Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

I got the CNN alert on my phone last night right as I got home.

The President had just signed an executive order freezing federal hiring. No positions, except those in the military, that were vacant on January 22 may be filled.

I am sure there are many who cheered. The swamp is getting drained.

First of all, being called a swamp dweller is getting pretty old. Federal employees are not the ones getting rich off of the American taxpayer. For that, you might look to Congress, who has not been subject to pay freezes or pay stoppages in the event of government shutdowns. And they are curiously well off for people working for the people...I think you will find more millionaires there percentage-wise than you will among federal employees.

Part of the trouble is that Americans have been, and are being, sold lies.

Lie Number 1: We are getting rich off of the taxpayers

As I said, we are not wealthy. Most of us are hard-working, solidly middle class folks who want to serve our country and pay our bills. We do not, contrary to what you may have heard, make more than those in the private sector. In fact, especially for those of us with university degrees, most of us make more like 24% less than we could on average if we weren't serving the country. But we want to serve, and none of us expects to get rich doing it. (and the ones who ARE making more than the private sector? Those are blue-collar jobs in the government, and I hope you wouldn't begrudge a janitor making just a bit more in order to serve the country and live in DC).

And if you got rid of our jobs, we would head straight to the unemployment office. So it isn't like you could save the government money by getting rid of us. We aren't living off of inheritances. We need our paychecks to get by. And I bet most of us are living paycheck to paycheck just like you are.

Lie Number 2: There are more federal employees than ever

Completely false. Even with the hiring done in the last months of the previous administration, we are still at our lowest levels in decades. There were 2.7 million people on the federal payroll in May, and that number rose about 3% to 2.8 million in December (largely due to agencies trying to fill positions they needed before a suspected freeze happened. The civilian workforce, by comparison, grew 4.9% over than same period.

Even at 2.8 million, the numbers are historically low. Hiring has been pretty flat over the last administration, and the current numbers are similar to the beginning of the Obama and Clinton administrations and lower than at any time during the Reagan administration. In the meantime, the population we serve has grown drastically. Percentage-wise, we are at our lowest rate in 70 years. Seven percent of the population worked for the government during World War II. Now, only 2% does. Yes, some of that number is offset by contractors, but while they are easier to fire than federal employees, they are also more expensive.

Lie Number 3: We take up a huge portion of the federal budget
False. A CBO report in 2011 showed that federal salaries make up 15 percent of discretionary spending in the federal budget. And nearly half of that goes to the Department of Defense's civilian employees. And that is not 15 percent of the total budget, mind you. Discretionary spending is just 40 percent of the budget. that means federal salaries account for just less than 6 percent of the total budget. Do you really think cutting there will help that much with spending?

Lie Number 4: The shutdowns proved we are bloated

Actually, they don't. I heard during the shutdowns from members of my own family that if employees are "non-essential" (the term they used to use for employees who were told not to come to work during the shutdown), they should be gotten rid of. But the trouble is that some of those "non-essential" people were actually in training. Most of us were forced to come to work even under the threat of not getting paid during that time. That of course gave the impression that everything functioned just fine without the government. The trouble is, it was a lie. Notice that your social security check still got delivered? That is because employees in the Social Security Administration kept working to process your payments and the post office kept delivering the mail. And the ultimate irony is that the shutdown actually cost the taxpayers MORE money.

Far from bloated, most agencies are actually understaffed. Just at our embassy, we have a number of positions that need to be filled, and now they can't. We have been told to do more with less for year, and I am sure we will be again. But at a point, we will have to do less with less. And the taxpayers will feel the brunt of it.

Lie Number 5: It is just "DC Elites" who work for the federal government anyway

Wrong. 85% of us live and work outside the Beltway, including Foreign Service Officers, who live in dangerous places and away from family just to serve you. And about 20-30 percent of us are veterans.

So seriously, just stop. Stop with the name called and please stop with the abuse. We aren't swamp dwellers. We are Americans. Americans who have devoted our lives to serving you and to serving our country, often while making less than we could otherwise. Often at risk to our own personal safety. Often at great personal sacrifice.

Beating on us may make you feel better, but it isn't getting you anything. Despite the fact that we give you a lot.

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