Federal Workers Aren’t Victims

Federal employee Jason Ullner portrays federal workers as victims in today’s Washington Post.

It seems that all I hear these days are the once and future leaders of our country tripping over themselves to denigrate the work we do. I’m tired of it, and I’m fed up.

Mr. Ullner complains that he endures long hours, high stress, pay freezes, and (supposedly) lower pay than he would receive in the private sector. “I have sacrificed,” he says. Ullner concludes: “So to all our politicians, I implore you: Stop using the government workforce as a political football. Just stop.”

Good grief! Doesn’t he think that private-sector workers have long hours, high stress, and pay freezes? Doesn’t he know that private-sector workers get sacked, lose their jobs when their companies go belly up, and suffer pay cuts during recessions?

The recent “sacrifice” of federal civilian workers includes a temporary pay freeze during the worst recession since World War II, and changes that require new hires to pay a bit more for their pension plans. That treatment is apparently so barbaric that it is driving Mr. Ullner to despair, and driving federal unions to claim an “outrageous injustice.”

I receive emails occasionally from federal workers who have different views than those of Jason Ullner. I received this note on Friday:

I am employee for the Department of Veterans Affairs. As federal employee I feel extremely fortunate to have a job … I care about the future of this country and I am disturbed by the waste and misuse of taxpayers’ money that I see daily as a federal employee. My issue is that the common sense factor has been taken out of the veterans claims process, and the amounts of money being paid to veterans for conditions that have nothing whatsoever to do with a veterans military service.

I have heard about this problem before. Apparently, the taxpayer costs of unjustified health and disability payments to veterans are rising rapidly. To highlight such problems is not to “denigrate” anybody, but to explore whether we can make reforms to reduce the government’s huge overspending problem.

A few weeks ago, I received a series of emails from an employee at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which came in response to my recent article on that agency. This employee was deeply concerned about poverty on Indian reservations, but he was also outraged at the dysfunction, misspending, and nepotism he has found at the BIA. Here are a few of his comments:

I started to discover that the nepotism at the BIA in D.C. is out of control. There is a custom of parents getting their children jobs in the BIA and they have twisted loyalties to each other that span generations … It is so easy to turn a blind eye [to bad behavior] by a family member… A lot of the decisions the BIA has made have been based on these family connections that have allowed corruption to exist.

You have urban Indians who have never lived on a reservation who use their ethnicity to claim entitlement to their jobs and could care less about improving conditions on the reservations.

The Inspector General investigates and reports to the BIA leadership, which in turn stalls on doing anything about the corruption and turns a blind eye.

Many of the top people in the BIA have gotten their positions based on favoritism or nepotism and are not qualified for their jobs.

The way it works in the BIA is that you put in the years and you get promoted. The other way is you use your family connections to get the next promotion. I wish I had the power to fire unqualified, incompetent employees, and I would [only] have to hire about 1/2 of the employees of the whole agency…

In the WaPo today, Jason Ullner says of federal workers: “We don’t do our jobs for glory, or money or power. We do them — and do them well — because we take pride in our work and pride in representing the United States of America.”

That’s all very nice, but wrapping oneself in the flag doesn’t do anything to solve the ongoing dysfunction in many government agencies, nor does it help solve the government’s huge financial problems.