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The Federal Coach

Fed workers weigh in on negative perceptions

This week I wanted to share some of your insightful comments around the negative perceptions of federal employees as well as reader tips for how federal managers can become an SES. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by commenting below or emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

To start, I want to share the following comment from a 40-year veteran of the federal workforce in response to the recent polls and political fodder about feds:

I have been screamed at, called incompetent, reported to the president and told that I should remain unemployed forever. I have been threatened, forced to evacuate buildings due to bomb threats, booed, blocked from entering my workplace and forced to undergo careful security screenings because of threats. I have even witnessed a bomb detonated a very few feet from where I was working.

My work has been insulted by elected officials, people running for office and anyone seeking an easy axe to grind. I have to be careful about which people I share information about my employment, act with great care to make sure I meet every single personal legal obligation I have and bite my tongue when I am insulted.

In return I have worked, often 45-60 hours per week, for forty years at a rate of pay that was often one third what a similar job paid in the private sector. I discovered in college (while working fifty hours a week) that the future titans of business attending class with me were usually less talented than I and did not work as hard.

So, think what you like. I have heard and seen it before.

Please understand that all of this will not affect my work one iota, because I am a professional in the service of my fellow citizens. I am proud of what I do. I would gladly have the words "Federal Employee" carved on my gravestone. -Federal Coach reader

Next, here is some advice from Helen Wurst, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, on the same topic:

I believe the main goal of management at this point is to promote the positive, however, they also need to address issues without the excuse "it will hurt someone's feelings". To change the public's view on federal employees has to begin with the upper levels of management and trickled down. A time for change is due, at every level. How we present ourselves, our appearance, our speech, not just in the office, but in public is something that needs to be put forward. - Helen Wurst, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Finally, here is some insider advice from a retired senior executive about getting into the SES:

I want to emphasize your #6 tip on getting into the SES--"know when to move on". I often saw a mindset among federal employees that the SES was just a next step beyond GM 15, and that long and faithful service in the same agency should result eventually in promotion to the SES. Agency heads and selecting officials are increasingly enlightened enough to value intra-agency experience, diverse geographical exposure, any assignments that broadened an applicant's total package and demonstrated one's ability to operate out of one's "comfort zone". So, the idea of "moving on" is something to think of early in one's career, to build up that package, and not just when a ceiling is reached. -Retired SES

By Tom Fox

 |  October 22, 2010; 10:50 AM ET |  Category:  Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Don't forget why you came to Washington | Next: Improving the hiring process for federal workers with disabilities


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Oh, one more thing.

My experiences with government workers beat my experiences with customer service workers in every other field of commercial endeavor.

By a huge margin too.

Posted by: Over-n-Out | October 25, 2010 11:42 AM

Odd....Most of the whining reminds me more of private industry. Oh well.

I've only had one issue with a government employee at any level. It was an IRS examiner who insisted that I was somehow my father. His supervisor corrected the matter.

I suspect more of the complaints have to do with anger at the elected officials we keep electing to annoy us.

They are the problem, not the ordinary employees.

Posted by: Over-n-Out | October 25, 2010 10:45 AM

In God We Trust is exactly right than another say in Federal we trust. God is above all, even tough government.

Posted by: andrebudianto | October 25, 2010 3:56 AM

Here are the stats.

With high unemployment--Fed employees are easy targest. BUT,

offer anyone who is looking for a job or has one a Fed job they would not turn it down. And their friends/family is the exception.

People want less government but if they are asked what should be cut---not only do they draw a blank---they will tell you they want more assistance programs (that matters to them, more govermnet inspections of private industry and our security must not be compromised.

The contractors who work next to us--make way more than any person on the Federal payroll doing Federal work.

We work the same hours and are subjected to the same reviews.

Once the market comes again Fed employment won't look as enviable but ,,,,if Congress wants to make cuts--they are the most expensive Fed employees.

Posted by: CultureClub | October 24, 2010 1:59 PM

Millions across the nation are unemployed.

Is it any wonder people are angry and negative towards those with secure jobs in the place that is supposed to effectively manage the nation's macro-economic systems to ensure that there are enough jobs?

