How Can We Help Congress Have a Better Perception of Federal Employees?

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This topic contains 35 replies, has 26 voices, and was last updated by  Terrence Hill 8 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #153773

    Each week, GovLoop teams up with the Washington Post to ask a “Federal Worker Question.” This week’s question is:

    How can we help Congress to have a better perception of Federal employees?

    It seems that public servants are the easiest target in legislators’ attempts to build a better budget. But it’s starting to feel a bit unfair, if not downright ludicrous. Here’s one suggestion from Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson:

    Perhaps federal employees should wear a big red suit with a thick black belt and a funny looking red hat. A flowing white beard, natural or fake, would set the uniform off just right.

    News this week won’t make federal workers jolly, but why not dress them like Santa Claus if current and future staffers are asked — make that required — to give like Saint Nick at Christmas?

    Short of that sort of option, what are your constructive ideas?

  • #153843

    Terrence Hill

    Well, they are sort of Federal employees themselves, so we shouldn’t have to justify ourselves to them. However, the Partnership for Public Service has the right perspective on this issue. By working with them to trumpet our successes, through programs like the Service to America Awards, we can educate new lawmakers about the many accomplishments of everyday government employees. Let’s invite them to recognize Federal employees in their districts who have achieved worthy accomplishments. Let them know that Feds are doing the best they can to fulfill the missions and mandates of their agencies. We need to elevate the conversation and learn from our military brethren, who have certainly gained the respect of the Congress.

  • #153841

    Great idea. How many lawmakers attend the Sammies and how can we increase that number?

  • #153839

    Natalie Jennings

    Is there any sort of lobbying arm for feds? I know each branch has a legislative affairs department, but who lobbies Congress on behalf of federal workers? Or city and state government workers?

  • #153837

    Sandy Ressler

    I don’t really believe Congress (with the possible exception of all those new tea party types) has such a negative opinion, we are simply very convenient whipping boys (and girls). The administration and all the executive branches in general do a horrible job illustrating the great work some do. It’s not an easy job celebrating people who basically work on infrastructure. It’s boring to talk about standards, regulation and “process” even though they save lives make food safe and insulate investors from crooked parties. Focusing on individuals with real accomplishments is always a better story, put faces to those “faceless” bureacrats. Either that or produce “The Feds..a Musical” 🙂

  • #153835

    Henry Brown

    NARA and AFGE have active lobbying arms at least for the federal work force

  • #153833

    Henry Brown

    Suspect you have hit the nail on the head as far as who has a negative opinion of the federal work-force… Looking at the recent history (since 1960) it would appear that a case could be made,when a “specific political party” is in charge in at least one branch (or sub-branch) federal employee’s take a beating

  • #153831

    Peter Sperry

    I believe a comparison of the raises given to federal employees over the past 20 years would confirm they did much better when a “specific political party” was in charge. Just not the one most people think. One party talks tough but actually treats federal employees fairly well. The other one says all the right things to get foolish public employee unions to fall in line, and then freezes pay and cuts staffing levels.

  • #153829

    Terrence Hill

    The problems with unions representing Federal employees are:

    1. They only truly represent a minority of employees.
    2. There is an anti-union bias among many Congressional members.
    3. Unions mostly complain, but don’t highlight achievements.

    However, we have a great advocate in the Partnership for Public Service. They could certainly lobby on our behalf and share success stories in a positive light. They are also respected on Capital Hill and truly seek to represent all Federal employees. We are all fortunate to have them as advocates on our behalf. They also sponsor eventa liike Public Service Recognition Week, SAMMIE awards, and publish the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report.

  • #153827

    Alan L. Greenberg

    I think the caption should be the other way around. How can we help federal employees (and all other American citizens) have a better perception of Congress? Their popularity is at an all-time low. As a retired senior exec at GSA I saw more pork come through Congress than the Boers Head factory – and it was the capable and loyal federal employees who constantly made our legislators look good and enabled them to take credit for completed projects in their districts, even if they originated during someone else’s tenure. Ironically, the bureaucracy grows because the Congress keeps passing laws, some of which have convoluted provisions unrelated to the original bill but included to buy support. With each law comes a need for people to administer, execute and sometimes litigate.

