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In face of derision, feds do important, necessary work

Sep. 23, 2012 - 02:36PM   |  
By PATRICIA NIEHAUS   |   Comments

It is not easy being a federal employee these days. Like most Americans, we want to perform our jobs to the best of our abilities and earn a fair wage. We provide critical services that all Americans rely on but are regularly treated as a burden on society or worse.

It is regrettably common for many people to lambaste the hardworking men and women of the federal workforce, and it is particularly discouraging when those attacks are made by elected officials.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage in July regrettably compared employees of the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo. Baseless comments such as these take a toll on their fellow citizens, who are doing their congressionally mandated jobs.

Fed bashing, usually done to symbolically score political points, irresponsibly singles out federal employees and ignores the principles of individual responsibility and accountability.

For federal managers, it is getting harder to keep morale up in the face of constant fed bashing, whether in the form of pay freezes and cuts to pensions or unwarranted verbal attacks. In the short term, this affects job performance and limits our ability to have an efficient and effective workforce.

In the long term, this has a severe negative impact on recruitment and retention. It is hard enough to entice people to join the civil service when comparable private-sector alternatives can offer higher wages and benefits, without the abuse and derision. And with the baby boomers rapidly approaching retirement, recruitment and retention are more important than ever.

People often have a misguided perception that federal employees work exclusively in the Washington area and spend the workday dreaming of ways to scuttle the plans of their fellow citizens, yet 85 percent of all federal employees live and work outside of Washington. We are your neighbors and community members. We perform services essential to the welfare of our country, such as defense, border and transportation security, veterans assistance and food safety.

Federal managers are constantly asked to do more with less. We are patriotic, dutiful civil servants, and we certainly understand that our country faces difficult fiscal times. Even if the across-the-board budget cuts through sequestration are avoided, our country’s leaders must make tough decisions regarding the budget and deficit reduction.

The Federal Managers Association’s current priorities center on equipping federal managers, supervisors and executives with tools and opportunities to operate agencies in the most efficient, professional and cost-effective manner possible.

We support access to training programs and urge the passage of legislation that requires and funds initial and mandatory training for all federal managers and supervisors on topics including mentorship, career development and prohibited personnel practices.

FMA applauds the recent congressional action to enact phased retirement, whereby a retirement-eligible employee may work part time and receive a reduced salary and a modified annuity. The program requires these employees to spend significant time mentoring other employees.

Similarly, we eagerly anticipate the rollout of the Pathways Program to hire interns and hope it will help attract fresh talent to the federal ranks.

These common-sense actions signify progress and are steps in the right direction for federal managers and employees.

Public Service Recognition Week, held annually in May, shines a spotlight on the 99.9 percent of good civil servants in our country. And the Service to America Medals, awarded Sept. 13, honor the best of the best for their tireless contributions.

If only our fellow citizens and elected leaders could stand in our shoes for a day, they would understand that federal employees are not the problem but the solution to many of our country’s woes.

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Patricia Niehaus is national president of the Federal Managers Association.

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