Whether or not I have policy disagreements with the the Republican National Committee, I nevertheless would prefer that its chair had, at minimum, a baseline understanding of the way government works that's equal to my own. Unfortunately, based upon his performance on Sunday's edition of This Week with George Stephanopoulos, this does not seem to be the case for Michael Steele.
As Sam Stein noted, Steele managed to "confuse" Stephanopoulos this weekend with his bizarre contention "that government jobs are not, in fact, really jobs," and that they are, rather, "just work." It is, indeed, a thoroughly baffling idea to put out there, and it seems to find its foundation here:
STEELE: You've got to look at what's going to create sustainable jobs. What this administration is talking about is making work. It is creating work.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's a job.
STEELE: No, it's not a job. A job is something that -- that a business owner creates. It's going to be long term. What he's creating...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So a job doesn't count if it's a government job?
STEELE: Hold on. No, let me -- let me -- let me finish. That is a contract. It ends at a certain point, George. You know that. These road projects that we're talking about have an end point.
As a small-business owner, I'm looking to grow my business, expand my business. I want to reach further. I want to be international. I want to be national. It's a whole different perspective on how you create a job versus how you create work. And I'm -- either way, the bottom line is...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess I don't really understand that distinction.
STEELE: Well, the difference -- the distinction is this. If a government -- if you've got a government contract that is a fixed period of time, it goes away. The work may go away. That's -- there's no guarantee that that -- that there's going to be more work when you're done in that job.
If Steele truly believes that the work "goes away," then he really needs to learn more about government contracting. I was a government contractor for four years, and I can assure him: the work doesn't go away, the businesses are sustainable, and successful government contractors do, in fact, expand. He's absolutely correct that most "work" comes to the employees of these businesses in the form of contracts, many with fixed start and end dates. But Steele seems to think that a whole business comes together solely for the service and implementation of single contract, then dissolves upon its fulfillment. Contracting firms actually bid out on many different contracts, and much of the work is cyclical, allowing successful contractors to continue to service the same work again and again, so long as they stay eligible and perform the work competently.
When I was a government contractor, I worked primarily with the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services on their grant review process. This was reliable, annual work that filled my calendar from start to finish each year. The work I did was, indeed, sustainable and expandable. Steele's right that there's not a guarantee that "there's going to be more work when you're done in that job," but that's only because you won't get more work if you do a poor job. To build a sustainable contracting business, we had to execute our contract work well, and then we had to sell our successes to win other contracts. This isn't rocket science. This is how any business grows.
Luckily, for all of us, Steele is incorrect. It makes me wonder: is Michael Steele familiar with companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin and Halliburton? Because I'd love to ask him how these companies managed to parlay work that "went away" into multimillion dollar companies with international reach. I have a funny feeling that all of the employees of those companies are under the impression that they have jobs.