to realize that fact.