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I'm a federal contractor, and I must be honest. Becoming a government employee as many I've worked with in the past have done has held no appeal for me.

I'm not exactly sure why. I don't know if it's a rational fear or not. Perhaps I think I'll get drowned in bureaucracy more than I already am.

So tell me, why would someone want to work for the government instead of a private organization?

Tags: career, human resources, project management

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I suggest answering your question with a question: Is someone who works for the government a "Government Employee" or a "Public Servant?"

I choose the later and I think it captures a lot about my career choice. Perhaps it might help you determine yours.

That's a good distinction Brian, especially if the role you can serve in isn't available in the private sector. Thanks!

One has to find a government job that they are passionate about. That is hard to find, it make take years to get into a federal job that excites you everyday.

What do you like about working for the government as opposed to a private company?

If you are interested in policy and decision making processes that are "inherently governmental" than you must be a government employee to participate.  If you are primarily interested in support services and implementation activities which do not involve critcal decison making, than go for which ever is more satisfying on a personal (ie financial) level.  Contractors and government employees both serve the public.  One is no more or less a public servant than the other.  Neither has any claim to moral superiority over the other. 


I am a government emplyee becuse they were the first ones to offer a job in my career field when I was unemployed and it has been a good decision.  I enjoy the work and like to believe I provide value for the money to the taxpayers.  I work with many contractors who also enjoy their work and provide value for the money to the taxpayers.  I've worked for private organizations in both the profit and nonprofit sectors.  I have never found them more or less attractive or morally superior/inferior than government work.  The whole government vs private is a non issue to me.  A job is a job.  The satisfaction is largely determined by your relationship with your immediate supervisor.  And the value is what you make of it.  The DOW chemical reseacher who developed Kevlar provided as much of a public service as any DOD employee.

Very much appreciated Peter. I like your perspective, I share it.

I became a civil servant because I believed in the mission and was willing to dedicate a portion of my life to see it succeed. It was something I thought I would be proud to share with my kids and something I thought would be better than "chasing the dollar." 

I left $50k per year on the table when I became a civil servant. I started as a GS 14-step 8. My previous job had annual competitions, lay-offs, fake titles and authority, and awards for the most dollars (business) brought in. It felt empty.

I preferred to work for impact on society - maybe be recognized for my role in changing the way government makes decisions and re-routing hundreds of millions in tax payer money to places where it was most needed instead of where the biggest political power said it should be. 

I got "inside" and found out that the mission was often secondary to kingdom building, political agendas, and advancement. I saw genuine "customers" being ignored while squabbles ensued over office window size how many square feet each rank should have in their cubicle. I saw red faced senior executives wag their fingers and raise their voices over the seating chart (there is actually a seating protocol based on seniority where I came from - and people get very angry when they perceive it has been compromised). I worked hard to change attitudes and stimulate action, but found risk aversion often outweighed action - individual private time favored over work brought about by actually engaging.

My teams did re-route hundreds of millions, and even established a bona-fide decision support system - to include communication with customers, an investment evaluation template, investment reviews, feedback loops, etc. It was later dismantled. It was politically inconvenient to switch from decision-based evidence making to evidence-based decision making. 

I discovered the politics of power, quid-pro-quo, and compromise. I found too many people in "responsible" positions who were comfortable keeping their noses clean, the boat from rocking, testimony clouding the truth, and the press releases flowing. 

I left government again in favor of small business. Sure, there's money exchanged, but it's directly proportional to the value my company and I can create for other people. There are real problems and real solutions - often in real time, without pomp and circumstance or bureaucratic red tape. 

Believe it or not, I'm not bitter about government. I think employment with the government is great, necessary, and noble. The more senior I got, the more exposure I had to what I like to refer to as "the mad-hatter tea party."

As a non-commisioned officer (when I first started in government) with relatively local but literally life-and-death awesome responsibility, I had clarity of purpose and a tremendous sense of satisfaction. As a senior government employee, I had a neck ache from shaking my head so much. 

Wow, thanks for sharing David. I used to be the lead work manager for the largest project on our contract, and I too had a sore neck from too much head shaking. I saw much of the same.

I enjoy my current role much more, directly leading project teams. Much less bureaucracy getting in the way of creating value. I still do a good amount of head shaking though!

Excellent post!  I left many years ago when even after I offered demonstrative proof of a better way to do things, the response was "SGT K, this is how we've always done it"....ugh.

I think risk aversion and fear of innovation / fear of failure is a big stumbling block.

great post! I can actually relate to your frustrations from all the way down here (GS-9). I think that may be part of  what drives me because I want to change the status quo and find better ways of doing things. It might take a long time and I might get permanent neck damage, but someone's got to do it. I've actually found that being a low rank allows me to ask "stupid questions" that people don't ask because they are content with "because that's the way it's been done before." My "stupid" questions have actually changed processes.

Keep asking "stupid" questions Scott!


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