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Handbook Offers Way To Survive the Jungle

It seems like everyone has something to say about the job market these days. In Washington, D.C., advice on working in government is given freely — almost too freely.

To be sure, knowing how to navigate the ins and outs of Washington can be valuable, but not all advice is equal, even when it comes in printed form.

Take, for example, “The Agency Game: Inside the Bureaucratic Jungle.— Self-published by first-time author William B. Parker, the book is billed as a “fun-filled, fact-driven book— to guide government workers. Make no mistake, though: Parker believes this is the definitive book you have been waiting for.

In truth, few readers will probably be helped in their careers, but they may gain a few chuckles along the way.

Subtitles hype the book as “The Unofficial Employee Handbook— and “A Guerrilla Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Government Service.— Readers are lured with a bright red “Notice— at the cover’s bottom: “Known or suspected possession of this publication by government employees could become grounds for extreme disciplinary sanctions, up to and including termination. As for possession by non-government citizens, who gives a rat’s ass?—

Structured as an encyclopedic tell-all, Parker’s book attempts to categorize the phenomena he experienced while working in government and then to develop a framework for understanding and practice. Defining an “agency— as any generic unit of government with more than one employee, Parker attempts to include what he sees as the protocols, procedures and ploys that agency staff have perfected “ever since government was instituted among men.—

Believing government work to be a veritable jungle, Parker’s aims are unabashedly self-serving; he intends for employees to bend the system to their aims, or what he sees as “the public sector equivalent of self-actualization.—

Private to Public

Having spent time in a Fortune 500 company before working in the public sector, Parker said he was initially shocked at government agency behavior, which seemed contrary to basic organizational rules. Parker claims to be touching on what he says are the beginnings of a “true— science of agency behavior.

Parker believes public sector employees simply respond to their environment’s reward structure. Disregarding the notion that public benefit factors at all in practice, Parker says, “If curious (angry or horrified) members of the public don’t like what they read, they should bear in mind that this manual is not intended for them.— He also invites the public to figure out a model for government that actually stays true to its intended purpose, believing it to be inevitable for an agency’s intended purposes to fade with time.

Multitude of Topics

The book is laid out according to an alphabetical listing of topics, covering some 200 categories that Parker deems to be helpful in navigating government work.

Undoubtedly, many who read Parker’s categories and subsequent advice will find them too difficult to absorb. His categories are radically different from what might be seen in a standard employee handbook, but they can also be quite amusing with Parker’s penchant for personal anecdotes.

For example, Parker categorizes agency employees into three groups: committed idealists, hangers-on, and time-clock punchers. Parker describes one memorable encounter with a committed idealist: A young colleague who had once worked in a transit agency declared, “I’d devote my life to transit.— Parker’s reaction? “I think he really needed to get laid.—

Deflecting criticism of the book in an interview, Parker was insistent that his is the guide to the way government works, whether readers like it or not. Period.

Asked what sections he would recommend to a young Hill staffer, Parker pointed to four: “Daley, Richard J.: Patron Saint of Public Longevity,— “Publics: A Hierarchical Ranking,— “Blame— and “Buckpassing.—

Dubbing the mayor of Chicago the “patron saint of public longevity,— Parker attributes Daley’s adage, “Don’t make waves. Don’t back losers,— as sound advice. With the theory of “publics,— he describes what he sees as the essentials of hierarchy. On blame, Parker says it’s a tool, or “the chief competitive weapon in the never-ending wars for turf.— He dovetails blame with his description of buck-passing, where responsibility is foisted onto others.

In “Beltway, Inside The,— Parker dispenses some harsh words for Washington, D.C. Referring to “Imperial Washington— as a city where the best and the brightest are drawn, he also alleges that the District has the “highest concentration of shrinks per capita of [any] other major US city,— as home to an army of highly educated but frustrated government employees.

In a section on Chicago economics, Parker asserts that agencies would be “much better off hiring people from Harvard … where influence on government (and therefore, political power) is valued at least as highly as the knowledge uncovered there. … I’d also shun Chicago-trained staffers. If I could, I’d burn ‘em all at the stake!—

Bribes Are OK

Some of his other advice is so practical it can be comical.

Drugs? Don’t use them in the office.

Bribes? Parker tells government employees to use them, but not to get caught, saying, “If you do choose this avenue to augment your salary, by all means resist the urge to display your excess wealth openly.—

Elected officials? Use extreme caution and realize that their staffs are often more knowledgeable than they are.

One over-the-top gem is Parker’s take on gender differences: “When you cut the baloney about differences between the genders, it is worth noting that most men and women process information (i.e., think) and communicate differently.—

He reserves his most amusing words for the women’s movement, though: The women’s movement “encouraged women to wear dresses that reveal four fifths of their boobs … thereby encouraging (well, at least not discouraging) glances and comments,— he writes.

For what it’s worth, “The Agency Game— does try to answer how government employees can succeed in their jobs, but Parker’s deep-seated cynicism makes the book’s usefulness marginal. But if you are still curious to read it, you are guaranteed a few laughs along the way.

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