Rediscover Your Passion For Public Service

Written by Rachel A., Federal Employee

There was a time in this country, when “good enough for Government work” was a compliment. If your supervisor told you that your job was “good enough for Government work” he was telling you that the job you were doing could pass the rigorous standards of the Federal Government. However, over time, “good enough for Government work” evolved from words of praise to words of mediocrity. Today, “good enough for Government work” alludes to the belief that the work tasked to Federal employees is done with little care or pride, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

“It’s kind of hard to do your job when nobody likes you for doing it.”

Last summer I attended the Next Generation of Government Training Summit (NextGen) with the goal to gain new insight on how to better navigate my career. It never occurred to me that what I needed most from the summit was to rediscover my passion for public service. Like the majority of Federal employees, I had become weary. Sequestration, pay freezes, hiring freezes, lack of promotion opportunities, and the disdain that some politicians and the American public have for the Federal workforce, had started to take toll on me, and I could see it was starting to affect my performance. I felt like my performance was starting to reflect the negativity that embodies “good enough for Government work”, but worse, I was starting to wonder why I was still a Federal Employee.

“Without action you aren’t going anywhere”

NextGen was more than just a training conference; NextGen is where I not only rediscovered my passion for public service, but also had that “Aha moment”. I realized that I also have a role to play in not only improving my Agency, but also improving the public’s perception of the Federal workforce. If we want to change the perception of Federal employees, “we must become evangelicals for public service” was by far one of the most important lessons I learned at NextGen.

I had spent years cataloging my feelings on countless Employee Viewpoint Surveys, and spent years being disappointed when the change I was hoping for didn’t materialize. For years I thought that someone smarter than me, more dedicated than me, more senior than me, would see the dysfunctions that I saw, and would fix them. It never occurred to me that I too had a responsibility to help make my Agency a better place. If my Agency’s scores are low in the Employee Viewpoint Survey, my immediate question is now: “What can I do?” not “What is Senior Management going to do?”

Going to NextGen gave me a fresh outlook on my career, and I learned a lot, and most importantly it gave me the tools I needed to help improve performance. I have never had a poor performance review, but for the last few years my performance reviews had been average, not stellar. My performance review last October was the best ones I had received in the last few years, and I know it is because of skills and knowledge I brought back from NextGen.

“Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country.”

By and large, the Federal workforce is made up of incredibly talented people, who are extremely qualified, who chose a career in public service, because they believe in the notion that that public service is an honorable profession.

Federal employees are not perfect; we do make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes end up on the front page of the Washington Post. However, for every politician who chooses to run their election campaign based on reinforcing negative government stereotypes, there are thousands of Federal employees that are dedicated to their Agency’s mission. Everyday Federal employees work to deliver essential social services, take care of our veterans, protect our food supply and environment, help small businesses, fight terrorism, carry out U.S. foreign policy, maintain our transportation systems, run our national parks, safeguard consumers, and find cures for diseases. Their intent is to do their jobs well; their purpose is to serve the American people, even when the American people don’t like us very much.

I am a Federal Employee, and I am taking back the meaning of “good enough for Government work”.