Patricia Niehaus

Patricia Niehaus, national president, Federal Managers Association:

During his campaign, President Obama pledged to “make government cool again” to encourage civic participation and promote public service. Given the proliferation of vitriol directed toward civil servants by many in the public and a number of our elected leaders, one would be hard pressed to find an active member of the federal workforce who believes this call to service has taken hold. Part manifestation of the rise in partisan politics, part symptom of a lack of knowledge regarding the myriad roles played by civil servants, many of our government leaders appear intent on tearing at the fabric of our federal government — the dedicated men and women who carry out the programs lawmakers create.

We need our elected leaders to change the conversation.

Instead of assigning blame for the current challenges, we must engage in honest dialogue on how government can serve the best interests of the public. If we continue a race to the bottom in seeking civil service “reforms,” we will dig a hole impossible to climb out of. Debating whether a three- or five-year federal pay freeze is necessary, or whether to cut the federal workforce across-the-board by 10 or 15 percent, detracts from the substantive conversation that must take place: determining each agency’s mission moving forward and how to best mobilize the workforce to realize mission success.

The perception of the individual federal workers the public encounters daily is overwhelmingly positive, but I wish the average citizen could spend one day in a federal installation to see the hard work conducted behind the scenes. Maybe then, more people would realize that taking a hatchet to federal employment rolls, as many in Congress are looking to do, serves the interests of no one and is unsustainable given both the demands placed on agencies and the exodus of experienced senior workers to retirement.

Former Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio  had said the federal government must always invest in its people and strive to empower those who, with their noses to the grindstone, do the government’s heavy lifting with little acclaim. Each day presents a new opportunity for members of Congress and the administration to act on the senator’s words, to steer the conversation back to how we can capitalize on the talents of federal workers. We may not make government “cool again,” but together we can bring back a culture of respect for these dedicated public servants.