Will Uncle Sam’s low rating affect the vote?

Joe Davidson
Columnist September 5, 2012

A recent Gallup Poll provides a clue as to why Democrats largely ignored federal employees in the platform issued at the party’s Charlotte convention this week.

The public thinks government stinks.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

When Gallup asked more than 1,000 people for their views on 25 industries in August, Uncle Sam’s shop claimed the 24th slot, one step above the oil and gas industry and just below banking.

Sam’s 23 percent positive rating this year is six percentage points higher than last year, which was the worst rating on record. Overall, “the change since 2003 has been substantial,” Gallup said, “with a drop in positive ratings of 18 percentage points and a rise in negative ratings of 25 points.”

Matthew Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, which represents federal employees, blamed the low rating on “how effective the Republican propaganda machine has been in attacking federal employees.”

Yet even among Democrats, negative views of the government beat out positive views, 41 percent to 35 percent. It was lopsided among Republicans, 85 percent negative to 7 percent positive, and it wasn’t close among independents, 56 percent to 25 percent.

Gallup said it’s not clear how perception of government will affect this year’s political campaigns: “The Republicans have an edge in voter sympathy with their criticism of government in general, it would appear, although the fact that Romney’s new running mate [Rep. Paul Ryan]is himself a sitting member of Congress could in theory negate some of that advantage.”

Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary of the Republican National Committee, tied the low rating to government waste and deficits. “It’s clear our country needs to get control of our government spending,” she said.

Campaign to shape views

Concerns like those reflected in the Gallup Poll led a coalition of federal employee groups to organize a campaign designed to improve the visibility and favorability of the workforce.

The Federal-Postal Coalition formed the “America Counts on Us” campaign to help shape public and official views about the nearly 5 million active and retired employees the coalition says its 30 organizations represent.

Those employees and retirees want to ward off additional attacks on their pay and benefits. President Obama, for example, has proposed extending until spring a freeze on basic federal pay rates. It was originally scheduled to expire in December. And House Republicans, led by vice presidential candidate Ryan, have voted to extend the freeze until 2015.

“Americans do not want to forfeit the high-quality work done by federal employees on their behalf, and they shouldn’t have to,” said Bruce Moyer, chairman of the Federal-Postal Coalition. “Yet, these services are placed in jeopardy each time an elected official threatens the pay and benefits of federal and postal workers.”

Every billion counts

As we blogged in the Federal Eye on Tuesday, a few billion bucks might not be big money in Uncle Sam’s piggy bank, but when you run the kind of deficits he does, every billion counts.

So it is with some pride that the Obama administration announced that it has saved $2 billion through increased government efficiencies for the second quarter of 2012, on top of the same amount for the first quarter when compared with the same period two years ago.

The $4 billion in savings places the administration “well on track to meet and exceed our goal of $8 billion by the end of FY 2013,” Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in an OMB blog.

The savings were achieved in routine areas such as travel, printing and vehicle management.

Vice President Biden said the savings “in just six months demonstrates the progress we’re continuing to make in our Campaign to Cut Waste. By laying down strict rules and holding Cabinet members accountable, the President and I have made it clear that lavish conferences and wasteful contracts are unacceptable.”

As part of the campaign, President Obama issued an executive order in November in which he directed agency heads “to take even more aggressive steps to ensure the Government is a good steward of taxpayer money.”

Yet, even as the administration trumpets the savings, the office of the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs said last month that it is investigating “questionable activities” related to two employee training conferences for which a total of $9 million was authorized and $5 million was spent.

Government conferences have come under greater scrutiny since April, in the wake of a report about a 2010 General Services Administration conference outside Las Vegas that cost $832,000. An inspector general’s report on that event resulted in the resignation or firing of top agency officials.

The Campaign to Cut Waste, which was launched in June 2011, includes a September 2011 directive from OMB requiring the deputy secretaries of agencies to approve conference-related activities and spending.

Zients said the savings OMB reported are the result of “innovative management practices” in federal agencies. As examples, he cited the Agriculture Department, which is saving money by encouraging employees to use their own electronic devices for work and consolidating cellphone contracts.

The Air Force Department is saving $80 million over five years through such actions as cutting back on printing and moving to electronic document sharing, according to Zients.

The Social Security Administration, he added, is reducing the number of vehicles in its fleet and moving to vehicles using “green” alternative fuel.

“We are spending less money,” Zients said, “and we’re spending it smarter in order to get the most bang for our buck.”

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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