Reflections on Improvements in Internal Policies for the New Generations of Public Servants in the Senate

Read the written version of a Q&A between the former Vice President of the Brazilian Senate House, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules in the US House of Representatives and the representative of Sindilegis

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📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event


 

Parliament modernisation efforts are essential for a more effective institution that delivers better laws, better oversight of the executive branch, and better representation. The legislative digital transformation should be respectful with the legislative institution tradition and internal balance of power, preserving its core values but improving daily processes for the betterment of Members, Public servants, and our societies.

 

With that, we’re happy to share with you all the written version of a Q&A between the Congressmen, the former Vice President of the Brazilian Senate House, – The Right Honorable Senator Antônio Anastasia, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules in the US House of Representatives, The Right Honorable Congressman James McGovern and Alison Souza, the President of Sindilegis – the official union of the servants of the Brazilian House of Representatives, the Federal Senate and the Brazilian Federal Court of Accounts. 

 

Alison Souza: 

 

I am the president of Sindilegis, the Union that represents the staff of the House of Representatives, the Federal Court of Accounts, and of the Federal Senate. The Federal Senate, under the leadership of Vice-President Antonio Anastasia and President Davi Alcolumbre, was the first Legislative House in the world to begin remote deliberations, alongside with the House of Representatives. It doesn’t come as a surprise, for those who follow the daily life of the House, as I do. We are aware of the excellent digital transformation work that has been carried out by the Senate in recent years. However, this fact reinforces the need to recognise the essential role public servants play in the House in the digital transformation. They are, after all, the ones who have the knowledge about the internal processes, its technological development, and the rules of procedure, essential knowledge for the good functioning of the House’s digital transformation. 

 

In your opinion, what policies should the House adopt to maintain this excellent technical staff and how to improve these policies for the new generations of public servants in the Senate? 

 

Antonio Anastasia: 

 

I have a great honour to publicly say that I am proud as Senator of the Republic for Minas Gerais to work in the Federal Senate, with such highly qualified technical staff. I know that the same happens in the House of Representatives, as well as the Federal Court of Accounts, and several other offices of the Brazilian public service. As a matter of fact, I am also a public servant for my State and for the Federal University of Minas Gerais. I am very proud of that, of being a public servant. I believe, in fact, that we have had the success mentioned here, of being the first Parliament in the world to function remotely, precisely because of the qualification of our technical staff. 

 

We were foresighted, due to a crisis that happened in 2018, a trucker’s strike. At that time, there were transportation problems across Brazil. We began studying the possibility of a remote system, but it didn’t need to be implemented at the time, but that was well in advance when we needed it. This started the digital work of a very high quality, that already involved programs such as e-cidadania (e-citizenship), with citizen’s participation in the legislative process of public hearings. What is the secret to maintaining this situation? In fact, it is very simple to maintain the quality of the public servants, something which fundamentally depends on their constant qualification, their recognition, and great care with their admission into the public service, through a tender process that, in fact, determines the profile and the competency of public servants. 

 

It is also desirable to have an adequate and compatible salary that manages to aggregate and encourage highly qualified public servants to remain on the Senate staff. This is the Human Resources policy for the necessary maintenance of this profile, which didn’t start now, but many years ago, contributing to the Senate being a parameter in several areas. To conclude, we also have the Brazilian Legislative Institute in the Senate, which provides technical guidance to the Local Legislative Chambers of Brazil, since they often lack technical conditions, which is recommended, even today with virtual courses. This is very important because Brazil, unlike the United States, is very unequal. The reality in the North is very different from the reality in the South. The Senate and its staff’s support is a fundamental element for this and we have this qualification on our side. 

 

James McGovern: 

 

I agree with much of what the Senator has shared. Look, let me just say that over the years and especially now, I’ve come to appreciate the value of technology. It helps us do our jobs better and it makes the process of governing more transparent. It also helps us better connect with our constituents, but technology is constantly changing and for people like me, it’s always a challenge to keep up with the latest technology. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to invest in the staff, that is the backbone of the work that we all do. We need to do everything we can to keep people working in our Parliaments, but it’s also important that we have people who can develop expertise on how to move technology forward and so we need to do a better job in our Congress of paying our staff better. 

 

We need to do a better job on helping them underwrite the cost of their education, and also helping them advance within the realm of public service, because a lot of these staff members with expertise can make more money in the private sector. I’m somebody who has been in Congress since 1996. I don’t know everything and I rely heavily on staff in my committee and in my personal office to help, not only guide me on policy issues, but to help me understand technology. I mean, when I got elected in 1996, there was no Twitter nor Facebook. 

 

There was no virtual nor social media, and today, if I am not engaged in these Social Media platforms, if I don’t understand technology, then I’m irrelevant to my constituents, and we can’t communicate. There’s this constant effort to keep up to date. As we move forward, part of the way is to make sure that we maintain a good staff and I’m very much committed to that. 

 

Alison Souza: 

 

We understand the importance of the public service having increasingly qualified staff. We are, in fact, living in a world that is rapidly changing. This world is more dynamic and this requires the  Brazilian public institutions to have a highly qualified technical staff that maintains the institution’s memory. We know that it is not a very simple task to change – to get people in. 

 

Here in Brazil, we are experiencing an especially important situation in the social security agency, where it was considered placing several people in a transitory manner, especially military staff, to supply a specific need of that institution. But it doesn’t work that way, because it is not simply placing a person, you have to be qualified for the job, there is a great responsibility there. It’s not that simple, as it’s often stated, in a slightly superficial way in the media, as if it was possible to simply replace someone. It doesn’t work like that. There is also a quest to always diminish the public servants in society, to attack them in order to reduce their importance, and we know that public institutions need qualified technical staff. 

 

Where there is a public tender, there is stability and there is a clear set of rules and good remuneration. The public service advances for the benefit of society and not for the workers themselves. If we break this rule and start paying these people poorly or discouraging them, what will happen in practice is that they will migrate to the private sector and we know the importance of public service in promoting the country’s development. In Brazil, we have a great example, in the ​agricultural area, where the government invests in Embrapa, which produces cutting-edge research and manages to put it out there for Brazilian rural producers. It is a great success, and Brazil is one of the world leaders in the production of food. 

 

This is precisely due to the partnership between the private and the public sector. We have to repeat this on a larger scale, in other areas of government, there can be no resistance between the private and public sectors. This is a false dilemma. In fact, the public sector is and will continue to be, the engine responsible for creating the rules that allow the private sector to perform well and that’s what we want.

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