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Jul. 21 2010 - 12:08 pm | 482 views | 2 recommendations | 23 comments

Obama Administration fails Management 101

Anyone who has ever been responsible for the supervision of others in the workplace knows that there are a few rules that must be followed when terminating an employee.

You never fire an employee – any employee – until you’ve gathered and documented all the facts, making damn sure that every “i” has been dotted and ‘t’ has been crossed before you hand out that pink slip. You do this because you owe it to the individual whose job you are about to take away and because you just never know when you may have to defend your decision in a court of law.

You never fire an employee until you’ve given that person a full opportunity to tell their side of the story.

And, for heaven’s sake, you don’t instruct an employee to pull her car off to the side of the road and then force her resign via her Blackberry without giving that person a moment to consult an advisor, speak with human resources, etc.

This stuff is about as basic as it gets. It’s Management 101 and anyone who doesn’t get it has absolutely no business whatsoever being in a management position – especially when the organization under management is the government of the United States of America.

At this point, it would be hard to find anyone who supports the firing of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA employee forced to resign after a partial clip of her speech before an NAACP group was aired by Fox News and on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website.

The clip revealed a black woman telling the story of how she had questioned whether she wanted to help a farmer (26 years ago) when she was in a government position that obligated her to provide that help. Her lack of concern for this farmer was based on his being white and the ‘superior attitude’ he adopted when dealing with Ms. Sherrod.

Clearly, the video clip revealed that Ms. Sherrod was treating this man differently because of his skin color. By any definition, it was a clear-cut example of racism.

Except that it wasn’t.

As we now know, the video clip was a serious – and likely intentional – mischaracterization of the story. When the entire speech is viewed, we discover that Ms. Sherrod was documenting her personal growth from bias towards white people (her father had been murdered by a Klansman) to understanding that she needed to help all those in need – whether they be black or white. Her story is a wonderful, inspirational tale of a woman who overcame her racial biases and went on to help many farmers in rural Georgia, regardless of their race. It is a story made all the more poignant by the stepping forward of the white farmer in question who credits Ms. Sherrod with saving his family’s farm and being a good friend.

The Administration would have known the full story and avoided a serious error had they been capable of following the basic rules of employments listed above.

I suspect that things are going to turn out well for Shirley Sherrod now that the country has gotten behind her. I certainly hope so as she got a very raw deal. However, I wonder whether things will turn out well for the rest of us?

While Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, is taking the bullet by claiming he made the decision to fire Ms. Sherrod without checking with the White House, we all know that this is nonsense.  For starters, the deputy Agriculture Secretary who was in communication with Ms. Sherrod in the effort to obtain Sherrod’s quick resignation, flat out told her that this was coming from the White House. And while this matter was not likely one that would make it to the President’s desk, there is no way that Vilsack would have taken such a step without first checking with the Administration where someone instructed the Agriculture Secretary to get rid of Sherrod- and fast.

Sadly, we have a White House that that is building quite a track record when it comes to ineffective and inept management.

Screw-ups will happen. When they do,  you take your lumps and move on – resolved to do a better job in the future. But this White House seems to make the same kind of silly mistakes over and over again in a seemingly endless loop of management ineptitude. Whether it’s flying a plane at low altitude over New York City for a photo opportunity, scaring the hell out of everyone when the White House could have accomplished the same effect using Photoshop, or jumping into a dispute between a police officer and a Harvard professor before having all the facts, the President and his staff have not done well when it comes to avoiding unforced errors.

With a few notable exceptions (Katrina comes to mind), the previous administration was very effective at managing government to accomplish their agenda. Of course, the agenda they pursued was, in my opinion, extremely detrimental and dangerous to the interests of the nation. But they certainly knew how to get where the were going.

This administration has a very different problem. While I might be more sympathetic to the objectives of the Obama presidency, the inability to manage even the simplest of situations reveals that it is hard to imagine this government coming to a happy and successful ending.

Who can forget Obama coming into office promising not to be swayed in his decisions by the 24 hour news cycle? Yet here we are, just eighteen months later, watching this administration fire an employee based on an incomplete film clip and doing so without benefit of a hearing because they wanted her out before Glenn Beck began his show on the day in question.

According to Sherrod, she was given no chance to explain herself. “They asked me to resign. And, in fact, they harassed me,” she said about a series of phone calls from USDA Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook. Sherrod was in the middle of a long road trip, but pulled over after Cook insisted that she write her resignation via Blackberry. She remembers being told, “You’re going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.

Via Huffington Post

This White House has a personnel problem – one that is brought into stark relief by Ms. Sherrod’s situation. And while the firing of a USDA state director may not rise to the importance of health care and bank reform … Afghanistan and Iraq… or any number of critical policy issues that the President must deal with each day, sometimes the smaller things present the largest opportunities. President Obama should take advantage of this latest screw-up to make some management changes in his organization before the Obama White House becomes someone else’s White House.

It’s no secret that I like and admire the President. However, there are many people I like and admire whom I would never consider putting in charge of my business, which brings us to the next rule of good management – surround yourself with top notch people. No boss can be everywhere all the time. If you don’t have competent folks helping to run the store, the store is going to fail.

This president is in bad need of chief operating officer – and he needs to find one quickly because, as much as it pains me to say it, failing a more competent management team in this White House, I can only come to conclusion that Barack Obama may be better cut out for the life of a legislator where we can all benefit from his many talents without burdening him with the responsibilities of management and administration that come with the job of being the nation’s chief executive.


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11 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 23 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Yes you can’t “Fire” someone without justification, but you can “Layoff” anyone for just about anything.

