Does the Federal Government need to rebrand itself, as some have recently suggested, due to low public approval, politically-charged rhetoric, and negative stereotypes of Federal employees?
I think not. Rather, I stipulate that:
1) Rebranding Feds is unnecessary and inadvisable at this time, and
2) There is no real “crisis” for Feds that warrants a massive rebranding campaign.
Public Perception of Feds
However, prior to exploring this topic further, we first need to examine and understand what public perception of Government means on a non-superficial level. Second, if there were to be any massive rebranding effort — which I currently deem inappropriate — it must be based on specifics, not generalities, in order to have the desired effect. Moreover, we must look at the underlying factors, both macro and micro, of how public opinion of Feds is shaped at any given point in time. Most notably, public perception of Government depends on multiple factors, including specific issues of the day, the collective mood of the country, political rhetoric, and stereotypes about Feds. Thus, consider the following:
Feds should NOT be engaged in a popularity contest
Civil servants are not politicians. Too many of today’s spineless politicos often base their words, work and vailed wisdom solely on public opinion. Yet, as career civil servants, we are neither in a popularity contest nor in a quest to win votes for re-election. Rather, we are responsible for doing the best job we can for the public at large — regardless of what the public may think about us. So let’s leave the popularity contest and polling-based decisions linked to fluid public opinion for our elected officials to tackle. As Feds, we must focus like a lazer beam on the job at hand, civil service.
The truth is that Feds have been used as political pawns during many times throughout history — this is nothing new. Yet the overwhelming majority of Feds continue to perform their jobs effectively, admirably, and to the best of their ability despite public opinion, not because of it. Like the cycles of the moon, public perceptions of Government wax and wane. Public opinion of Feds is based upon a number of factors, some of which we have no control over.
Why public opinion of Feds is fractious
Some of the current factors causing negative attitudes toward Feds are based on the collective mood of the country. Today’s public opinion of Feds, may be related, but not limited, to factors such as: a lingering lackluster economy and struggling housing market, high unemployment, stock market jitters, and Federal benefit reductions, to name a few. This is all buttressed by one Party’s insidious election-year political rhetoric demonizing Government in general and Feds in particular. The widely reported scandals and malfeasance at GSA, TSA, and the Secret Service, for starters, only add fuel to the fire. Let’s also not forget about the continuing political gridlock on Capitol Hill and how that affects the public mood. President Truman’s admonition of a “Do-Nothing Congress” is just as applicable today as it was back then. But some politicians would rather point the finger at Feds than be held accountable for their own legislative failings and partisan inaction.
Thus, it’s no big surprise that this confluence of negative realities has led the public to think more poorly of Government overall — whether Federal, State or Local. During so-called bad times, the Government as a whole, rightly or wrongly, takes the brunt of public blame for the nation’s collective ills and/or misfortunes (ie. “Kick the Dog” syndrome). Feds are sometimes an easy target, albeit unfairly. However, public opinion and polling results merely represent a snapshot in time that change with the times.
*** Note: the views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.