How Not To Fill An Important Job

This post was written by Karl Whelan

The Secretary-General of the Department of Finance is probably the most important job in the Irish civil service. With Kevin Cardiff’s imminent departure, the job has been publicly advertised and a shortlist arrived at.

Given the negative ramifications of the past mistakes made by the Department, one might have hoped that all efforts would be made to ensure that a good field of candidates is obtained and that the recruitment process would be run in a professional manner.

How’s it working out? Well, yesterday’s Irish Times confirms a story that has been run before, namely that “No expenses were paid for candidates travelling to Dublin to be interviewed for the position.” The government may as well have put up a sign to say “those working outside Ireland are not welcome”.

In addition, we are now informed

THE GOVERNMENT’S choice of a successor to Kevin Cardiff as secretary general of the Department of Finance is now expected to come from within the public service.

With morale in the department extremely low as a result of the economic crisis and the controversy over Mr Cardiff’s departure, appointing an outsider is being viewed within the Government as a risky strategy.

Appointing an external candidate to “shake up” the department would serve only to further demoralise staff, according to one source familiar with the process.

The article tells us that

The recruitment process, which includes the creation of a shortlist and up to two rounds of interviews, is being run by the Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC). Five of the committee’s nine members, including chairwoman Maureen Lynott, are from the private sector.

At this point, a public statement from the TLAC that they are running a process with the sole aim of appointing the best-qualified person to the job would be welcome. A re-think on the policy of not paying for travel expenses would also be welcome.

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54 Responses to “How Not To Fill An Important Job”

  1. Frank Galton Says:

    It’s a microcosm of the European approach to debt burdens — legacy creditors get the best treatment, the new ones that are actually needed get the hard bargaining. Strange how that approach doesn’t work out.

  2. Paddy the American Says:

    Why would an outsider necessarily “shake up” the department? And according to this one source, the staff sound rigid and unwilling to adapt. Get the best person for the job, Irish or not, and make the changes necessary to best serve the country. Why is this so hard to grasp?

    What’s more risky for the country, appointing an outsider who may bring innovative thinking or appointing someone who’s been working in the department for years and may (consciously or not) continue with the failed thinking of the past?

  3. Philip II Says:

    Astonishing…not.

  4. Yields or Bust Says:

    @Karl

    Given the fact that the financial decision making has been effectively taken from us does it really make a blind bit of difference who is running the dept?

    What we actually require is a real ball breaker to renegnotiate the EU/IMF deal and to get these outsiders to see the complete folly in their economic thinking and call a halt to policies that are clearly incapabale of bringing us one iota closer to rejuvenation of the domestic economy. Paying expenses or not is minor league relative to the bigger picture which is:

    1. A debt fogiveness scheme for all debt types
    2. A reversal of the VAT hikes
    3. A clear out of dead wood in the PS
    4. An end to Rolls Royce type PS pensions, backdating the amendments.
    5. An end to paying the bond and financiers of dead banks
    6. An end to daft capital rules in relation to Irish Banks in the middle of a depression
    7. An enormous water and green energy investment programme

    etc, etc,etc

    All doable but not with someones boot firmly blocking your breathing valve and prentending they know better.They don’t. All the numbers are suggesting and telling us the Troika have got it badly wrong in relation to the domestic economy. Bring on the ball breakers - the rest can apply for Richard Tolls job in the ESRI.

  5. Philip II Says:

    “What we actually require is a real ball breaker to renegnotiate the EU/IMF deal ”
    And there are loads of those in the Dept are there? Coz thats where its seemingly heading…
    http://www.finance.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=/documents/publications/other/2011/orgchart2011rev.htm&m=2
    Who would bet that one of the Second or at worst Deputy (called senior staff in above) secretaries will be the new messiah?

  6. Norman Wyse Says:

    Wrote a blog post a few days ago on a new approach needed to hiring for important public positions such as these.

    Salaries and Attracting Talent to Public Office
    http://normanwyse.com/cms/node/28

  7. ObsessiveMathsFreak Says:

    Appointing an external candidate to “shake up” the department would serve only to further demoralise staff, according to one source familiar with the process.

    Poor babies! Some big mean serious outsider shouting orders at them and getting them to actually do their jobs, instead of spending their days taking coffee breaks, attending seminars, and not talking to the NTMA. We can’t be having that.

    In any case, I can’t see why people are surprised. The notion of an outside candidate as head of the DoF was preposterous to begin with–the civil service would have never allowed it. It’s jobs for the boys once again, with salaries to match.

  8. Sarah Carey Says:

    This is depressing and yet this much I know.

