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May 9, 2014
Variations of this piece ran in the Washington Post and in other newspapers around the country.
From its founding, our country has been blessed with men and women of courage and character who are willing to serve their government.
A medical officer working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directed the global initiative that eradicated polio in India. This Federal employee is leading the effort to eliminate a crippling and potentially fatal disease in the three countries where it persists.
A program manager working at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Veterans Employment Program Office is dedicated to assisting veterans seeking jobs with the Federal government. This employee helps with everything from writing resumes to working through military-to-civilian skills issues.
Many Americans are fed up with the dysfunction they see in Washington. Only 19 percent say they trust government to do what is right all the time or most of the time, according to an October 2013 Pew Research Center survey. And the share of the public that reports being angry at the government is 30 percent.
But Americans are smart enough to distinguish the current dysfunction in politics from the people who serve in government. By a ratio of about two-to-one – 62 percent to 29 percent -- more of them had a favorable than unfavorable opinion of government workers in the Pew survey. As President Obama said when the Federal government was on the brink of a shutdown in 2013, "These Americans are our neighbors. Their kids go to our schools. They worship where we do. They serve their country with pride. They are the customers of every business in this country."
The government shutdown furloughed hundreds of thousands of Federal employees, most of them nowhere near Washington. The work stoppage touched communities across the country, where 85 percent of Federal employees work outside of the capital city.
The Department of Agriculture employs people in Des Moines, helping farmers make sure that they are making a modest profit on their hard work. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development employs people in Sacramento who help first-time homebuyers find the information and financing they need. If the government shutdown had an upside, it was demonstrating to Americans how much the day-to-day work of Federal employees affects their lives in positive ways.
This week is Public Service Recognition Week, a good time to think about the people who serve their government in and out of uniform.
After all, they are just like us. They value education: About half of all federal employees have college degrees and almost a quarter of them have advanced degrees. They live all over the world, and they work hard: Ninety percent of Federal employees reported that they are willing to put in extra effort on their jobs, despite the seemingly endless rounds of furloughs, pay freezes, budget showdowns and government shutdowns of recent years, according to the OPM's most recent Employee Viewpoint Survey, which measures the attitudes of employees government-wide. Like us, Federal employees persevere through tough times and continue to do their jobs with passion, professionalism, and skill.
So much of what is helpful, necessary, and important in our lives is administered, handled, and taken care of by Federal employees. They are our friends and our family members, and they are our neighbors. They are the reason we do not have to think twice about boarding an airplane, using a cell phone, visiting a national park, or checking our mailbox. It is important to thank them for their service.
Federal employees have amazing stories to tell. I encourage you to talk to not only the people you know, but perhaps strike up a conversation with the person on the bus wearing a government badge. This week, let's thank them for their service.