Yet, he also has loyal, talented and long-suffering staff members eager to get back to work after a government shutdown kept them off the job for more than two weeks. Many other workers demonstrated their allegiance by continuing to work with only a promise of being paid eventually.
But Sam suffers from chronic dysfunction. It’s not contagious, but it can infect the morale of those he needs most. That’s not just his veteran staffers, who have come to know his strange ways, but — important for the future — young people who have looked to him for a career.
Several students, interns and young government professionals contacted by the Federal Diary had good things to say about government service. The shutdown, along with earlier budget cut furloughs and three years of a freeze on basic pay rates, has not soured all of them on federal service. Their enthusiasm, however, has been subdued by the cold reality of Washington politics.
“The shutdown has not called into question, for me, the value of federal service,” said Kathryn David, who currently works for GovLoop, a social network for federal employees. “Instead, it has me wondering why so much partisan bickering is forcibly putting a stop to all of this great work.”
Soon she’ll be a research assistant at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and, until recently, anticipated a career with the Foreign Service. “However, now,” she said, “I am leaning more toward a career in academia where most of the time partisanship does not affect your ability to work. I have not lost faith in the power of public service; instead I fear that politics are putting detrimental constraints on the ability of federal employees to do their job.”
Sam can’t put that on his recruiting posters.
Tim McManus, a vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, a good government group, said the shutdown and other factors could hurt recruiting efforts particularly among prospective candidates whom government really needs, but for whom government is not their first choice, like IT specialists.
“They are not even looking at government now out of the corner of their eye,” he said. (The Partnership has a content sharing relationship with The Post).
Charlie Gress is working on an economics degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Starting in high school he looked forward to working with the Treasury Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission because the “government offers an excellent platform to be able to drive change.”
That’s still the case, but it’s no longer enough.
“The shutdown is just the most recent in a string of happenings that dissuade me from wanting to launch a career in the federal government,” he said. “Sensing the disarray in Washington, I’m much more interested in working for a private firm.”