    If the government did pay the travel expenses, relocation expenses and breached the cap, you just know how that would be portrayed in the headlines. Sometimes it seems like they can never win (a bit like Enda Kenny flying Ryanair to the conference - we went from shrieking about use of the government jet to how flying economy affected his negotiating ability).

    However the more worrying question is this: is this discouragement of an external candidate evidence of increasingly captive minds? If so, double sigh….

  9. dearbhla Says:

    It will go to one of michael noonans buddies!

  10. Livonian Says:

    @all

    If “morale” is low would it not be unfair to expect the poor dears to take on the extra stress of a Sec Gen job.

    The Irish diaspora has plenty of potential candidates who would pay their own relocation and flights to take up a job like this.

    In fact I would venture to guess that since this is a seven year appointment many candidates in their late 40ś and early 50`s would gladly take up the opportunity on a salary of 180,000 Euro( in accordance with the 10% “lower” rule for new Public service entrants).

    Ireland will eventually recover within the next 5-10 years and any 60 year old former Sec Gen of finance could easily recoup the “salary” loss for the remainder of their career.

    BTW I believe there was also an article about this in the Indo on Jnuary 3rd which I pointed out should have been flagged on this site.

    Instead this site was dominated that day (January 3rd) by one thread about an academic switching jobs within the english speaking “common travel area.” The whole day nearly passed without another thread being posted late that night.

    Readers may benefit from comparing both (Indo and IT) articles as if I remember correcltly there was also a hint of a “moan”, by the poor dears who are suffering from low “morale”, in the Indo article of January 3rd about the salary “only” being 200 grand a year.

    Unfortunately I do not “do” links but I am sure the Indo article of January 3rd can be found quite easily providing of course it was the Indo.

    Perhaps if someone can find the relevant Indo article they would be kind enough to post a link so readers can compare the content and draw their own conclusions:)

  11. The Alchemist Says:

    The TLAC is top heavy with HR and coaching interests. Perhaps in better times Howlin might have squeezed a couple of swamis onto it as well.

    And how on earth can any Irish person be surprised that a senior appointment might reflect groupthink and consensus?

    Window dressing, it is an art form in the right hands.

  12. Livonian Says:

    @Norman Wyse

    IMHO very good points and very well thought through.

  13. Rob S Says:

    @Sarah Carey

    It is a good point regarding being damned if you do and damned if you don’t regarding paying travel expenses but as Karl says - the most important job in the service for crying out loud.

  14. Joseph Ryan Says:

    @Karl Whelan

    I think it is a great idea NOT to pay expenses. If not paying expenses to an interview for this job discourages anybody the we are better off without that person. The issue of relocation expenses would be a different matter. It is likely that any civil servant already employed in the PS will get relocation so why would an outsider not get relocation.

    But your essential point here is correct. A ’signal’ is being sent that the job will be given to an insider.

    The government may as well have put up a sign to say “those working outside Ireland are not welcome”.

    .

    In fact despite the TLAC pantomine the likelehood is that the government has already nodded in the direction of the favoured candidate.

    With morale in the department extremely low as a result of the economic crisis and the controversy over Mr Cardiff’s departure, appointing an outsider is being viewed within the Government as a risky strategy.

    Morale low in the Dept of Finance!! Well Boo-Hoo. I should let the IT know that I am inconsolate at the thought of morale being low in the DOF.

    This was the Department that is supposed to stand sentinel over the finances of the country but managed to run the country full steam onto the rocks. Morale should be low.
    The Dept failed abysmally and managed to oversee the collapse of the banking system and the ruination of the country but the people involved all still have their jobs or their bumper pensions or even better jobs.

    But, Mon Dieu, morale is still low!!
    Are we to be taken for monkeys altogether?
    No sop should be offered by the Government to appease the ‘low morale’.
    But yet this supine government view appointing an outsider a risky strategy!!

  15. Livonian Says:

    @Joseph@Karl

    Maybe we should all include “low morale” in our CVś.

  16. wow Says:

    Having worked in a public sector outfit I can frnakly tell you morale is often low because of how frustrating it is to work in a broken system with too many people who dont care enough to even try to do their jobs and most critically of all a management appointed because of political connections who dont care about efficiency.

    So hiring the best person would do wonders for morale in my experience

  17. Ernie Ball Says:

    @Sarah Carey

    And the reason they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t is in abundant evidence in this very thread with its constant references to the “poor dears” and mockery at the very notion that morale might be low or that that might be something anyone ought to be concerned about. This mindset that the PS is, in its entirety, damnable is nothing but the result of a successful propaganda war waged by the Independent Media group.

