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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

What Do 99 Percent of Federal Employees Have in Common?

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Flickr user Anthony Thomas Bueta

The 2 million or so people who work for the federal government are a varied bunch: They come from different educational backgrounds, do all kinds of different jobs and represent various races and ethnicities. But according to the nation’s politicians, 99 percent of them have one thing in common.

They don’t screw up.

“Are there some federal workers who do boneheaded things? Absolutely,” said President Obama last year. But he followed that up by saying “99 percent” of employees “are doing the right thing.”

Obama’s not alone in defending the honor of the vast majority of federal workers. Even Republican leaders do. Just yesterday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, cited the 99 percent good apples figure in discussing legislation to make it easier to fire the bad ones at a National Journal event.

It’s far from the first time he’s sung the praises of the 99 percent. Here’s Chaffetz on the House floor in April:

Let me be clear right away. We have got great federal workers. They care; they are patriotic; they work hard, but we have got a few that are bad apples. We have got to give the tools necessary to the leadership within the administration to do what is right and, if necessary, allow them latitude to let those people go.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has used similar math to Chaffetz and Obama when analyzing the performance of workers at the Veterans Affairs Department. Yesterday, he declared that “99 percent of the more than 300,000 VA employees are dedicated and hardworking, and are not part of the problems that exist at VA.”

So politicians seem to have reached consensus on the scientific percentage of the good apple proportion of the federal workforce. But they seem to pay an awful lot of attention to the other 1 percent.

Photo: Flickr user Anthony Thomas Bueta

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.

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