UpFront: Thank You, Mr. Frink
By Brian J. Hogan
Effective January 31, Albert A. Frink resigned as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services. He was the first person to hold the position. Before joining the Commerce Department, Frink was a carpet manufacturer. In fact, he worked in manufacturing for more than 30 years before doing his stint in government.
Albert Frink has been described by the people who know him as one of manufacturing's few friends in Washington. His departure from government service is unfortunate on several levels, though perfectly understandable. When it comes to dealing with politicians and their associates, Frink must have had, so to speak, the adult dose.
The District of Columbia is a world of its own, a curious place where the only activities that really matter involve the government. Those of us who have had careers in private industry haven't much in common with the folks inside the famous beltway, and if the truth be known, they probably have little use for us.
People who make careers in politics and government may be fine individuals, but the nature of their work experience is such that they can never understand a field like manufacturing. It's a world quite alien to the one they inhabit. Our very technical, cost-sensitive, unforgiving line of work is far, far from the sort of thing a desk jockey in the Federal bureaucracy encounters in the course of his or her labors.
When bureaucrats and manufacturing people must interact, the first order of business must be to establish mutual understanding, and that's often where everything collapses. That's also why we need people who are willing, and financially able, to move into the Washington, DC area and spend a period of years working with the bureaucracy. The often-maligned civil servant is a key component of the permanent government. Political figures come and go, but the persons who occupy the desks and answer inquiries from puzzled citizens are there for decades.We need to reach the bureaucrat, and sell him or her on the importance of manufacturing in the US.We need, in brief, to create champions for manufacturing within the civil service.
There are many challenges facing manufacturing that manufacturing can deal with on its own. But you'd have to be pretty green not to appreciate the political angles involved in tax policies, foreign trade (including access to foreign markets), tariffs, and all that. In addition, the basic question of whether supporting US manufacturing makes sense in this supposedly "post-industrial" society must be addressed. We need help to make our case. We need more people like Al Frink in Washington.
This article was first published in the February 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.