    When they wheel out the guillotines in Croke Park, the nurses, guards and teachers are the ones they’ll be lining up. The bankers will be enjoying the show with sausages and pints from the luxury boxes.

  18. Noneu Says:

    I think Ernie that people here generally distinguish between the cop on the beat and the PO in dept finance….

  19. Mickey Hickey Says:

    The overwhelming majority of the Irish diaspora being familiar with how business is done in Ireland would not touch this job with a barge pole.

    A Secretary General of the DOF who showed any signs of cleaning out the top three layers and making a new start would be run out of town by politicians of all stripes. His counterparts in other departments and agencies and their minions would shun him.

    Change in Ireland cannot come from the PS/CS it has to come from the electorate and the people they put into the Dail. A culture of incompetence replete with cronyism, nepotism, fraud and corruption is applauded and rewarded by an electorate who hope to benefit from it. This is why the electorate are fearful of the prospect of the European Commission reining in the blatant excesses of incompetent governments.

    Embedded cultures are notoriously impervious to change short of game changing events like the French Revolution. The best we can hope for in Ireland is that the people demand serious treatment of the issues in the popular media as well as coming to the realisation that FG/Lab are identical twins to FF/Gr. Improvement if and when demanded will be opposed by the incumbent, privileged and well connected who have ruled the roost since 1922. Voting for footballers, hurlers, teachers, farmers, solicitors, people who enjoy their pint and the other fine upstanding people we send to the Dail has not served us well. It is time we established parties that seek out people who have proven themselves in business, and professions such as engineering, mathematics, economics, who are not in the professional silos benefiting from gov’t incompetence. Short of a total collapse followed by rebuilding which would take one generation we are looking at three or four generations before we see meaningful change from within.

  20. rf Says:

    @ Sarah

    Surely, though, its part of mature political leadership to weather the short lived outrages that erupt from our populist press from time to time. The example in the post, or Kenny flying Ryanair, are little more than shallow gestures,wrongheaded ones imo. The problem arises when out government becomes capable of little more than shallow wrongeheaded gestures

  21. Tullmcadoo Says:

    Ernie,
    Many low level bankers will also go in the Tumbils. Tenured sociology lecturers who teach ex mount anville girls Marxist theory will survive. Those are the choices society makes.

  22. Sarah Carey Says:

    @rf

    Agreed.

  23. Brian Woods Snr Says:

    @ Tull: “Tenured sociology lecturers who teach ex mount anville girls Marxist theory will survive. Those are the choices society makes.”

    Best quote of the day! Thanks :-)

    My guess is that our courageous political leaders may have the delusional view that, “It will be alright - sometime!” So why ‘rock the boat’ now. Its entirely rational to appoint a gelded insider. And we know what geldings are not useful for!

    Brian.

  24. ObsessiveMathsFreak Says:

    And the reason they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t is in abundant evidence in this very thread with its constant references to the “poor dears” and mockery at the very notion that morale might be low or that that might be something anyone ought to be concerned about. This mindset that the PS is, in its entirety, damnable is nothing but the result of a successful propaganda war waged by the Independent Media group.

    The Independent Media group was not responsible for the department, central bank, and the financial regulator being asleep at the wheel over the last 15 years. INM was not responsible for the lack of communication between the NTMA and DoF leading to a €3.6 bn accounting error. INM was not responsible for benchmarking, or the creation of the HSE, or the Croke Park agreement.

    No, all these were created and developed by the Civil Service.

    The public has watched the Cardiff debacle in all its glory, a microcosm of all that is wrong with our public institutions. A man who has failed and continues to fail in his position, continually promoted and protected by the Government, failing upwards to new heights far above the consequences of his decisions.

    Now don’t get me wrong: INM is an organisation with a lot of agendas, and has contributed over and beyond its fair share towards the current crisis. But the systemic problems within the Civil Service are real, ongoing, and are of huge consequence for the people of this country. We don’t need INM to tell us that (by the way, INM rarely actually bother to).

  25. Livonian Says:

    @Ernie

    “This mindset that the PS is, in its entirety, damnable ….”

    I am not aware that anyone considers that the “PS is, in its entirety, damnable…”

    Would that, by any chance, be a reflection of the “propaganda” being spun within certain levels of the Public Service who want to hide behind frontline workers lower down the food chain? :)

  26. Hugh Sheehy Says:

    While reform within the Dept of Finance might be difficult for an outsider, with all the existing entrenched interests, it might at least be possible if he/she were given the necessary political backing.

    For an insider it’s damn near inconceivable.

