Federal employees have been through a bad patch in recent years. They are weathering pay freezes, furloughs, drawdowns, severe budget cuts, continuous attacks on their benefits, and negative views from the public. And more of the same is expected ahead.
Many feds have served long enough to have seen the political pendulum swing back and forth and are generally unruffled by such national mood swings. But the anti-federal sentiments on display these days appear more intense than usual.
For many feds, it has been especially demoralizing that amid today’s political stalemate over how to curb federal spending, the one area of common ground so far is the notion that much savings can be achieved at the expense of federal employees’ pay and benefits.
That leaves feds feeling unfairly singled out as a source of the nation’s problems.
All the over-heated political rhetoric about bloated government and hacking federal employees’ pay and benefits conveniently ignores even a basic understanding, let alone respect, for the essential work federal employees actually do.
That is, until people’s flights are delayed and lawmakers start worrying they’ll be blamed if two airliners collide. Or if word leaks out that federal food inspectors are being furloughed and they start worrying they’ll be blamed if Americans start getting sick from tainted meat.
The truth is, feds do essential work every day in all aspects of our society, protecting borders, fighting wildfires, researching cures for deadly and debilitating diseases, protecting the environment, planning and maintaining roads and bridges, investigating criminals, foiling terror plots, even ensuring that toys and other consumer products are safe.
It is one thing to call for a federal pay freeze as a way to curb spending; it is quite another to turn a blind eye to the vast and important work that helps make this nation run. Most federal employees aren’t in this for the money or the pension, but rather a desire to serve the public and their nation.
More than 9 out of 10 agreed or strongly agreed that “the work I do is important,” in the most recent governmentwide employee satisfaction survey.
Most federal work takes place in the background, invisible to the public. Only when something goes terribly wrong do we become conscious of what they do, usually when we wonder: How could that happen? We are ignorant of all the times such events have been staved off or prevented, thanks to the alert and dedicated efforts of legions of unsung federal workers.
Not every federal job is critical. Some may not even be necessary. But in trying to tame the federal budget, it is essential that government leaders remain mindful and appreciative of the dedication and value federal employees bring to the table, and the strong tradition of public service their work reflects.