    To get back to the original question – the key word is probably “perception” because neither the Congress nor most Americans really know what most federal employees do except when there is negative publicity. The bottom line is results. Each agency has mandated goals and to meet or exceed goals leaves no room for argument.

  • #153825

    Kathy Sciannella

    Highlight the important work that we do. Put a face on what we do. The Federal government keeps your food safe, we protect your borders, we ensure your airline flight is safe….the list goes on and on.

    Unfortunately, most American’s perception of government is framed by their experriences the Department of Motor Vehicles (not Federal government but government nonetheless). For those of us who deal with the public, we have to make sure our public interactions are positive experiences if possible. I am a HR Specialist and have had applicants tell me I am the first person who actually would talk with them or was not rude.

    Also, highlight the real salaries which exist. Everyone thinks we all make six figures and while some people do, that is not the norm. My salary is great and I am not complaining but its in line with what I would make outside of the government.

    We also have to let people know what a great place it is to work. I have worked in both private sector and public sector. There is a lot to be said for “serving your country,” by working for the Federal government. That is what we all do every day we come to work.

    Simply put, we need to brand federal employment with a positive brand — not the slacker, bottom feeder brand which is so prevelant today.

  • #153823

    Kevin Schafer

    I will gain respect from my fellow workers and keep on KNOCKING!

  • #153821

    Phil Hanson

    As previously noted, Federal employees make excellent scapegoats. The issue is not that Congress is unaware of what we do but that they want votes and know it is easier to create hate/fear than love. They can get votes (and donations) by providing money for building highway infrastructure, but how to pay for it? Of course! Take it from the Feds retirement funds. We’re not being asked to “sacrifice” to reduce the deficit. Instead, we’re being handed the check as the others leave the table! Congress will not pay attention to us so long as they can parlay a negative image of us to the public into votes/donations for themselves. We have to get the public to acknowledge that Federal employees play a vital role in the function of government and are not the evildoers we’ve been painted.

  • #153819

    Sterling Whitehead

    So perhaps feds can start a website daily highlighting a fed, or a way can be found to spread GovLoop into Congressional offices.

  • #153817

    Michelle Mullin

    FEW – Federally Employed Women also represent Feds to Congress. It’s not a Union and they represent women in all agencies.

  • #153815

    Dave Hebert

    As has been stated, this is part of the game. Their actual feelings toward Feds may not actually be reflected in their rhetoric. I don’t like that it works that way, but it does. So the question that begs is why is this the rhetoric? Because they perceive it as what they’re constituencies want to hear.

    What do we do about that? Provide damn good service and solutions where they’re needed most. I have to (perhaps self-indulgently) tip my hat here to our Congressional Affairs Team at the USGS. They have done a wonderful job of working with our scientists to show members of Congress exactly how the USGS serves not just the nation but those Members’ respective constituencies right where they live. They bring them solutions to problems, not problems themselves. And of the Members who are familiar with us (especially in our Approps Committee), they really like us, on both sides of the aisle.

    Long pontificating short: Give citizens what they need, where they need it; do the same for Congress — makes it a lot harder to gripe.

  • #153813

    Mindy Giberstone

    Aren’t Congressional staffers a form of ‘federal’ employee? Congress wouldn’t dare make fun of its own staff – they are too necessary.

  • #153811

    David Johnson

    The Federal Managers Association lobbies Congress on behalf of and represents all of the Federal Government.

  • #153809

    Scott Thomas

    I think groups like Young Government Leaders – Los Angeles are helping create a new image for federal/government employees.

  • #153807

    Susan Dykshoorn

    Federally Employed Women (FEW) and National Active and Retired Federal Employees Aaaociation (NARFE)lobbies for federeal employees. There are military associations that lobby for federal and state employees.