  27. Sean Says:

    Government policy is to fulfill the repayment schedule agreed by FF with the the Troika.
    What material difference can be effected now that will be felt by the citizens of Ireland by the appointment of even the best candidate in the world?

    The Department of Finance is currently irrelevant. Recently the carpetbaggers of the legal profession made a submission directly to the Troika,bypassing the DOF regarding proposed cutbacks in their pay.
    These guys are better than Bloodhounds in sniffing who has the money and who has the power to pay out .

  28. Ernie Ball Says:

    @OMF
    You wrote:
    “The Independent Media group was not responsible for the department, central bank, and the financial regulator being asleep at the wheel over the last 15 years. INM was not responsible for the lack of communication between the NTMA and DoF leading to a €3.6 bn accounting error.”

    Oh really. You think the absence of effective regulation occurred in an ideological vacuum? You think that this Friedman cum Hayek cum Ayn Randism wasn’t being put forth as gospel for decades by all of the major newspapers and political parties and economists in this country? You think that something other than a continuation of the laissez-faire low corporate tax regime is what, even now, motivates the weekly attacks on the public sector in the independent? I don’t. And the fact that the PS is universally reviled now while the corporate tax rate is an absolutely taboo topic proves just how hermetic and total the propaganda war has been. Discussions about both topics are now fact-free zones, with even the ESRI doing the bidding of the government of the day. And you know who the govt answers to (no, it’s not the PS…).

  29. Al Says:

    Maybe the troika told them no expenses…

  30. Hugh Sheehy Says:

    @ Ernie Ball

    Do you seriously assert that we’ve been living in a Friedman cum Hayek cum Ayn Rand country?

  31. Mickey Hickey Says:

    A couple of weeks ago I came across a list of the 25 highest paid heads of state in the world and lo and behold in the middle of the pack ahead of Angela Merkel is our very own lovely Mary McAleese. This is just one small symptom of what is wrong in Ireland.

  32. Ahura Mazda Says:

    I’d like Gerry Robinson to take the job for a couple of years.

  33. Geronimo Says:

    Can anyone explain why this is an “important” job? Is there another country in the world where the mass media and influential blogs follow with such intense interest the job changes/prospects of celebrity public service employees ?

    Very strange.

    Is it just that the pay is huge?

  34. Mickey Hickey Says:

    Pavlina Tcherneva on Bottom up Fiscal Policy: Direct Employment of the Unemployed. This would be better in print, she is quite concise.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bhros6jImt4

  35. VincentH Says:

    Just who is running the CS is of little importance. They will react like they did to a new chief secretory. Unless the new fellow is given a team of about thirty of his own choosing this will just be a head-wreck for the poor sinner.

    And anyway, it’s not the DoF that’s the real issue. The issue, it’s being asked to do contradictory things for in most cases implementation lags current best by a country mile.

  36. Uaiteir gan Phingin Says:

    No one has so far observed that members of the Europpean Court of Auditors have the same degree of immunity as judges of the European Court of Justice. This means that, once appointed, Mr Cardiff will not be amenable to any inquiry in Ireland or elsewhere and that any inquiry into the collapse of the Irish Banking system (long promised) won’t be able to compel the architect of that system, and a very prominent operator in its running and eventual collapse, as a witness. The inability to take evidence from such a central actor will seriously limit the effective scope of such an inquiry. “Stroke” politics you say? What an outrageous suggestion!

  37. ObsessiveMathsFreak Says:

    You think that this Friedman cum Hayek cum Ayn Randism wasn’t being put forth as gospel for decades by all of the major newspapers and political parties and economists in this country?

    I understand your argument and there is no doubt that INM does promote that neo-confederate logic.

    But with the exception of our regulatory environment, Ireland does not yet have that kind of society. And I would hold that our lack of regulation has more to do with chronic incompetence, unwillingness, and political interference than it does with a newspaper campaign over the last 15 years.

    Newspapers as less coherent, driven propaganda outlets than they are simply PR men for hire to whoever can afford it.

    To bring this back to the topic, its clear from their coverage that Irish newspapers really don’t care very much about who gets appointed to this job, or who doesn’t, or indeed the general state of the country. They won’t care until someone pays them to care.

  38. clintideal Says:

    @Ahura Mazda

    “I’d like Gerry Robinson to take the job for a couple of years.”
    +1

    imagine a TV series fly in the wall type of show to go with him from day one now that would something

  39. Brian Flanagan Says:

    @clintideal

    “imagine a TV series fly in the wall type of show to go with him from day one now that would something”

    Sort of already done - was called Yes Minister VBG

  40. Tullmcadoo Says:

    Ahura,
    How good a CEO was Robinson? How much value did he create for shareholders?

