For the 2024 presidential election this fall, dueling initiatives to save or slice the federal workforce will be on the ballot.

These may seem secondary compared to economic policy or violent conflicts roiling overseas, but to millions of federal employees and the people who depend on them, these issues are likely at the forefront.

We at Federal Times want to know for sure.

Our latest reader survey asks feds what issues they’re tracking mostly closely come Nov. 5. After all, the 2.2-million large workforce has the potential to represent a significant voter base.

We understand that engaging with election topics as a member of the nonpartisan civil service can feel dicey, so we consulted the federal government’s experts on ethics: the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. In a review of our completely anonymous survey, they concluded a federal employee responding to survey questions from a news organization is not considered political activity.

“‘Political activity’ is activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office,” the office said in a statement to Federal Times. “Even though the survey questions relate to an upcoming partisan election, OSC has determined that answering the questions in these specific circumstances is not ‘political activity’ as defined in the Hatch Act’s implementing regulations.

Thus, an employee would not violate the Hatch Act by responding to these Federal Times survey questions, even if an employee does so while on duty or in the federal workplace.”

Be aware, however, that other rules about using official time or government devices to engage in non-work activity may still apply. (So, we recommend you do this on your own time and using your own tech.)

What’s at stake in 2024

The debates waged on the campaign trail and social media are not new.

For one, it’s been a plank of the Republican party to favor small government and states’ rights. At least as far back as the 1820s, “Old Republicans” split in Congress over their colleagues’ support for a national bank and federal funding of infrastructure projects. In much more recent memory, President Ronald Reagan said in his 1989 farewell address, “man is not free unless government is limited.”

Former President Donald Trump, the main Republican challenger, attempted to reclassify tens of thousands of federal employees to at-will status, and he said he wants to do so again.

Then, last month, Republicans published a study on the fiscal 2025 budget that seeks to expedite the removal process of federal employees, repeal telework and eliminate automatic salary raises.

“The biggest losers in this system are hardworking taxpayers who are forced to subsidize the bloated salaries of unqualified and unelected bureaucrats working to force a liberal agenda on a country that does not want it,” the study reads.

On the other hand, Democrats have long been sympathetic to union workers, and more than half of all government jobs are represented by a bargaining unit. Following his State of the Union on March 7, Joe Biden, the incumbent Democratic candidate, wrote a “thank you” letter to federal employees, saying “the President has your back.”

The current administration also just put forward a new administrative rule this week preventing a return of Schedule F or something similar.

And while concerns of government “bloat” have inspired efforts to eliminate certain agencies like the FBI, under Biden’s fiscal 2025 budget request, the total federal workforce would increase by just 1%.

All the while, public trust in the federal government is at near-record lows, though most Americans tend to be more sympathetic to federal agencies than to Congress.

So, whatever the outcome of the general election, there is an opportunity for federal employees to weigh in on pertinent ideologies.

To guide Federal Times’ coverage of these topics and to better understand how civil servants are approaching the election and the future of their work, we are asking feds to respond to our voluntary, anonymous survey.

Federal Times will aim to publish the results of the survey in a few months.

Editor’s note: This is not a scientific survey. The poll is anonymous, though respondents have the option to share their contact confidentially with reporters at Federal Times. Personal information will not be published or shared.

If the survey doesn’t load, click here.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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