Saturday, April 25, 2009

Writing in Third Person

I just finished my first self-assessment, which covers my first six months of work. While my actual six month period doesn't end until late next month, I have to turn it in for review so tjat they can discuss it at the Performance Review Group meeting for me. I haven't had to write much in third person before and it felt weird. My DPM (we like acronyms for everything, it stands for something like Director of Performance Management) advised that I should be "shamelessly complimentary" of myself in the write-up. So I did just that. I was able to get some feedback on my write-up from the senior staff on my job and they were pleased with how it turned out. I am not as stressed about the whole review process as I thought I would be. I am actually looking forward to it (though writing the self-assessment is my only role in the process). Once I send off the self-assessment I don't have to think about the whole thing again until May 12th when they will meet to review my self-assessment and the comments of my DPM. 

In other news, I have been involved with the International Fellowship Program at GAO. Folks from around the world that work for agencies similar to GAO come and take classes. GAO is widely regarded as the gold standard for such an agency. It has been fun meeting and getting to know the different Fellows. They come with a wide range of experience but they all seem to be enjoying their time here. GAO sets up a lot of different things for them to do throughout the week and especially on the weekends. Last weekend I helped organize a photo scavenger hunt, so they would have pictures of different places that they visited while in Washington D.C. It was a lot of fun. 

The weather keeps getting nicer around here. Which I appreciate. However, my coworkers are already saying how hot and muggy it will be this summer... I have never lived in a place with hot, muggy summers. I am thinking I am going to be a total wimp about it. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Immature Politics

While I try to remain optimistic about the political landscape and the possibility that Americans are capable of understanding complex issues, something like the "Tea Party" protests come around to shake that optimism. I am a huge fan of populist anger and outpourings of that sentiment, however these recent protests don't meet those standards. The intellectually lazy and misguided protests were organized around an extremely wide range of issues, some more disturbing than others.  Some issues (though the whole thing lacked a coherent message) included socialism (seriously, are you kidding me), communism (where are you people getting this), big government, and the always easy target "high taxes." The protests seemed less like a coherent statement and more like a temper tantrum for an increasingly marginalized and powerless wing of the Republican party.  It is pretty easy to have a protest against such strawmen and pretend that it moves any discussion forward. I am always amazed by the people protesting these issues and how little they understand about the role of public spending in all aspects of their life. Everything from the safety of our food, to our education system, to the roads we drive on are all dependent on government subsidies. Many often pretend that it is the market that allows this to happen, but there is no part of the market that is not dependent on government regulation and subsidies, either directly or indirectly. Taxes are a necessity and the best we can do is ensure the accountability of the spending and push for more transparency. Working to assess the quality of the spending and adjusting public policy accordingly allows for a more coherent and effective system. 

However, as people who actually study these issues will tell you (as opposed to those taping tea bags on a hat), much of the problem of the perceived "high taxes" is a result of the increasingly regressive tax system in the U.S. As a result of tax cuts and increased legal loopholes, the wealthy in the U.S. are paying less in taxes than they did during the Eisenhower administration. By one analysis, reverting to a more progressive tax system would bring a net revenue of $450 billion dollars a YEAR. While raising taxes during a recession is not a good idea, it is something that will have to be addressed at some point, hopefully in the near future. A more progressive taxation system would benefit all Americans. Decreasing the massive inequalities in the U.S. would do a world of good in a variety of areas. Inequality negatively affects things like health, anxiety, social activity, political involvement, and social well-being. A real tax agenda would work to create a tax code that is fair for all but progressive in focus. However, my optimism for such a system is extremely low. Tax issues are complex and I don't hold much hope that the public will come up to speed quickly (or at all), particularly given the media's lack of complexity on the issue (given their barron's are among the wealth elite that benefit from the current system).