Theodore Roosevelt once made a speech in which he said the following:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”)
It has become fashionable as of late to criticize public servants as lazy, incompetent, and privileged. A simple Google search combining ‘tea party’ and ‘bureaucrat’ will produce of plethora of insults and criticisms. Even worse, over the course of the last two years it’s even been hinted that those who work for the public are really insidious – that we would decide who would live or die as part of Obama’s ‘death panels.”
Of course, a great amount of this is just bull crap – an evolution of a political strategy that deemed public servants as a target and the best way forward on how to make government so small that they can drown it in a bathtub.
The truth is that the vast majority of government employees are hard working, highly educated professionals who strive to be the best public servants they can be. The charge to use technology to make government more effective and more open has been led by none other than the government employees themselves.
“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
It’s not the joke that Reagan made it out to be. Public servants are here to help and that fact is most evident at the street-level. The people who work in public aid, the Social Security Office, the unemployment office, and other front line offices that deal directly with the public.
It’s these government entities that have the impossible task of helping more people with less money and less staff. With the recession, the workload has increased. With state budgets being cut across the country – the ability of these offices to deal with the workload drops with each point of the unemployment rate. No matter how far you push the stone up the mountain, at the end of the day there is always more to be done.
It’s rough out there – things have gotten so bad that there were protests outside of the public aid office in Philadelphia because the agency was so understaffed that the wait times had gotten out of control.
It’s easy to criticize when you’re not in the trenches.
It’s worse for our nations teachers and first responders. Budget cuts and teacher lay-offs make for a strong headwind when it comes to improving our inner city schools and keeping out streets safe.
It’s easy to criticize teachers when you’re not tasked with educating a bigger class size with less funding.
It’s easy to criticize those who serve the public because most of them are too busy in the trenches.
For the most part, public servants haven’t complained. It’s called a calling for a reason. Public servants don’t do what they do for the money – they do it because they see value in what they do. They do it because they want to help people – and they do every single day they serve in the trenches.
I now have a blog up at Gov In The Trenches – You can follow me on my new twitter handle @govintrenches