Posted by: inono | October 24, 2010 1:29 PM

The California budget process is a STATE LEGISLATIVE process (with a few spanners tossed in there from the electorate's referendum process). What does that have to do with FEDERAL EXECUTIVE Civil Servants' lack of accountability? They have very little in common. It hurts the credibility of your complaint when you use the former as an example of the latter.

Posted by: mason08 | October 24, 2010 1:26 PM

So sorry, but federal employees had best get used to this. Recent stats show that they now form the employed elite - one of the few segments of society with safe pensions, good, safe health insurance plans, good job security, and regular raises, not for doing a good job, but just because. The private sector is full of scared people with shaky 401Ks, less and less job security, lower average pay than the feds, and shrinking benefits. If the US doesn't start RIFing, just as the British are about to do, the remainder of the private sector may get increasingly resentful.

Posted by: whr1 | October 24, 2010 1:00 PM

RE: reader tips for how federal managers can become an SES: tip#1, my head of a federal division testified before Congress on an agency law that had been in effect since the 1930's. His testimony was in support of the politically powerful interest groups that wanted a change in the law to the detriment of the wildlife that it protected. His testimony was the linchpin to the Senate's decision not to pursue further protective legislation. As a result of his testimony, he was awarded an SES appointment. Tip #2: Federal managers learn quickly to only take care of themselves and those above them: this is another secret to an SES appointment. Tip #3; inherent in the last two tips is the ability to play office politics and play to the politics to whatever political party is in power at the time in both the Executive and Legislative Branches. If you are astute in this Machiavellian political game, an SES is assured. In the end, you will "hit the lottery," not only while still working, but also in retirement when that big, fat monthly check comes rolling in like clockwork.

Posted by: dozas | October 24, 2010 12:59 PM

I hear all the time how the private sector pays more than the Federal Government does; however, the private sector employees are held accountable where the Federal Employees aren't.
This is a big difference, look at the California budget process where they not only didn't meet there constitutional requirement of passing the budget on time they got paid extra for this process. If this was the private sector they not only wouldn't get paid but they would be looking for work.
The next thing you want to look at is whether there is any form of a budget where they try to live with-in there budget. In the private sector they can't just print more money and then force their customers to pay for their folly.
So you can have false pride, and you can turn a blind eye to the reallity of the system, but the fact is that the Fedral Government is a large out of control spend, spend, and grow and grow wasted money pit.

Posted by: viejo70 | October 24, 2010 12:04 PM


I usually don't put things this bluntly, but are you some kind of moron?

Rather than have someone who is dedicated to doing a good job over the course of a career and is willing to accept tradeoffs including a lower salary than is available in the private sector, would you rather have less competent Feds who turn over every few years and have to be retrained (expensive, as is hiring them), etc.?

Some of the motormouths in the crowd should get what you wish for -- less competent public servants, so that you wait longer for your social security payments, VA benefits, income tax refunds, etc.

The hypocrisy of the "haters" who seem to WANT the federal govt. to fail (except when it's THEIR service getting affected) is unbelievable!

Posted by: fendertweed | October 23, 2010 3:36 PM

self-justifying defensiveness by the poster who sat for 40 years on our tab, and whom we support in perpetuity. sigh.
bored with the "we work hard" line, so do most people.
the "I make less" line is laughable for all but a handful of job categories.
if the work was so bad and such a gyp, why stay for four decades?? the door swings two ways.

Posted by: FloridaChick | October 23, 2010 10:13 AM

To "Retired SES" I would like to say that I agree with you. However, unless you are born and bred in Washington, D.C., you are behind the curve and are on very thin ice all the way.

I never heard the expression "Whose your rabbi?" before coming to D.C. Now, I know what it really means.

Posted by: geraf-CO | October 22, 2010 8:02 PM

If you want to see a video about what really goes on in federal government offices, take a look at http://BudgetJustified.com .

The people who worked in these offices had MS and PhDs in engineering & math, made 6 figure salaries. And this is how they spent their time. I was one of them and I refuse to waste my time & taxpayer $ on this anymore.

Posted by: LisaSchaefer | October 22, 2010 1:50 PM

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