  41. Georg R. Baumann Says:

    Wanted:
    Secretary-General of the Department of Finance

    Location:
    WGS84:53° 20′ 21″ N, 6° 15′ 13″ W

    Description:
    Dysfunctional department, moral low, only insiders need apply.

  42. Georg R. Baumann Says:

    @Geronimo

    Nothing strange here really, cap is 200K, the Irish troika will be:

    Minister for Finance: Michael Noonan, TD

    Minister of State for Public Service Reform and the Office of Public Works: Brian Hayes, TD - Yes, the one who wrote in the Independent on car crash economics.

    Secretary General of the Department: tba.

  43. The Alchemist Says:

    Certain ironies surrounding this appointment are tapped into by Gene Kerrigan . Another poke through the Emperor’s new suit.

  44. Aidan R Says:

    @ Obsessive Maths Freak

    The Independent Media group was not responsible for the department, central bank, and the financial regulator being asleep at the wheel over the last 15 years.

    True, but they are responsible for the absolute decay of the Irish public sphere over the past 15 years. A healthy public sphere is essential for a functioning democracy. Anyone familiar with the audiovisual and print media in Nordic, Alpine and Continental European countries can only look at Ireland and shiver. The quality of media in Ireland is closer to Berlusconi’s Italy.

  45. Oliver Vandt Says:

    Things have gone so badly wrong and continue to get worse. It is therefore shocking to go with an internal candidate from a failed elite and completely unjustifiable. It is not much better to say that only Irish need apply. We need the best person on the planet, not the best person with an Irish birth certificate.

    BTW best wishes to the recently departed.

  46. Brian Woods Snr Says:

    @OV:

    Oliver. The vehicle is a complete crock. It could barely make it into an NCT shed. Changing the driver? A Formula I driver cannot make a dilapidated crock go any quicker that its creaking parts will allow.

    Brian.

  47. Oliver Vandt Says:

    @BW S
    Point accepted. But when people see things like this and the Kevin Cardiff appointment any hope for a better country is sucked out of them.

  48. Dom K. Says:

    Noneu Says:
    January 7th, 2012 at 7:02 pm
    I think Ernie that people here generally distinguish between the cop on the beat and the PO in dept finance….

    In general, whenever there is a mention of failure of PS in anything and a complete lack of accountability / competence of overpaid ’servants’ like in the case of DOF, there is whinging about nurses and teachers.

  49. Yobbah Says:

    Remarkable.

    Low morale in Public Sector = poor babies!! Poor dears!! and ridicule

    Business/markets/employers not “confident”, “fearful”, “uncertain”, find it “challenging”, seek “encouragement” and “reassurance” = What can we do to help?

  50. Ahura Mazda Says:

    @ Tullmcadoo,

    I wouldn’t get too stuck up on that. You can get a lot of random fools being in the right place at the right time and create great returns for shareholders. Worse is when they attribute their own actions as being the reason for success.

    I don’t know much about Gerry Robinson, but a person with a profile might find it easier to get buy-in. From his tv and radio interviews, I was impressed by his analysis and ideas.

  51. Phelim Says:

    I think the opening post in this thread indicates a lot of the woolly thinking that be-devils this country. Mr Whelan decries the lack of travel expenses for candidates for a “top” civil service job, which action he claims will deter the best candidates. yet we are told constantly by the media (and the enthusiastic chorus on this forum) that the public sector is overpaid and has too many cushy perks (i.e. travel expenses). The naysayers tell us that a top civil servant does nothing, is never accountable, and is overpaid. Well, for such a fantastic position, who needs travel expenses!

    We see this all the time: constant denunciations of public sector pay and simultaneously (by the same cohort) repeated statements that you have to pay top money to get people from the private sector.

    You can take any ideological position you want, but could we at least have more logic and less hypocrisy.

  52. Mickey Hickey Says:

    More on Pavlina Tcherneva via Credit Writedowns

    http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2012/01/job-guarantee-kleptocracy-blogging.html

  53. Mickey Hickey Says:

    @ Norman Wyse
    Excellent post.
    The high priced talent in the upper echelons of the Irish CS suck a finger hourly and put it up to feel which direction the political wind is blowing from. At double the minimum wage they would be overpaid. The politicians themselves are so full of self importance that they are caricatures who have to over pay the CS to make their own gluttonous behaviour look reasonable. It all hangs together.

  54. Colm Brazel Says:

    S&P downgrade FAQ

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/real-dark-horse-sps-mass-downgrade-faq-may-have-just-hobbled-european-sovereign-debt-market

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