  2. collapse expand

    First, the definition of “layoff” is “a discharge, esp. temporary, of a worker or workers” and “fire” is “informal dismiss (an employee) from a job.” The only real functional difference between the two terms is layoff implies one plans to rehire the employee at some later date, generally due to a change in economic circumstances. One may fire someone or layoff someone off without cause in most states as employees are considered “at will.”

    That quibble about a comment aside, Rick is absolutely dead on here. We always seem to have the choice between a dreadfully competent Republican president who efficiently accomplishes really stupid things that are grossly detrimental to our nation *or* an incompetent Democrat who tries really hard, but fails due to lack of skill or nerve, to accomplish good things for the country. I am not sure I am ready to call the President an incompetent just yet, but the evidence is mounting. He certainly doesn’t seem to have much nerve.

    Over the years, I have come to admire LBJ more and more. He may not have been the nicest man, but he could get things done. If a congressman didn’t vote the way he wanted on a bill, the congressman could find all of the letter carriers transfered out of his district or every important constituent getting an IRS audit. When push came to shove, LBJ knew how to shove. Another politician I’ve always admired because of his ability to get things passed is Willie Brown. Man is a political genius and, unlike LBJ, a total charmer. You couldn’t meet a nicer man. If I were the President, I’d get Willie out to the White House to straighten the place out and host some seminars on how politics works for the staff.

    • collapse expand

      My God, I’ve found the only other man alive who feels this way about Willie Brown!!! Good on ya, Stephen! Whenever I point out the talents of Mr. Brown I tend to get booed down in whatever room I happen to be in…and I never understand why. The guy was – and is – amazing. He is exactly what California needs today and nobody seems to get it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I understand the differences in terms. But most companies, even in “at will” states, will only “fire” if they have a demonstrable cause. If they want to get rid of you when they have no demonstrable cause, say your boss just doesn’t like you or wants to give your work to his friends in the office, they will use “layoff” with no intention of ever hiring you back. My last company laid off an employee, but then screwed up and told unemployment they laid her off for cause and are now tied up in court over it all. They will likely settle sooner than later since this isn’t the first time it has happened and HR employees have lost their jobs because of the screw up.

    Now to get back on point. Since Sherrod was allegedly forced to resign the White House is back pedaling very hard right now and is almost begging to Sherrod to un-resign. But she is saying to little to late … for now.

    I hope she un-resigns for a big bonus and stays around to remind these ass-hats they need to look before they leap, every time.

  4. collapse expand

    Does anyone know if Ms. Sherrod belongs to a union? Many federal employees do. If so, then she could file a grievance for wrongful dismissal.
    Why are they offering her a new job? Why not just give her her old job back? It only makes sense if they are offering her a promotion. I hope they are, she deserves it. She seems like a very compassionate and intelligent lady.

  5. collapse expand

    This president is in bad need of [a] chief operating officer

    I thought that’s what Rahm was for — do you mean he needs someone besides Rahm, or in place OF Rahm? Personally, I think Rahm is part of the reason Obama seems so ‘centrist.’

    The other thing is that Obama has an entire cabinet + advisors — how much more help does he need to successfully run the country? When Persephone (our youngest schnauzer) was a puppy she would paw me to get me to pick her up, but she wouldn’t stop pawing me once I picked her up so I would tell her: “Fly little birdie …” and give her a gentle nudge off the chair. She always managed to land on her feet (paws) and it taught her how to jump up on her own. Maybe it’s time we collectively tell President Obama to ‘fly little birdie’ and trust him to land on HIS feet too.

    • collapse expand

      Ah….you’ve read between the lines. Yes, traditionally the Chief of Staff is the COO. However, as you note in pointing out that Emanuel has pushed the administration towards the center, one gets the strong feeling that Emanuel’s job has been more politically based than operationally based. I think this is at the heart of the failing. There needs to be a Chief of Staff who is focused on managing rather than policy and I’m not sure that is what exists at this time.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    Barack Obama is a good man (IMHO). He’s also a likable guy with a real nice family that he should be very proud of. He lacks any semblance of executive experience. He is therefore pretty much unqualified for his job. You can take this to the bank: The next POTUS will not be Barack Obama, and prolly will be an experienced governor (or governor’s spouse with experience by proxy). We can only pray that said governor will be a person of courage conviction and compassion. All this hoping is giving me a headache.

  7. collapse expand

    Nopers on the “particular” question on accounta these governors have a way of coming out of nowhere. It would be interesting to hear how Doris Kearns Goodwin would answer that question. Here’s a one-word clue on the “spouse” question – Carville.

  8. collapse expand

    Rick, your fact base is, as usual (and good for us) larger than mine in this matter. Your opinion is a close match to mine. It is shameful, really that administration should be this administration’s second downfall (moving to the right being its first). Cheney was a great “administrator” as president, but look who profited. Actually I would welcome LBJ back, although he would likely not fare so well against the current Repubes (who have learned to play dirty so well, maybe from him in part).
    THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM, but you used the phrase “from bias towards white people” in describing Ms Sherrod. I wonder if this is dialetical or stylistic (and you may not know) but (North)East Coast usage seems to be different, preferring ‘bias against’ in this meaning. (linguistic background, sorry).

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    I am an attorney in Southern California, and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. To that end, I am active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Based in beautiful Santa Monica, California, I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to be a contributing editor to True/Slant. I've recently finished a book designed to make the health care debate understandable to the average reader, and expect it to be out in the next five months or earlier. In my 'spare time', I continue to write for television and, occasionally, for comic books.

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