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 7:01 PM7 comments
Some people claim that the federal workforce is overpaid, but in reality there's no way to characterize the entire workforce so broadly. While some feds do earn more in the government, many of them labor for agencies while knowing they could be earning more in the private sector, as many of their colleagues are.
So what motivates people to work for the government if they could make more money working for a private company? Is it a sense of patriotism? Public service? Simple habit?
One anonymous FCW commenter, responding to an article on a two-year salary freeze, provided an uncharitable view from outside: "Federal employees have pretty much guaranteed employment," the commenter wrote. "Federal employees don’t have to make a profit. Even the worst federal government employees are not let go, like they would be in the business world. The majority of contractors and nongovernment employees would gladly take reduced pay in exchange for a government job that was secure. If you work for a private company and they don’t make a profit, you are fired."
But even many federal employees seem to be growing disenchanted, especially in the past few months when Congress has floated proposals for pay freezes, hiring freezes, shrinking the workforce, implementing furloughs and other efforts to reduce the federal deficit by reducing the costs of the workforce.
"Many feds live paycheck to paycheck," wrote one such employee. "What you don't see on TV is the average Joe, who has a long commute, works long hours, and bends over to help the public. No stock options, private offices, etc. Yes, I have a job, but when the economy improves, as a fed my situation stays the same."
So what about you? If you're a federal employee, why do you work for the government, and why will you continue to, if that's your plan? Tell us what motivates you.
Posted on Apr 22, 2011 at 7:01 PM79 comments
Why can't the federal government get pay-for-performance right? Large-scale efforts to implement such systems, most notably the Defense Department's National Security Personnel System, have faltered.
The question has surfaced because Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) is working toward developing another effort. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform federal workforce subcommittee, he began holding hearings in March.
For most feds, the alternative to pay-for-performance is the General Schedule system, which has a total of 150 different pay levels -- 15 ranks and 10 "steps" within each rank. The salary for various job categories is set for each level, with adjustments built in for employees who live in higher cost-of-living areas. The defined salaries give managers little freedom to play favorities -- or reward success.
Advancement on the GS system is more a matter of seniority than performance, or at least that is the perception. One FCW reader, commenting on an article about Ross's efforts, disputed that understanding.
"The 'GS' system is a 'pay for performance' system. Within-grade increases and promotions are contingent upon performance," the reader wrote. "The problem is that many managers cannot articulate the practical differences between pay grades and, thus, do poorly at defining performance elements and standards.”
Other readers said pay-for-performance doesn't work well in agencies because too many managers are apt to reward friends rather than the best performers, out of a limited funding pool available for pay raises.
"What is absolutely required for pay for performance to work is that the decision makers who get to decide who receives performance bonuses and/or raises have to be held personally accountable for those choices," wrote reader "Ted." "In private industry a manager can use cronyism and nepotism as her criteria when awarding performance pay, but that manager will be held accountable when her department fails to perform. Private industry doesn't tolerate for long those managers that cost the company money. The problem in the federal sector is that we've all seen instances of cronyism and nepotism, and if anybody tries to bring it to the attention of higher management that person gets labeled as a whiner and complainer."
A reader commenting on an earlier Workforce Wonk blog entry said that pay for performance does work in some individual government organizations.
"I have worked at a Navy lab with pay for performance since 1984," that reader wrote. "It's true that ratings are always somewhat subjective and there will be some favoritism. That's still far better than treating everyone the same regardless of performance."
So what do you think? Is pay for performance doomed to fail in the federal government -- at least on a large scale -- or is it possible to make it work? Share your opinion in the comments.
Posted on Apr 20, 2011 at 7:01 PM17 comments