Any business owner is acutely aware the key to success of their enterprise is a workforce dedicated to their job and content in the knowledge that if they perform well, their job is secure and they will be properly compensated for their services. Even though the government is not a business, it does depend on dedicated employees who, as public servants, deserve security in their mission oriented jobs that are crucial to the secure continuity of the government providing for the “general welfare of the people.” For the past five years, Republicans have campaigned on, and profited from, an anti-government platform, and chief among their victims have been government employees at both the state and federal level.
Last year, as is their annual practice, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveyed federal workers across the government regarding their satisfaction at work that this year included nearly 400,000 federal employees from April through June. The survey was underway just as the sequester’s furloughs began affecting many workers and well before Republicans shutdown the government. In conjunction with OPM, the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) produced a report on the survey from data compiled by OPM, PPS and consulting firm Deloitte who issued their annual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report released Wednesday with some very “troubling” responses. Not surprisingly, due to budget cuts to government agencies, furlough days, and wage cuts, satisfaction in the federal workforce declined for the third year in a row to their lowest since rankings were first published ten years ago.
The CEO of PPS, the report’s publisher, Max Stier said “We continue to dig a deeper and deeper hole because the workforce that we have in government is a mission-oriented workforce. They want to do their jobs. They’re there because they want to make a difference for the public. The most damaging thing you can do for someone who’s mission-oriented is tie their hands behind their back and say, you can’t help.” Stier was referring to consequences of lawmakers in Congress (Republicans) who continually refuse to cooperate and cited employee dissatisfaction driven by uncertainty and consequences inherent in agencies’ budget uncertainties driven by perpetual spending cuts and the sequester.
During the shutdown, President Obama sent a letter to federal workers apologizing that they have been treated like a “punching bag” where civil servants were portrayed as spoiled compared to private-sector workers. The President wrote, “None of this is fair to you. And should it continue, it will make it more difficult to keep attracting the kind of driven, patriotic, idealistic Americans to public service that our citizens deserve and that our system of self-government demands.” Unfortunately, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement deals another blow to federal workers because their pensions were raided to prevent tax reform to close the rich and corporations’ unfair loopholes. Stier gave a fair appraisal of why government employees were under attack from Republicans and the effect their assaults were having on the government; he said “they are dismantling the capability of our government; it should be really worrisome to anyone who cares about our country.” It is hardly a surprise Republicans do not care about America, and what is seriously worrisome is that their perpetual cuts have severely hampered the one agency tasked with protecting democracy; the Federal Elections Commission.
A report by the Center for Public Integrity recently cited staff departures creating case backlogs and staffing levels dropping to a 15-year low, combined with political infighting as a serious impediment to the FEC’s ability to monitor the big money influencing elections since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. In fact, curiously in October when the shutdown furloughed all 339 agency employees, hackers took advantage of the absence and crashed computer systems that publicly disclose how billions of dollars are raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties, and political action committees. The minimum measure for keeping someone on the job was that it was “necessary to the prevention of imminent threats” to federal property; including public campaign finance disclosures, and yet all 339 FEC employees were furloughed at the precise time hackers crashed computers containing crucial public disclosures.
Besides cuts keeping staff levels at a 15-year low, there is gridlock because now-departed Republican commissioner Don McGahn abhorred regulations and believed the agency should ensure corporations’ rights included raising and spending big money to either promote or lambaste political candidates, and FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub (Democrat) believes the agency’s duty is to be a strong regulatory force that checks the political influence of corporations and wealthy donors. With a dearth of employees doing the people’s work to ensure campaign financing and elections are fair and legal, the electoral process, and democracy itself, is in jeopardy of malfeasance.
It is really irrelevant which federal agency, or part of the government, is understaffed or staffed with employees who are dissatisfied, worried about job security, or under attack for doing their jobs. Republicans have been on a mission to, as Max Stier said, “dismantle the capability of our government” that should concern every American, but they have made little secret that is their intent whether it is their tax pledge to Grover Norquist or Boehner’s oath to the Koch brothers to “get government out of their way.” In lieu of eliminating agencies and departments such as the EPA, Internal Revenue Service, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), Education, NLRB, or Department of Housing and Urban Development, Republicans have cut funding to such a degree that employees in those departments and agencies can hardly do the jobs they are tasked to do, and yet they continue serving the people admirably.
Republicans have campaigned on an anti-government platform for the past two elections and they have succeeded in hampering the government through their spending cuts and their precious sequester. Perhaps their drive to keep the sequester in place for nine years is more than just cutting domestic programs to harm vulnerable Americans, and maybe it is more about neutering the government to prove their longstanding contention that government is incapable or working. However, if they believe that is the case, they should fully fund the government and let the results speak for themselves, but they know that with a fully staffed and properly compensated federal workforce, their argument that government does not, and cannot possibly, work would fail worse than it consistently does. To their great credit, federal employees’ dedication and commitment guarantees the government works for the people regardless if they are dissatisfied with the way Republicans treat them and they deserve better, but they should not feel singled out because Republicans treat all Americans badly.