Is Private Sector Experience Very Helpful in Government Jobs?
In Spring Training for the Major Leagues of Government the central character, Brian raises an important question. “I have a good bit of experience running my former company while working on government contracts. Isn’t the government similar to the private sector? Will my private sector experience help me to be successful in the government?”
Private sector experience will enable you to bring fresh ideas to your government position. However, it will not help you as much as you may think. The government is a different species. For example, it is the parent as far as the private sector is concerned, and, as with children and parents, those dependent on government do not always love the government. In its role at the head of the table, the government creates an environment in which the private sector can survive, hopefully thrive, and create wealth to enable most citizens to continue to live better today than did most kings in medieval times.
The government can print and distribute money with nothing behind it as it did from 2007 to 2017 responding to the collapse of the Wall Street and banking systems. The government can benefit favored companies by providing specific tax benefits and earmarks, by awarding contracts or by transferring government jobs to the private sector. In addition, the government creates laws allowing companies to continue doing business the way the corporate world likes to do business. Infrequently, it creates laws requiring companies to consider the needs of the nation in addition to improving the bottom line.
How the Government Environment Will Affect You.
The funding for your program needs to survive a hierarchy of challenges from within your own agency, from OMB, the White House, and various committees in Congress.
Politics and the number of players influencing decisions in government always surprise newcomers. Several cultures exist within the government, each with its own idea of what is the right direction in any given case.
There are endless laws, policies, regulations, processes and guidelines to follow that detract from doing “real” work.
You will need to work with some political appointees lacking experience to manage complex programs, which leads to strange and costly decisions.
The systems the government needs ordinarily do not exist because of their uniqueness, requiring development from scratch, with higher risk and cost.
The government budget process begins two years in advance, and, once set, it is difficult to change priorities or obtain additional funds, even though the needs and circumstances change.
Establishing new positions and filling them can take 18 months in the government personnel system. Disciplining poor performance or firing an employee requires extensive documentation, taking a year or more.
When managing large-scale procurements, the government normally must advertise them and seek competitive bids, requiring a negotiation process that can take a year at a minimum, and the government may never make an award due to endless protests by companies anxious for the business.
In summary, the government is more complex than the private sector where the goal is clear: grow the business and increase the bottom line. Yet, most who have spent time in higher-level government jobs conclude that the experience was and is the most rewarding of their careers.
Source, Chapter 2, Spring Training for the Major Leagues of Government
Understanding and working through the many challenges in high-level government jobs.