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Why do you work for the government?

Some people claim that the federal workforce is overpaid, but in reality there's no way to characterize the entire workforce so broadly. While some feds do earn more in the government, many of them labor for agencies while knowing they could be earning more in the private sector, as many of their colleagues are.

So what motivates people to work for the government if they could make more money working for a private company? Is it a sense of patriotism? Public service? Simple habit?

One anonymous FCW commenter, responding to an article on a two-year salary freeze, provided an uncharitable view from outside: "Federal employees have pretty much guaranteed employment," the commenter wrote. "Federal employees don’t have to make a profit. Even the worst federal government employees are not let go, like they would be in the business world. The majority of contractors and nongovernment employees would gladly take reduced pay in exchange for a government job that was secure. If you work for a private company and they don’t make a profit, you are fired."

But even many federal employees seem to be growing disenchanted, especially in the past few months when Congress has floated proposals for pay freezes, hiring freezes, shrinking the workforce, implementing furloughs and other efforts to reduce the federal deficit by reducing the costs of the workforce.

"Many feds live paycheck to paycheck," wrote one such employee. "What you don't see on TV is the average Joe, who has a long commute, works long hours, and bends over to help the public. No stock options, private offices, etc. Yes, I have a job, but when the economy improves, as a fed my situation stays the same."

So what about you? If you're a federal employee, why do you work for the government, and why will you continue to, if that's your plan? Tell us what motivates you.  

Posted on Apr 22, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Reader Comments

Sat, Aug 27, 2011

I started working for the Navy because I was on a college civil service scholarship & had to work for 2 years after graduating. I initially intended to work out in industry when my time was up (I was a computer engineer during the dot.com era, when I could have made 2-3 times my Gov't salary if I worked in industry). But a few things have kept me working for the Navy: (1) the people I work with have all been really great workers; (2) I divorced & needed the stability of the job & healthcare benefits for my family; and (3) I truly am inspired (patriotic) to work for the military. Many Feds are wrongfully typecast into a generalization of the worst of the workers. But, like any industry, there are numerous Fed workplaces, and not all are as professional as mine have been; and I truly believe it's the rules & regulations that the general public isn't aware of that makes them think Feds are incompetent ... I invite anyone to come work in my shoes for a day & deal with the ridiculous laws/regulations & see just how (in)efficient you can be! Regarding benefits, yes, Feds have really good benefits ... but many out in industry have comparable & even sometimes better benefits. My husband (works for a non-union municipal water district) & my daughter (works for a large unionized grocery chain) both have better benefits than I have available thru work. My dad made out financially (pay, health benefits, etc) better from 15 years working for a fortune 500 (with stock options & all), than from 23 years in the Army. I consider myself blessed to have been hired under the old CSRS retirement system; but anyone hired since about 1983/1984 is on the "new" FERS, which is NOT any better than most private industry retirement plans. We defintely take a bad rap in the media & general population ...

Mon, May 9, 2011 Paul Tracy

I have worked as a contractor for 13 years, a government employee for the last 5 years and 20 years in the military. I disagree with the commentor in the main story who said the worst employees are kept in the govenmrnt when they would be fired in the private sector. I have seen bad employees kept in both and have seen good employees fired in both. The one difference between the private sector and the governemtn is pay raises. In the private sector the only way to get a decent pay raise is to change companies. In the government it depends on whether or not your are a GS employee or merit pay. Merit pay, however, does not always recognize the best employees. It can depend a lot on which rung of the ladder your agency sits. If you are three or four layers deep, by porbably won't get much of a raise because the HQ will take care of their own first.

Tue, May 3, 2011

Because I can retire in 2 Years, 5 Months, and 22 days, but who's counting?

Mon, May 2, 2011 Doug

I'm here because I plan on making a difference, no only in how we get things done (more efficient like external industry) but what we get done. Our national defense (I'm in the DoD) needs to be better than the rest, and I find that challenge in this day and age of rapid technology evolution exciting.

Mon, May 2, 2011

I have worked most of my career as a public servant. Based on my education, I had planned to work with the Dept of Justice. But I "accidentally" started working with the Dept of Treasury instead. With in-house training, I was taught to be a programmer. I loved my job and worked with some phenominal people who were extremely dedicated to their work. I took 10 years off to raise my family and then started back to work part-time with the county government until I was ready to dedicate fulltime to my career again. I was lucky to get back in to Treasury, and loved my new job as well. Again I worked with some outstanding, dedicated coworkers. I returned to the goverment because my retirement is tied up here and it was the prudent thing to do, but have been lucky enough to still find an interesting position, but conditions have deteriorated recently. Morale is low. We work on antiquated systems with not enough money to make improvements and not enough people to do the jobs. The experts are retiring and there is no left to replace them. Congress passes laws requiring immediate changes that cannot be quickly implemented are often unfunded. I cannot see how the government will continue to attract or keep the best and brightest new employees if they remove every incentive there is to work here. The government will be left with only the dead weight, which I have heard so much about. Is that who we want to be issuing Social Security checks or assessing tax liabilities?

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