Federal employees: Patriots, hangers-on or something in between?

Readers respond to a question about their motivation.

Why do you work for the government? The FCW Insider posed that question on April 22, and by April 25 dozens of readers had already responded. Most of them cited personal satisfaction and civic duty as good reasons to stay in a federal career, although some also lamented the atmosphere of recent months, in which the workforce has become the bulls-eye for Congressional deficit hawks looking for cost savings.

WB from Virginia wrote, "My 29 year federal career has been financially rewarding and stimulating to my intellect, exposing me to many points of view, giving me responsibility at a relatively young age, etc. However, the current environment is poisonous to anyone with innovative thinking and a desire to help our fellow citizens. Everyone wants to bash big government and slash to the bone, as long as they don't have to be hurt by the cuts. Most Americans have a misplaced sense of entitlement to their standard of living promoted by rampant commercialism and consumption...we can't get there any more!"

Charles wrote of a sense of mission. "I served in the federal government because I believed in the DOD mission and always strove for making my area of influence more effective and efficient in business. I’ve since retired, but I am back as a consultant for the very same reason, but it now includes a stronger emphasis on motivating and mentoring young federal employees. My serving role is not yet over."

Another reader, Don, expressed a similar thought: "Essentially, it comes to this: Working for the United States government is the only opportunity to lay hands directly on protecting and building this nation for future generations (i.e. my kids and grandkids). While Uncle Sam employs many contractors, they are all really working for corporations and firms who's number one objective is to make a profit from taxpayers. They may be performing important tasks/missions, but if their bosses are not making a profit, they get laid off -- or not renewed/contract extended. For federal employees, the mission comes first, always."

Paul expressed a similar view, reacting to an earlier comment that federal agencies don't have to make profits like private-sector businesses do. "No, we don't have to worry about making a profit. We have to worry about millions of lives," Paul wrote. "My job is to protect the lives of our military and families. The steady pay and benefits are not even an issue with me. I know I can get a job in any economy with my skills for 6 figures easy but I've spent my time in the corporate world and there just isn't any real job satisfaction. I am former Marine and consider myself the truest type of patriot. I would rather serve my country than serve my own self-interests. I'm less concerned about the economics of the current situation than the disrespect it shows to all of us that believe that country comes first above all else."

But people who are drawn to federal employment partly out of a sense of patriotism, are not the only kind of federal employee. A contractor affirmed that many federal employees are hard-working and dedicated, but said some are not. "These are the ones that, unfortunately, condemn everyone else. The concern that the public has are those few civil servants who care nothing about serving the public and care only about preserving their position of power," the contractor wrote. "They are seldom fired, but are, instead, promoted to get them out. And this, allows them to cause more damage. This is what has ruined the reputation of our civil service and this is something that should be addressed in this economic crisis we are living in today."