A searing indictment of the U.S.’s dysfunctional federal bureaucracy and its ramifying effects.
A Navy physicist for nearly four decades and well-published in his professional field, Pavlopoulos offers an eclectic book-length debut. Essentially a memoir, the book begins with the author’s childhood, recounting an upbringing that included time spent in the Nazi Youth Movement of 1930s Germany and his studying at the newly established Max Planck Institute of Physical Chemistry. The bulk of his reflection, though, centers around the time he spent as a physicist in the Navy, working on a wide variety of scientific research projects from lasers to optics, sometimes discussed in great technical detail. As the book’s title indicates, its principal theme is the incompetence entrenched within America’s federal civil services, protected by cronyism and craven self-interest. Pavlopoulos saves his most damning criticism for the Office of Personnel Management, an agency that oversees and regulates the operation of virtually every other agency in American government. Despite its being mandated by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act to enact a merit-based system of compensation and promotion, the managers within the civil service continue to find ways to reward their friends at the expense of professional competence. Part of the analysis is folded into the author’s meticulous account of his own attempt to demand a promotion at the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center. While sometimes numbingly detailed, his account manages to avoid any ax-grinding attempts to settle old scores; he even reflects on his own personal bias. “Before starting to write this book, I was often troubled by questions and doubts: was I simply a malcontent? Was I reporting sour grapes? Therefore, I collected the reactions of other federal employees, and their comments are listed below.” On the whole, readers might feel burdened by such an exacting play-by-play of his appeal process. Also, the book suffers from an identity crisis of sorts, presenting itself as a personal memoir, a political study and an account of some highly specialized scientific endeavors; the appendix includes a description of Einstein’s theory of relativity. However, the main message, regarding the consequences of a wildly underperforming class of federal managers, is both startling and powerfully presented.
An edifying, sometimes frustrating, book for readers interested in the limitations of modern bureaucracy.