The author is a career Foreign Service Officer who has served in Tel Aviv, Baghdad and Washington. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the State Department or the U.S. government.
I am a federal bureaucrat. A professional government employee. And guess what? I’m damn proud of it.
It seems that all I hear these days are the once and future leaders of our country tripping over themselves to denigrate the work we do. I’m tired of it, and I’m fed up. I don’t claim to represent anyone other than myself, but I would bet that a fair number of federal employees feel as I do. We are lawyers, doctors, PhD students, economists, writers, electricians, construction workers, security officers and technology specialists. We are not a drain on the national economy; rather, we are a primary reason why the United States remains as great as it is.
Like many federal workers, I have sacrificed: a high-paying job in the private sector; a year of my life (and the first six months of my daughter’s life) spent in Iraq; long hours; high stress; pay freezes. I’m not complaining; in fact, I quite enjoy my career and my life in the Foreign Service. Yet when I hear our politicians talking about “fixing” Washington, I often wonder to myself: whom would they like to “fix?” Is it the guy I see on the Metro every day, heading to work at the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that our food is safe? Is it the woman going into Commerce Department headquarters to support U.S. companies abroad? Or do they mean the thousands of people who support our troops overseas? How about my fellow Foreign Service officers, who put themselves in harm’s way in Baghdad, Kabul, Damascus and hundreds of other places around the world?
I have no doubt that some within the federal bureaucracy simply show up each day to collect a paycheck. I also have no doubt that this happens within any number of multinational corporations, small businesses and law firms. But I know for a fact that most of us do this job not because we want to make a lot of money but because, simply put, we want to serve our country.
There was a time, not long ago, when government service was seen as a higher calling. That’s the reason I decided to join the State Department in 2005 — not because I wanted job security or good health benefits, but because I wanted to devote my life to making this country stronger, to making the world a better, safer place and to have a career I was proud of. Seven years later, I still get excited to come to work every morning. I still get a thrill when I enter the State Department and see the flags of every nation with which we have diplomatic relations. And I certainly get chills each and every time I see the U.S. flag on one of our embassies. I’m fairly sure I am not the only federal employee who feels this way.
So to all our politicians, I implore you: Stop using the government workforce as a political football. Just stop. It demeans you, it demoralizes us, and it is counterproductive to drive away the best and brightest from working for the betterment of this country.
We don’t do our jobs for glory, or money or power. We do them — and do them well — because we take pride in our work and pride in representing the United States of America.