An Open Letter to the President-elect, From a Swamp Dweller

Before you set out to “drain the swamp,” Mr. Trump, you should know that most public servants are motivated by a deep desire to make the country a better, safer place.

Dear President-elect Trump:

By way of introduction, I am a federal employee, a swamp dweller, as you might say in the context of your “drain the swamp” mantra. As you are soon to be my new boss, and I and my colleagues your new employees, I wanted to take an opportunity to both welcome you to our ranks and share some insight into who we are and the challenges we face.

Personally, I have worked in various executive branch agencies and spent time working for Congress during law school. During my time in government, I have experienced a wide assortment of what federal employment has to offer and witnessed first hand many of its most pressing and frustrating challenges.

Let me begin by saying that being a public servant is not what you think it is; we are not what we have been made out to be in the public eye. Federal employees are not leeches dragging down our nation; rather, we are dedicated professionals working with little or no recognition and for significantly less money than can be made in the private sector.

So why have we chosen careers with the federal government? For some of us, it is the pure and unadulterated desire to serve a higher cause -- the grand ideal of what our republic stands for. For others, it is an unwavering dedication to protecting our nation. Others are motivated by a deep enthusiasm and excitement for their area of expertise, in transportation, energy, public health, etc.

Furthermore, we work, and most often succeed, despite great adversity. We experience constantly changing and conflicting legislative guidance, never-ending budget issues, and low morale from the threat of reductions in force. We are routinely dragged through the mud by both Republicans and Democrats when it is politically expedient. The list of challenges is at times overwhelming. But we continue on because we have to, because the American people are counting on us, even if many of them don’t fully understand what it is we do. We work because believe in America, not because of the promise of wealth or glamour. We know we will gain neither.

I remember one night early in my career, sitting in my cramped cubicle on a Saturday. The office was dark and empty, and I was drowning in thousands of pages of policy and regulatory history, desperately trying to do a job alone which had, in the past, been completed by a three-person team. I was thousands of miles away from my family, barely scraping by between rent and student loans. In that moment, what got me by and kept me motivated was the knowledge that I was doing something important for our nation. I felt then, and I still feel now, that it is my privilege and honor to serve my fellow Americans. I share this experience only to provide you a perspective you may not have heard, one from inside the swamp.

President-elect Trump, as you take the oath of office and settle into the White House, you will be responsible for my colleagues and me. As an attorney and an investigator, I have only my livelihood to lose. I don’t worry for myself; I worry for thousands of men and women in the military and intelligence community whose lives hang in the balance and for whom you are now supremely responsible. Like President Obama said, we are all rooting for your success. So much depends on it. With the great respect I have for the office you will soon hold, I humbly ask you: listen to us. We are not your enemy, and we are not the enemy of the American people. We did not create the problems in the government, as we do not control the government. We are dedicated workers and, as we have in the past, we will get up every day and do our best for the American people, because they are counting on us.


Alexander S. Balkin

Alexander S. Balkin is an attorney and federal employee. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the position of any government agency. Contact him on Twitter: @Alex_Balkin