  • #153805

    Mark Hammer

    Maybe ad hominum is the wrong approach. Perhaps the challenge lies not in acquainting Congress with the employees but rather in acquainting them with all of the steps involved in accomplishing the things they may tend to see in terms of unresponsive black boxes. If I know what’s involved in providing some service, then I know how valuable your step/contribution is, and I’m inclined to value you for it.

  • #153803

    What are some of the specific things that FEW says / does on the Hill to improve perception? Got an example of testimony?

  • #153801

    What are some of the specific things that FMA says / does on the Hill to improve perception? Got an example of testimony?

  • #153799

    Terrence Hill

    Great! Do you have connections with your Congressmen and Senators from California? How do you share your stories with local residents? How do you reach out?

  • #153797

    Tiffany Taylor

    I would love to see an ad campaign, “Faces of the Federal Government,” that showcased individual federal workers and the contributions they were making to the US. That would be a great way to put a positive face on the federal government. It could be done with pictures instead of video (a la Ken Burns) to get around the need to produce high–quality video, and keep it quite cheap. It could be posted on YouTube and Facebook rather than TV to avoid the costs of producing and running a TV ad. You could use GovLoop to solicit stories/volunteers for it. Perhaps it could be sponsored by GovLoop to avoid perceptions that it was paid for by tax dollars. It could be done quite cheap, but for what little money you would need, you could solicit donations via Kickstarter- I’d happily pitch in money for a project that had a hope of stopping my benefits from being eroded, and I bet others would too.

  • #153795

    Jaime Gracia

    Since the favorable ratings of Congress are in the single digits, I guess they think it is acceptable to bash civil servants. Perhaps misery loves company? Disgraceful.

  • #153793

    Like this idea…

    We worked with Code for America about a year ago for Public Service Recognition Week to create this website and video…might be worth trying to ramp up for PSRW this year…

  • #153791

    Scott Thomas

    amazing idea! count me in for $20! 😉

    and you’re right, it’d be pretty cool if it was 100% paid for by individuals.

  • #153789

    Allison Primack

    Tom Ray: To members of Congress, Government employees are just one of the means to getting re-elected. For districts with large numbers of Federal employees, the Congressional Representative will pursue initiatives that will help Federal employees. That same Representative will also pursue initiatives that help other groups in his constituency. It doesn’t matter what that Representative’s perception of civil servants is, he/she will try to help them legislatively because they are voters in his/her district. A Representative in a district without a significant number of Federal employees is only interested in getting help on individual constituent cases, because that helps get votes. A Representative from such a district thinks the civil servant is doing a good job if the civil servant gives the constituent a contract, or a Social Security benefit, or whatever else the constituent has asked the Representative for. The Representative does not care if the Federal employee is upholding the law and carrying out the intent of Congress, he/she only wants to satisfy the constituent. There are two possible ways for the Federal employee to behave: either try to follow the law as closely as possible, and ignore political pressure; or give the Congressmen and Senators whatever they want. One can’t follow the first course all the time; a Committee chairperson or other powerful member can and will take retribution against an agency’s budget. But that first course should be the goal. The short answer to the question: try to ignore Congress’s opinion of the Federal employee. Do your job in accordance with law and regulation. Some wise man once said, “I stopped worrying about what people think when I came to realize how little they care.”
  • #153787

    Scott Thomas

    We engage our members and the public through social media… twitter (@ygl_la) and facebook ( especially. And of course govloop!

    We hope to engage elected officials working through our public policy institute ( Right now, with the chapter less than 1 year old, we’re working to both start and shape the conversation here in LA. We’ve got amazing public workers here!

  • #153785

    Dale S. Brown

    Okay, here is an idea. If a federal employee does a great job for you (in your role as citizen, not in your role as a government employee.), write a letter to their supervisor and congressperson. Even consider a letter to the editor of your local paper. I think that we need to praise people for doing something right- and it happens frequently enough. Have you ever seen a TSA worker handle a tough passenger? A national park employee managing a small visitor’s center, keeping it clean, handling a lot of tourists, and making sure the tours go out on time? A pleasant person at the post office who stays smiling, calm and efficient during the Christmas rush of packages? I think such a letter would mean a lot to the employee – and would help show the public the service in public service. If enough people try this idea, maybe we could keep some of these examples at Gov Loop.

