You federal workers out there, stop worrying about what you have heard about the public's unfavorable attitudes toward you.
True, they feel there are too many of you, but that perception is not nearly as extreme as it used to be.
And yes, many feel you do not work as hard as other people, largely because you are more secure in your jobs. But for every person who thinks you have too much job security, there is another who feels you do not.
The fact is a new, nationwide Washington Post poll done in connection with the hundredth anniversary of the civil service system shows that Americans by and large approve of their bureaucracy.
Perhaps the most striking finding in the poll of 1,167 Americans is the degree of satisfaction that citizens have in their dealings with government agencies. Only three people in 10 are aware of having done any business with the federal government in the last year, aside from having mail delivered by the Postal Service or getting a tax form or a Social Security check or the like. But that three in 10 gives the civil service a high rating.
The prevailing view seems to be that expressed by a woman from Cucamonga, Calif., who told a Post interviewer, "Federal workers seem to get the job done."
One series of questions in the poll elicited comparisons between government workers and "sales people and office workers in large stores or companies, jobs not connected with the federal government." The 1,167 people interviewed were asked to assign grades, from A to F, to both groups for their courtesy, speed of service, whether they "go out of their way to serve people," how well they know their job and how they handle complaints.
As might be expected, neither group got Phi Beta Kappa grades, but neither failed, either. In fact, federal and private workers get the same grades in every category. On average, they receive a B-minus for courtesy and knowing their jobs, and C-plus in the other areas. In other words, those in the government service may not be seen as models for the workplace, but they are perceived as no worse than their private industry counterparts.
In only one area--how hard people work--does public opinion come down strongly in favor of private industry workers and against civil servants:
"They don't work too hard. I've heard of parties going on in the daytime," said a Bedford, Ind., woman.
Frequently cited is the lack of pressure on government workers compared with those in private industry, a lack of incentive and the assertion that there is just too much job security.
"Government workers have got it made and they know it," said another Indianan, a man from Lebanon. And a South Carolina woman offered a similar comment: "The government workers just sit back," she said.
But a somewhat different picture emerges when the public is asked more directly about job security. There is an even split--43 percent saying there is so much job security that federal workers see no need to work hard, and 43 percent saying there is not too much job security.
Some people ridicule the idea that job security keeps civil servants from working hard. A woman from Joaquin, Tex., with no relatives working for the government, said, "Government workers down here are always busy helping support widows and the unemployed. Without them, many would starve."
One of the sharpest changes in perception in recent years has to do with the number of people working for the federal government. In 1978, 63 percent in a Washington Post poll said the government employs "far too many" people and another 17 percent said it employs "somewhat too many." Those numbers--showing that 80 percent felt the bureaucracy was too bloated--were in line with what the Gallup poll had been finding for many years.
In the new Post poll, however, only 29 percent say the government has "far too many workers," with another 28 percent saying it has "somewhat too many."
One perception that has not changed is that government workers are highly paid. In the 1978 survey, 56 percent said government workers were paid more, 24 percent said they were paid about the same, and 8 percent said they were paid less than people holding similar jobs outside the government. Twelve percent expressed no opinion.