Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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Duck and cover

In recent years, more than a few federal employees must roll their eyes when Public Service Recognition Week rolls around.

At a time when we seem to be at an all-time high for the number of members of Congress who are out to downsize the federal workforce, cut federal employee compensation, or reduce funding for agencies or abolish them outright, it might seem safer to avoid recognition of any kind and just keep your head down. (Think VA, GSA, IRS, Secret Service, DEA, [fill in the blank].)

In proclaiming May 3 through May 9 as this year's Public Service Recognition Week, President Obama stated:

"Civil servants are scientists and teachers, social workers and first responders—they are the leaders of today's progress and the innovators of tomorrow's breakthroughs. With determination and resolve, they defend our country overseas and work to widen the circle of opportunity and prosperity here at home. And despite tough circumstances—including pay freezes, budget cuts, sequestration, and a political climate that too often does not sufficiently value their work—these exceptional leaders continue to make real the fundamental truth that people who love their country can change it."

And that's all true. But you don't have to wait for Public Service Recognition Week to hear kind words. They are pretty standard in Congress these days. Some examples ...

"Most of the IRS employees are good, decent, hardworking, patriotic civil servants doing a tough job, working for their government and are honest in their dealings," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in his opening statement at February hearing to review an update from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

"But not all of them," Chaffetz added.

“The vast majority of federal employees are honest, hard-working people who want to be good stewards of American taxpayers’ dollars," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) in introducing a federal employee tip-line last month.

"But there is great frustration when bad actors are not punished and ongoing issues are never addressed," Meadows said.

And Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, last year noted that "the vast majority of VA’s more than 300,000 employees and executives are dedicated and hard-working, [but] the department’s well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes is tarnishing the reputation of the organization ..."

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that, even though a few bad apples really don't spoil the bunch, when lawmakers go after them in agency after agency in a high-profile way—and perhaps not coincidentally make great headlines back in their home districts about how they are "taking on Washington" (whoever or whatever "Washington" is)—all feds are likely to come away painted with a very broad brush. And not in a good way.

And of course, the resulting characterization of the federal workforce as dysfunctional makes it all the easier to get popular buy-in for cutting agency staffs and budgets and going after employee compensation. But regrettably, those are the times we're in.

Anyway, forget all that for now. This is your Public Service Recognition Week, so take a bow.

Then run for cover.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on May 06, 2015 at 7:29 AM

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