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I work for the government and I am NOT the enemy

It seems that the country is becoming more and more polarized. Right wingers have become far-right-wingers, and left wingers are moving far-left, all are becoming wing-nuts. I've been a federal employee for (gulp) 25 years and it's rarely been something to be "proud" of to non federal people, i.e. the general public. Perception of federal employees as lazy, overpaid, incompetent, among other adjectives are widespread. With the Obama administration there seems to be some recognition that this perception is an actual problem.

When people observe the wasteful practices generally perpetuated by congress, they associate that with a wasteful incompetent government and of course those working in the government must also be wasteful and incompetent.

I just have this bad smell of growing numbers of people claiming we are overpaid (http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2010/03/05/federal-pay-gap-reversed/) and more frighteningly to be attacked. The attack on the IRS building (http://www.theledger.com/article/20100308/NEWS/3085004/1308/TIMEOUT...) in Austin Texas last month strikes me as a canary in the coal mine type of behavior. Of course everyone loves to hate the IRS (no I don't work for them) but the reality is they are just feds doing their job. In the press everyone condems this as the isolated actions of a crazed individual, and often that is followed up with, statements such as "yeah but I understand his frustrations". Thus implicitly condoning the action or at least tolerating it. Let's not forget about last weeks Pentagon shooting also linked to anti-government thinking http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iCKwXk17aAr3T_8Z9.... Finally AOL reports on a rapid rise of anti-government groups http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/anti-government-groups-show-a....

So my question is simple, how do we change this perception of federal employees as the enemy?

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Comment by Bowen Moran on March 8, 2010 at 11:45am
Great post Sandy!

I think that the first step begins internally. The public may certainly have the perception that as a Public Servant, I do nothing all day but sit around on piles of gold while plotting how to undermine anything positive people are doing in their lives, but that perception isn't true. In fact, the most passionate, service-oriented people I've met in my life are public servants.

Part of the problem is that our organizations have sought to make us interchangeable - cogs in a machine. When you dehumanize a group, vilifying that same group becomes remarkably easy. We're not cogs - we're people. We're individuals with goals, dreams, passions and fears. For some reason, because we work for Government, we eschew advertising our humanity both to the public we serve and each other. I think this has to stop. When we believe that we are but cogs in a machine, we are less likely to celebrate the things that make us individuals, which cannot but be tied to the reasons we sought to join the Public Service in the first place. We're awesome, and we have a long and hard campaign of first convincing each other that we do something each and every day to be celebrated. We serve.

The next step is to bring that same passion to the public - let's start partnering. Let's partner first with each other, and then, with the public. Let's invest ourselves emotionally into what the citizens we serve are doing. Let's become allies, partners, and most importantly, let's become friends again.
Comment by Sally Smith on March 8, 2010 at 11:42am
Check out this commentary from the Partnership for Public Service, "Federal Workers, a Resource Not a Target"

http://ourpublicservice.org/OPS/pressroom/documents/Stier_3.3.10.pdf

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