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Finally, Some Good News for Federal Recruiters

New poll finds high public confidence in civil servants and support for their career choice.

Last October’s government shutdown damaged the image of politicians more than federal workers, and the public largely views joining the civil service as a good career choice, a poll released Monday shows.

Some 73 percent of respondents to the poll by The George Washington University expressed either “a lot” or “some” confidence in federal civilian workers,  while only 25 percent indicated “a little” or “no” confidence. The survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted Aug. 24-28.

“Clearly, Americans don’t blame federal workers for the shortcomings of elected officials,” said William Adams, professor of public policy and public administration at GW’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. “This may not be an overwhelming affirmation of trust in federal workers, but it’s a lot more positive than it was before the federal shutdown last year. Americans like federal workers far more than their political bosses.”

President Obama in this latest GW Battleground Poll had a disapproval rating of 51 percent, while Congress had a thumbs-down rating of 79 percent.

The poll brought good news for federal recruiters. About 73 percent of respondents continued to say they would encourage young people to consider a career in the civil service, compared with 20 percent who said they would discourage it.

Party affiliation made a difference on the career question, the analysts noted. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats said they would encourage government service, in contrast to 56 percent of Republicans. Positive attitudes toward the civil service were 88 percent among African Americans, versus  70 percent among whites, the poll found.

The skeptics toward government, the analysts noted, were disproportionately Republican. Only 13 percent who identified themselves with the GOP expressed “a lot of confidence” in federal workers, while 36 percent said they had little or no confidence. Among Democrats, the figures were  almost reversed, with only 13 percent having little or no confidence and 32 percent having a lot of confidence. Independents, who in 2011 and 2012 were moving toward the GOP’s degree of skepticism, are now “back in the middle between the partisans,” the analysts found.

The overall thumbs-up for agency performance comes at a time of frequent negative news about federal agencies, such as the Veterans Affairs Department’s troubles with patient treatment times, the Internal Revenue Service's mishandling of nonprofit applications for tax exempt status,  Secret Service agents cavorting with prostitutes on overseas trips, domestic surveillance by the National Security Administration and the General Services Administration’s recently  curtailed lavish spending on conferences.

Rough reviews of the past few years’ news coverage “show that this steady barrage of high-profile stories did enormous damage” to the image of federal employees in 2012 and 2013, Adams told Government Executive. “But since the shutdown, the VA story is the only one that’s gotten significant attention.”

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