VA’s Lake Wobegon Syndrome Isn’t Unusual

My latest for The Hill, "Why all VA executives are above average," has posted.


My latest for The Hill, “Why all VA executives are above average,” has posted.  Most of it will be familiar to regular readers. The conclusion:

It ultimately isn’t a problem for 95 percent of the employees to get “walks on water” or above ratings if the people making decisions about retention, promotions, bonuses, raises and so forth understand how the system works. Presumably, the 5 percent who get below “walks on water” are counseled and soon out the door if they don’t improve drastically and the true superstars are in the top category — whatever it’s called — or otherwise distinguishable by the use of specific buzzwords in their review.

In such a system, a manager who rates their average employees “average” are doing both those employees and the company a disservice. Eventually, his superiors will figure out that he’s a dolt. But, in the meantime, good people are being punished for his doltishness. And the true top performers under his management won’t be promoted, hurting both them and the firm.

Similar, the VA is hardly unique in offering “performance bonuses” to what would seem an inordinate share of its senior managers. There, as in many workplaces — and, again, not just in the government sector — bonuses are part of the standard pay package for management-level employees and not getting a bonus is the exception, not the rule.

Finally, it’s worth noting that it’s possible for an agency to be problem plagued and for most of its senior management to actually be doing a good job. Many of the VA’s problems are externally driven, with congressionally driven mandates creating a vast number of new claims from Vietnam Era and Desert Storm veterans at a time when the system is being pushed beyond its limits by the influx of claims from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much more at the link.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    This is common in most large bureaucracies. I worked for large corporations most of my life and people got glowing reviews right up to the day they got fired for gross incompetence.