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Federal employees: Patriots, hangers-on or something in between?

Why do you work for the government? The FCW Insider posed that question on April 22, and by April 25 dozens of readers had already responded. Most of them cited personal satisfaction and civic duty as good reasons to stay in a federal career, although some also lamented the atmosphere of recent months, in which the workforce has become the bulls-eye for Congressional deficit hawks looking for cost savings.

WB from Virginia wrote, "My 29 year federal career has been financially rewarding and stimulating to my intellect, exposing me to many points of view, giving me responsibility at a relatively young age, etc. However, the current environment is poisonous to anyone with innovative thinking and a desire to help our fellow citizens. Everyone wants to bash big government and slash to the bone, as long as they don't have to be hurt by the cuts. Most Americans have a misplaced sense of entitlement to their standard of living promoted by rampant commercialism and consumption...we can't get there any more!"

Charles wrote of a sense of mission. "I served in the federal government because I believed in the DOD mission and always strove for making my area of influence more effective and efficient in business. I’ve since retired, but I am back as a consultant for the very same reason, but it now includes a stronger emphasis on motivating and mentoring young federal employees. My serving role is not yet over."

Another reader, Don, expressed a similar thought: "Essentially, it comes to this: Working for the United States government is the only opportunity to lay hands directly on protecting and building this nation for future generations (i.e. my kids and grandkids). While Uncle Sam employs many contractors, they are all really working for corporations and firms who's number one objective is to make a profit from taxpayers. They may be performing important tasks/missions, but if their bosses are not making a profit, they get laid off -- or not renewed/contract extended. For federal employees, the mission comes first, always."

Paul expressed a similar view, reacting to an earlier comment that federal agencies don't have to make profits like private-sector businesses do. "No, we don't have to worry about making a profit. We have to worry about millions of lives," Paul wrote. "My job is to protect the lives of our military and families. The steady pay and benefits are not even an issue with me. I know I can get a job in any economy with my skills for 6 figures easy but I've spent my time in the corporate world and there just isn't any real job satisfaction. I am former Marine and consider myself the truest type of patriot. I would rather serve my country than serve my own self-interests. I'm less concerned about the economics of the current situation than the disrespect it shows to all of us that believe that country comes first above all else."

But people who are drawn to federal employment partly out of a sense of patriotism, are not the only kind of federal employee. A contractor affirmed that many federal employees are hard-working and dedicated, but said some are not. "These are the ones that, unfortunately, condemn everyone else. The concern that the public has are those few civil servants who care nothing about serving the public and care only about preserving their position of power," the contractor wrote. "They are seldom fired, but are, instead, promoted to get them out. And this, allows them to cause more damage. This is what has ruined the reputation of our civil service and this is something that should be addressed in this economic crisis we are living in today."

Posted on Apr 25, 2011 at 12:18 PM


Reader comments

Wed, Apr 27, 2011

I am in a fake job because I was deemed unworthy by my 70 year old boss. I don't know what they think they are doing really. Do they think I will quit because I don't have enough work to do?

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 Paul

Just a quick response to the poster about the contributions of the corporate world. It's amazing how people don't understand the breadth of what ALL OF OUR taxes pay for. It may be changing the subject a bit but most of the technology and other key inventions produced in the private sector began with public money. The best example is the public funding of research. The government spends a lot of money funding academic research that is later transferred to the private sector. The private sector then develops it further into a marketable product. There is very little out there that isn't paid for in part with American tax dollars. It works because corporations have little interest in costly long term research and the government has little need or desire to develop products. I personally believe in the power of the marketplace but it cannot function without the government and academia. They are all important and all intertwined. As far as those pesky "restrictions", I could just as easily say that criminal laws are a pesky restriction to my desire to rob a bank or kill people I don't like. Society is driven by the rule of law. Finally, I'll end with this. If a corporation, or even an industry, fails to survive, this country will survive. If the government falls, America falls with it. All this was paid for on my own time with no corporate sponsorship.

Tue, Apr 26, 2011

So, one contractor notes there are a few bad apples in the civil service, and he states these are a real problem. One wonders, what lengths did he go to, reporting on the cases he knew of, perhaps to the IG office? Or did he just gripe about it like everyone else, because "Somebody" ought to do something.

Tue, Apr 26, 2011

Slackers indeed exist on both sides, and as mentioned above, contractors are usually the only ones who are fired for it. I've yet to see a federal employee released, just moved at worst.

Tue, Apr 26, 2011

We contractors have been considered expendable for decades, this is nothing new. If there is a budget cut the first response is reduce or get rid of the contractors. It doesn’t matter if there are sufficient (or any) qualified to do the task the contractors were performing, just get rid of them. Do you want an promotion? Get your PD rewritten to include “oversight” of a contract delivery order valued at a million dollars. It’s no big deal, you don’t even have to have more than a cursory knowledge of the task your contractors are performing, just set back and stay out of their way, and the majority of the time you will get “performance” bonuses in addition to your grade increase, because the overwhelming majority of us contractors, just like out civilian counterparts, want to do a superior job. Just like you, we believe the job we are doing is necessary, and in many cases vital to our nation.
What would be new is if there was actually someone within the DoD ranks that was willing to say this. I applaud Mr. Gansler, but I wonder if he voiced this opinion when he was still in a position to make a difference. Perhaps he did, I've witnessed how effective the DoD government employee community is at squelching anything that threatens the status quo, and perhaps he saw the light after he left federal service for academia, I’m sure that I’ll never know, and while I wish it was the former I’ll accept the latter with gratitude.
I do not mean to denigrate my civil service brothers and sisters; the overwhelming majority of them are decent, hardworking people doing a thankless task because it has to be done. Most government civilians at all levels do stellar work for what in many cases is substandard pay, and I salute them.

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