Feds: Don't come work for us!

Readers find agencies are their own worst enemies when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent

Imagine walking into a car dealership with checkbook in hand, only to be waved off by dealership employees telling tales of subpar materials and mismanaged manufacturing.

That’s essentially what happens every time the topic of federal hiring comes up on FCW.com. In the latest case, blogger Steve Kelman wrote about the job prospects of new Harvard grads, some of who are considering entering public service.

But agencies should not get their hopes up, replied a reader named Joe. Even if new grads endure the hiring process, they are likely to be horrified by what they find in federal offices.

“From my short time in the federal government thus far, the one word that I would use to describe my work environment is 'primitive,' ” Joe commented. “The physical space itself is old and decrepit. The IT infrastructure is so old (Windows 2K, MS Office 2000, etc.) that we can't even read documents sent from within our own department.”

And let’s not forget the senior career employees, people “who seem to be trying to keep their heads down (translated as risk avoidance) and just kill time until retirement," Joe added.

Joe’s observations, highlighted at the FCW Insider blog, triggered an avalanche of comments from other readers, most of whom saw similar problems — and then some.

Reader comments

(Editor's note: Comments have been edited for length, clarity and style.)

Hey, Genius!

The work is what it is. The vast majority of the government does not do innovation. It shuffles paper. Technology is a tool used to shuffle the paper. One does not need the latest game-playing supercomputer to do the work. If you are there for the perks, the latest and greatest toys, etc., you are likely looking in the wrong place. It also pays to stand before a mirror and recite until it sinks in: "I am not the genius I think I am and a lot less important in the grand scheme of things."

— Anonymous

To Anonymous: It is precisely that kind of thinking that blocks innovation and positive change in the federal government and its workforce.

— Anonymous

What a waste

I have only been in the federal government for nine months and came in as a GS-13 for stability, and it sucks. As soon as my one year (grade in service) is complete, I will be returning to the private sector. I reduced my income by $15,000 to $20,000 to be treated as an administrative assistant with the most menial tasks that you can imagine, especially coming from a senior-level position within the private sector. Additionally, I have a master’s degree. The federal government does not properly utilize their resources, knowledge, skill sets or experiences that [it has] among so many federal employees.

— Anonymous


I worked for a federal agency for eight years. The feds were very good to me, and I achieved a GS-13 rather quickly. But I was the one to push and help make that happen with a lot of hard work. After the GS-13, I saw the pay scale and advancement opportunities curve go rather flat and left for private industry and doubled my salary at once. There is tremendous potential within the existing federal workforce, untapped, and we need leadership with integrity in the government — at all levels in all areas.

— Anonymous

Fired at Last

A friend who works in government told me that a manager in her agency — whose actions on the job would have gotten her fired at any private-sector firm — was finally let go. What did she do this time that got her fired? They got her on time and attendance. This struck me as incredibly funny. The inevitable conclusion is that you can do anything you want on the job and not get fired, but don't falsify a time record — that will get you fired.

— Public-sector consultant

Sell, Sell, Sell

Agencies should consider hiring to be a selling transaction that requires market research, packaging, branding, marketing and closing, including segmentation and differentiation messaging that communicates across all of the targeted segments of the multigenerational workforce. Agencies need to address this demand for agency-specific information and branding, possibly including different landing pages for different demographics so that messaging can be properly tailored to the different populations — students, midcareer, core occupational specialty, executive.

— ep_vet

So Not True

I've worked for the government for over 25 years and disagree with almost everything in this article, at least for the IT departments I have been a part of. Although there are always some people who fit the description of "lazy government worker," that is not the norm. Most of the people I have had the pleasure to work with are highly skilled, devoted people who go far above what is required.

— bookworm

Nominate Today!

Nominations for the 2018 Federal 100 Awards are now being accepted, and are due by Dec. 23. 


Reader comments

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 Rick Lambert

Followon comment, maybe not as directly related to the topic. These comparisons to the corporate world are apples and oranges. Outside entities sometimes are overly critical of bureaucrats, but the vast majority of us are dedicated PUBLIC SERVANTS. From my experience, this was shown in sharp contrast w/recent outsourcing through A76's and contracting out of work. I remember a few years ago-- dedication to the organization and it's goals was highly stressed, the employee could trust the structure to provide rewards and job security based on dedication to these ideals. W/the infusion of corporate ideals, under the flag of efficiency, accountability and cost savings, I have seen a very major shift away from collaboration and teamwork to personal gain and cutthroat internal competition, hoarding of information, etc. If this is the corporate ethic, you can have it.

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 Rick Lambert

Article has very minimal value, very misleading. First off, do a comparison of retention rates for typical corporate jobs vs. the feds before talking about poor retention. What ever happened to all this consternation about can't get rid of govt employees???? Second, have been working in IM for a number of years. The quote about outdated OS's and Win2K... These OS's have been prohibited for years (although you might find some legacy server out there w/some application dependent on the old OS. That said, being a govt bureaucrat is tough work, as we are at the mercy of a lot of political influences that the corporate world doesn't have to deal with. You can't be after instant gratification, you must have an an attitude of perseverence and focus to get things accomplished. Last, I saw a comment about low salaries compared to the private sector. It might be the case in some instances and early in a career, but when I look at our contract support (that is paid quite well and almost to a person would love to get hired by the feds), at median salaries nationwide and my job security and benefits, I don't plan on leaving any time soon, thank you.

Tue, Jun 15, 2010

Point 1: Change costs money. If we had state-of-the-art systems and offices, then the "public" would complain that the government spends too much money. Point 2: There is entirely too much bureaucracy in the hiring process. There are also too many hiring systems for the same OPM position. DoD vs DHS vs State Department vs..... So the first step would be to standardize the process across the government. Until that is done, we will always have issues.

Tue, Jun 15, 2010

Here's one for the list, federal employees that have "jobs" but, no work because they are lower grade employees working in offices with employees at least five grades above them. They don't do work because they can not receive work from the higher level employees without receiving more pay. They will never receive more pay because the office goes out and hires interns instead of helping to promote the one just sitting in the office.

Tue, Jun 15, 2010

From my 35 years in the government, I have concluded the biggest obstacle to progress in the federal sector is the lack of a need to show a profit. It doesn't matter if a person who jumps through the most hoops or who is your latest affair gets promoted to a management position. I have seen people volunteer for a GS-13 job, even though they can't do it but just want to be at that level, fail miserably and then become one of our bright and upcoming leaders. The person that can really do the job is left behind to cover the mistakes. There can never be anything that might remotely suggest there might be a porblem since it might affect the bonus the manager gets at the end of the year. I'll guarantee the people who say they are coasting at the end of their careers are the people that kept the place going through all the mistakes that were made and then were ignored so the person who originally made the mistake could be rewarded. If that doesn't wear on you, you aren't human... If the business world were run like the federal sector, the U.S.would be at best a second rate economic power. Measurement programs are done away with since they reveal shady practices. And the numbers that would come from measurement programs would be so askew, that the numbers would be useless anyway. All we are doing is protecting the managers so when they retire on a Frisday, they can come back the following Monday working for a contractor.

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