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Federal Diary: Despite campaign bashing, workers prove their patriotism

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 8:11 PM

Across the country, a number of federal workers, always a patriotic bunch, took Tuesday off to get involved with government in a way they can't do on the job.

They worked for political candidates.

On Election Day, and for the last five weekends, Phil Glover campaigned for Mark Critz, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is running for a full term after having won a special election in May to fill the seat John Murtha held before his death.

Glover is a federal correctional officer. But when he works for Critz, he takes off his uniform and dons a union hat.

"It's a fairly conservative district," said Glover, Northeast vice president of the Council of Prison Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The big federal unions are strong backers of President Obama, but they braced themselves for a widely predicted Republican takeover of the House.

That's not a future they looked to with comfort.

In a September speech to a Cleveland audience, House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) may have provided even more incentive for federal employees to campaign and vote for Democrats. Under the heading "government run amok," Boehner said: "It's just nonsense to think that taxpayers are subsidizing the fattened salaries and pensions of federal bureaucrats who are out there right now making it harder to create private-sector jobs."

That's not the way to lure federal employees to the Republican side of the aisle, but it is consistent with the party's legislative and policy proposals and the image it repeatedly presents for public consumption.

Freezing federal pay was a featured item the second week the GOP asked supporters to suggest ways to slash the federal budget at its "YouCut" Web site.

"Help us put Uncle Sam on a diet," Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, says in a video on the site.

That diet would take bread off of the plates of Frankie and Flo Fed.

"Freezing federal civilian pay at the current level for one year would save approximately $2 billion next year and $30 billion over ten years," says YouCut.

It should be noted that the 1.4 percent federal raise proposed for fiscal year 2011 is just a notch above freeze levels anyway. The $2 billion Republicans say a freeze would save is just a speck in a $3.8 trillion budget.

It also should be noted that not all federal employees are Democrats.

Republicans get some love from government workers, too. The Federal Managers Association, for example, donates about 23 percent of its small political action committee contributions to Republicans.

And in the National Treasury Employees Union, "we have a pretty divergent and diverse group," said Andrew Lovett, a retired IRS employee and a NTEU chapter president in New Jersey.

"We have Republicans and we have Democrats. We have agnostics and we even have some tea party folks," he said, as he moved from one Democratic congressional headquarters to another. "Some are voting against their self-interest . . . that has stumped me for the longest time."

Yet the GOP has good reason to believe its position resonates with a segment of the public. "A recent Resurgent Republic poll revealed that the American people are increasingly fed up with the perpetually growing salaries and benefits enjoyed by federal employees," according to YouCut.

And a Washington Post poll found that 52 percent of those surveyed said federal workers are overpaid, even as almost three-quarters of those who had direct contact with employees reported a positive experience.

In response to The Post's polling data, Erica E. Johnson probably spoke for many federal workers in her letter to the paper:

"I work for the Social Security Administration in Falls Church. We deal with people from all over the United States who apply for disability benefits that have been turned down by the local hearing office. We are never fully staffed but we make do with the manpower and resources that we have. . . . I love what I do because I love helping people. Every claim file is someone waiting for an answer about his or her benefits. We here at [the] Social Security Administration take pride in what we do. It is never about the money. It is truly about our love for our country and the people that we choose to serve."

It is that patriotism, that sense of mission, that sincere desire to serve the American people that fed-bashing ignores. Nonetheless, federal employees also should recognize that if Uncle Sam's budgetary problems continue, there might be legitimate calls for them to sacrifice more than they already do.

That sacrifice would be much easier to swallow if made on the basis of helping the country, and not because fed-bashing has become a favorite pastime of too many in positions of power.

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