  • #153783



  • #153781


    To the members of Congress and the House if any of you are reading this. You must not forget that you are federal employees as well. The difference between you and I is that I am a permanent employee of an agency. You, on the other hand, are elected. You are elected by the people who voted for you with confidence that you would represent their best interests and those people do include Federal Workers. We are not shipped from another country or another planet. We are Americans just like those that work in the private sector. We should not have to differentiate ourselves from the masses to single out who we are like the main protagonist in the Scarlet Letter who wore an A on her chest.

    What you have done to us in the eyes of the American people was a big disservice. You made us look like incompetent buffoons and threw us under the bus. We’re not here collecting a welfare check and getting Medicaid. We are working for salary and serving the American Public the best way we can with the limited resources you give us which is limited staffing and supplies as well as overtime for some agencies. You have to remind yourselves that your time in office is limited if you are not re-elected. While you are there, you are there to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and you are supposed to act in the interests of the majority, not the minority that lobby Congress for different things. If our Founding Fathers saw what this country had become, they would be rolling in their graves in anger. If you have no interest in serving your districts or States, you need to leave and let someone else with the enthusiams and the love for their country to do the job, have it.

  • #153779

    Alan L. Greenberg

    Amen. I might have added that the federal employees administer, enforce and unfortunately also litigate the work of our Congress and that federal employees often have the power, authority and ability to make or break an elected official. They should be seeking our support – not the other way around.

  • #153777

    Mark Kane

    I agree with others that a public campaign is the best way to go. When it comes to government employees, the military has by far the best public perception. Why? Because the recruiting arm of the military acts as positive publicity for them as well.

    Incredibly, OPM has done very little to seek to mirror the publicity for government employees. To be fair, in recent years (April 2010) it was noted in the Federal Times that OPM was going to seek to create similar efforts, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet as far as I can see. As public sours on government, OPM aims to ‘re-polish’ federal image

    I think the We Love Public Service website was a good effort, but how well was it publicized? It doesn’t really seem to do much other than give an outlet to gush about public servants.

    Last year the Partnership for Public Service had a contest of sorts where government employees submitted “commercials” about how important public service is. There were some great PSA type ads, but who saw them outside of the choir of our own audience?

    There needs to be a focused campaign with a simple theme, posters, flyers, broad use of social media, and if possible, a nationwide Ad Council ads. I mean, this is freakin’ important! If we can teach people to Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute, or that Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires … then why can’t we proliferate and increase awareness of the positive use of taxpayers’ dollars through public service and investment in our own country!

    There’s been no such Ad Council campaign that I’m aware of … why not?

    The campaign could include a mascot of sorts … heck, Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty would do a fine job.

    Come on OPM … less talk and more action!

  • #153775

    Joe Dygas

    Yes. Go to, NARFE is the National Active and Retired Federal Employee Association. it is nationwide with chapters in many areas of every state. I urge you to join. The HQ is in DC. Narfe lobbies Congress to protect your federal pay and benefits. Narfe has been doing this activity since 1921 and has influenced many laws affecting the feds. NARFE sends out alerts whenever there is some congressional action pending affect federal employees. NARFE uses another website called, to allow members to send letters to their congressfolk. If you belong to a chapter there usually is one meeting per month. Members also receive a well done monthly magazine that discusses and explains many questions federal employees have. The magazine alone is worth joining. NARFE ‘s strength in terms of lobbying congress is the strength of its membership. The more members the stronger the impact on the politicians who keep track of such things. NARFE partners with other city or state gov employee organizations in lobbying local legislatures at the state level also. Join NARFE, IT IS A WIN WIN for all employees.

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