Have you ever visited a country where the water is unsafe to drink, where people wear masks outside because the air is unsafe to breathe, where infant mortality is high and guards armed with automatic weapons are a common sight on public streets? Do you stay up nights worrying about the security of your bank deposits, or wondering whether your mother will receive her Social Security check this month?
Most Americans will never experience these concerns for one primary reason: our federal workforce. At a time when the poor choices of a handful of employees at the General Services Administration and the Secret Service have been in the news, the fact is every day, federal employees nationwide are ensuring the safety and security of the American people.
During Public Service Recognition Week, which runs through Saturday, we shine a light on the valuable and often invisible work being carried out daily by more than 2 million other federal employees across the country and around the globe.
Although their work often goes unnoticed, it is at the core of what makes this country great and renders the quality of our lives the best in the world. We believe it is important to recognize that all these critical functions carried out each day by federal workers could never be performed by private enterprise.
Unfortunately, there are those who choose to disparage the federal workforce and ignore the crucial role it plays in our lives. The constant chorus of negative and false rhetoric about federal pay and retirement overlooks the fact that most federal employees are middle-class workers, often with highly specialized skills and training. The denigration of the federal workforce by those in Washington who should be looking for ways to support agencies’ missions is a dangerous trend that threatens to discourage talented young people and experienced professionals from choosing public service. And that would be a tragic loss for our nation.
Throughout history, well-known Americans, whom you would never suspect, made the choice to serve in our federal workforce -- from Dr. Seuss to Walt Disney to Walt Whitman. Before founding the American Red Cross, Clara Barton helped citizens get their ideas off the ground during her service at the U.S. Patent Office. And actor Steve Carell started his career at the U.S. Postal Service.
You probably will never know the names of 99 percent of America’s federal employees. But that does not mean their contributions aren’t legendary. Three small but mighty examples to consider:
- Dr. Joseph Bresee of Atlanta led the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop the vaccine that prevented the H1N1 virus (swine flu) from sickening countless more Americans.
- Melissa Maraj of Alamogordo, N.M., is part of the U.S. Border Patrol team that recently stopped nearly $400,000 worth of cocaine from being smuggled into the United States.
- Dr. Art Davis of Ames, Iowa, is in charge of a federal research team that protects America’s food supply and cattle industry, leading an inspection a few weeks ago that identified a new case of mad cow disease in California.
These are true American heroes. Unfortunately, what should be a proud title of “federal employee” has been tainted by the politicians who are undeservingly demonizing federal employees to score cheap political points.
One such example occurred recently on the campaign trail, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said it is the ambition of federal workers to look for “places they can interfere.” Should we tell Dr. Bresee to stop interfering with the contagious diseases that threaten the health of our loved ones?
There is no end to the list of important roles our federal workers play -- or, seemingly, to the list of thoughtless comments that plague them.
Our organizations stand together to call on our nation’s leaders and potential leaders to stop the negative and undeserved rhetoric about federal workers, and to take the time to recognize the extraordinary actions that make America’s federal workforce the greatest civil service in the world. No other country or company can hold a candle to its achievements.
The next time you reach for a glass of water, make a bank deposit, board an airplane or pass a veterans hospital, think of the vital yet invisible work of federal employees. They are proud to work for America, and America can count on them.
John Gage is the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Joseph A. Beaudoin is president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and Colleen M. Kelley is president of the National Treasury Employees Union.