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A Federal Employee Hits Back

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Flickr photo courtesy Boston Public Library

Jason Ullner, a career Foreign Service Officer, fires back in an opinion piece in The Washington Post at those who would denigrate public service for political gain:
 

Like many federal workers, I have sacrificed: a high-paying job in the private sector; a year of my life (and the first six months of my daughter’s life) spent in Iraq; long hours; high stress; pay freezes. I’m not complaining; in fact, I quite enjoy my career and my life in the Foreign Service. Yet when I hear our politicians talking about “fixing” Washington, I often wonder to myself: whom would they like to “fix?” Is it the guy I see on the Metro every day, heading to work at the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that our food is safe? Is it the woman going into Commerce Department headquarters to support U.S. companies abroad? Or do they mean the thousands of people who support our troops overseas? How about my fellow Foreign Service officers, who put themselves in harm’s way in Baghdad, Kabul, Damascus and hundreds of other places around the world?

 

Update, 12:28 p.m.: Asked by Government Executive for a response, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., author of a bill to increase federal employees' contributions to their pensions, said in an e-mail:

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that many federal employees work long hours, are dedicated public servants and perform their jobs at the highest level. There is also no doubt that the taxpayer can no longer afford defined benefit pension plans, guaranteed raises, a $450 billion payroll, and a federal workforce that is out of sync in both mission and size.

For example, according to data in 2008, the Department of State, the federal department responsible for international relations, had over 12,000 of its 18,000 American employees working in Washington D.C. According to USA Today, The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office. According to the same study, federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9 percent of the workforce, up from 0.4 percent in 2005. During the same time period, unemployment in the private sector jumped from under 5 percent to over 10 percent in some areas of the country.

The need to right size the federal workforce and align pay and benefits with the real world is not about bashing federal employees as government unions would have you believe. The need to do this is about preserving the financial viability of our country with a workforce that, in the age of rapid productivity advancements, remains too large and too noncompetitive. Hard-working Americans in the Foreign Service need look no further than Greece to see what course our nation is on if we don’t act now.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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