It’s true that negative public perceptions of Feds are more commonplace today than during prior years and decades — as discussed in Part I of my post on this topic. Therefore, some have suggested the solution is a wholescale rebranding of the Federal workforce, which appears to be a popular idea in theory. But to really succeed, such a colossal undertaking would need to be broadly and uniformly implemented at hundreds of Federal agencies and agency subcomponents Government-wide. That’s one Federal workforce of 2-3 million employees — depending on how one counts it — all marching simultaneously to the same tune.
From paper to practice
Of couse, a Government-wide rebranding sounds great on paper and makes for good cheerleading to boost Feds’ low morale. Yet putting such a massive rebranding effort into practice would be very complex with no assured outcome and several real risks. Moreover, successfully rebranding even one large Federal agency alone — like GSA or TSA — is not only complex, but a time consuming and resource-driven effort of mega proportions at a time when agencies are counting their nickles and dimes. Rebranding would also be more challenging during a major election year when Feds are used as political pawns by ruthless politicians and a mass media driven more by profits and ratings than journalistic objectivity.
Nevertheless, when contemplating a rebranding of the Federal workforce, first ask yourself why positive public perceptions have sunk? Is it because Feds are not doing a good job overall? Is it because of media sensationalism surrounding a few scandal-ridden agencies? Or, rather, can low public approval of Feds be based upon: 1) the “Great Recession” poisoning the collective mood of the country about Government generally, and/or 2) the blatant and reckless demonization of Feds by elected public officials and private interest groups for political gain?
Generalities versus specifics
Even though today’s polls generally show a noticeable drop in public opinion toward Feds, that changes when people are asked about specific issues. For example, ask citizens if they are pleased Feds finally caught and killed Osama Bin Laden? Undoubtedly, this specific public perception is highly positive. Ask citizens with dire medical ailments if they are happy that health care companies can no longer deny them insurance for pre-exisiting conditions? Again, this is likely to elicit very positive public feedback. Ditto for other countless actions and issues for which Feds positively impact the lives of the public we serve.
Therefore, public opinion of Feds is issue-driven, in addition to being collectively driven by the mood of the country and general negative stereotypes. It’s interesting that polls always show most members of Congress receiving positive ratings from their constituents, and subsequently winning re-election, even though Congress as an Institution receives high negative ratings. Thus, when considering public perception of Feds, one must take into account the general and the specific — in addition to the fact the public perceptions change over time.Look at the big picture
As Feds, do we really have an image “crisis” that requires a Government-wide rebranding effort? Let’s look at the big picture, and separate the micro from the macro when determining the definition of such a “crisis” situation. If one wants to know what a real public crisis of confidence in Government looks like, see Greece and Spain, for example, as well as undemocratic regimes in the Middle East, Eurasia, South America, Africa, and elsewhere. These foreign governments have real crisises on their hands built not only on public perception, but the harsh realities that supercede image makeovers. We are talking about mass violence and repression of human rights, mass propaganda, and even mass murder at the hands of brutal dictators and megalomaniacs against often defenseless general populations. That’s hardly anything near the countless freedoms and civil liberties that we enjoy here, but that some Americans are quick to forget and/or take for granted.
Thus when viewed on a global scale, the work of Federal Government isn’t too shabby afterall. This is why, despite some negative public opinions of Feds, we still have the greatest functioning democracy on the planet. Why else would America still attract millions of immigrants worldwide who seek a better life here. In essence then, public opinion about the Federal workforce, whether individualized or collective, is also relative to one’s life experience and that of a people. Therefore, when seriously considering whether the brand of the Federal workforce needs to be overhauled, remember that what’s popular and well-intentioned on paper may in fact be problematic putting into practice — especially in a major election year.
NOTE: Also see Parts I and III:
*** All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.