The Declining Confidence in Government and the need for Human Competency

The Minneapolis bridge collapse, the BP oil spill, the Benghazi attack, the Hurricane Katrina response, and most recently, the DNC cyber attack controversy that led chairperson Debbie Wassermann to resign her position, are among many other government failures that have contributed to the declining confidence in government. According to Berman et al., in 2010, only two in ten Americans trusted their government. Today, those numbers keep declining.

So what caused the above mentioned failures? The Obama administration received stark criticism for being too bureaucratic and slow to respond to the BP oil spill. The Department of Homeland Security waited until the spill increased five-fold, to 5,000 barrels a day, to declare the incident a significant national emergency (Robertson, Lipton 2010). The American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently given the U.S. infrastructure a letter D rating. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the Minneapolis bridge collapse revealed that inspectors did not routinely check if the bridge’s safety features were functional. Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath disclosed the conflict between state and federal government when responding to grand scale natural disasters. This conflict led to mismanagement and lack of leadership resulting in hundreds of deaths. The Benghazi attacks killed a U.S. ambassador and several soldiers. The U.S. Department of State was accused of not handling the circumstances prior to the attack adequately and not addressing security lapses. Lastly, the 2016 Presidential Elections led to a cyber attack of the DNC e-mail servers, exposing the party’s efforts to sabotage Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign. These events trigger sentiments of disdain for the ineffective bureaucracy, negligence, inefficiency, and dishonesty by our government and its leaders; constituting the demand for human competency in the public sector.

The following video mentions some points regarding the distrust of government, possible motives, and the generation gap.

According to this video, there is a split between the younger generations and the older generation regarding government issues. A CNN poll showed that 51% of the older generations believe that President Nixon’s resignation was a serious matter vs. 46% of the younger generations believing it was just politics. This split is reflected on many issues today. According to McCorkle and Witt, studies consistently find differences in work and behaviors across generational lines. The changes in time have resulted in a new generation of young individuals with a different mindset and expectations than the one America had years ago. Might this disparity and new era of thinkers be the reason that trust in government is at an all-time low? Is everything just politics? Regardless of the answer, as Haberman says, the distrust in the institutions is a problem for anyone connected to Washington.

In order to rebuild trust in the government and enhance its quality and productivity, we need to foster human competency. This entails defining the abilities and behaviors needed for people to do their jobs well and linking several key human resource management practices ensure organizations are staffed by competent people who perform effectively. We must do that by revamping the very core of public administration which is the desire to selflessly serve the public. When public servants put the public first, before politics or personal agendas, their actions reflect those sentiments. As human resource managers, we must also possess the desire to selflessly serve the public, and recruit the best public servants for our organizations. Berman et al. mention, until employees are seen as an asset worthy of investment, beginning with their selection, it is difficult to see how the public interest will be served effectively. If labor is reduced to a cost rather than an asset to be enhanced, quality, effectiveness, and citizen service are usually sacrificed (pg. 499).

We need to create a government that caters to its people by creating effective workplaces at each level of government. Berman et al. state that governments historically have avoided aggressive recruitment practices. Today, government agencies are using new strategies to ensure quality intake. The U.S. State Department uses a combination of integrating traditional marketing, outreach techniques, and public relations with web-based technology which makes it a model recruitment program. Adopting various recruitment strategies attracts a wider population, meaning that new talents and personalities will reach the hiring pool. This is when it becomes crucial to identify candidates that possess public servant characteristics and people skills. In McCorkle and Witt, we learned the importance of communication skills, emotional intelligence and emotional labor, and addressing toxic behaviors. Interpersonal skills are needed to navigate in the workplace because they get the job done while dealing with conflicts in a professional manner.

Lastly, diversity is an important concept that needs to be understood and implemented in our government. Elected officials must represent the population it serves. A representative democracy is needed in order to ensure the needs of every group in our country. This starts by including diversity in recruitment practices (Berman et al.,pg 118). A diverse workplace is an educated workplace that understands the cultures that make up our country. Trust is hard to build and maintain when there is a disconnect between government leaders and specific groups within the population.

An example of a competency-based talent management is a system created by University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library to address organizational, departmental, and individual needs: http://www-tandfonline

This article defines the concept of competency as going beyond the KSAs required for any individual job, to the attitudes and values that are the foundation for behavior and performance. The library created a report for its employees defining the concept and listing three competency areas: Patron Focus, Effectiveness, and Communication. The competencies extended to new positions descriptions, performance evaluations, and training and development.

The new performance evaluation process and form included an assessment of each employee’s self-perceived ability to meet the organization-wide competencies. This was intended as a baseline measure to determine whether employees (1) understood the competencies in relation to their work and (2) believed they had the skills and tools necessary to meet the competencies. The purpose of this baseline measure was to help employees set developmental goals for the upcoming year and to enable human resources to prioritize training activities. Based on the results of these assessments, we delivered training aligned with the following competency-based standards in 2009: “Understands the library’s collections and core systems”; “Plans and organizes well by managing time and priorities to accomplish tasks” (Time Management; Meeting Management); “Listens effectively and transmits information clearly and accurately” (Workplace Writing Skills; Presentation Skills).
Lorelei Rutledge, Sarah LeMire, Melanie Hawks & Alfred Mowdood (2016) Competency-Based Talent Management: Three Perspectives in an Academic Library, Journal of Library Administration, 56:3, 235–250, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2015.1105051.

This article presents a good example of how to define human competency and how to reach its demand. Student may find it easier to understand the concept by reading about specific steps taken to address several issues in an organization. In a macro-level stance, reading this article might help students envision larger government institutions implementing such practices and understanding the process.

A second article I found useful belongs to the National Research Council of Canada: http://www.nrc

Under their career section, they list several resources for prospective employees such as preparing for a behavioral competency interview. This is a Human Resource practice students can evaluate and determine if it is beneficial for organizations.

A list to three other articles regarding the demand for human competency and the declining confidence in government are:

Overall, reaching the demand for human competency requires strategies specific to each organization and its people. I agree with Berman et al. with management being a highly individualized art. A general approach will not yield results or changes. We need organizations that care enough to get to know their members and implement the necessary changes. Berman et al. teach us about Tom Morris’ four key dimensions to run modern organizations (pg. 501): Intellectual (truth), aesthetic (beauty), moral (goodness), and spiritual (unity). Each dimension contributes to individual and organizational success. The way to achieve those is through collaboration between employees and employers and a common cause: serving the public’s needs.


Berman, E. M. (n.d.). Human resource management in public service: Paradoxes, processes, and problems.

Lorelei Rutledge, Sarah LeMire, Melanie Hawks & Alfred Mowdood (2016) Competency-Based Talent Management: Three Perspectives in an Academic Library, Journal of Library Administration, 56:3, 235–250, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2015.1105051.

Mccorkle, S., & Witt, S. (n.d.). People Skills for Public Managers.