If Uncle Sam were in school, he’d flunk government.

His report card, in the form of a Pew Research Center survey, found “Americans’ overall views of the federal government are very negative.”

With just one-fifth of those surveyed saying they trust government at least most of the time and think government programs are well run, Sam is failing. Two words in the survey’s title are disturbing: “Beyond Distrust.”

Fortunately, there is some good news about Sam’s performance.

A majority have favorable views of 13 of 17 federal agencies listed, with the U.S. Postal Service at the top. Eighty-four percent view it favorably. The National Park Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NASA all have favorability ratings of 70 percent or more.

At the other end resides the much-maligned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), long the focus of a patient wait list scandal.  The VA is viewed unfavorably by 52 percent and favorably by 39 percent. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which provides terrible service because it is underfunded, is next to last with a 52/42 unfavorable/favorable rating.

Before the elected officials on Capitol Hill get too critical, they should look within.  It’s no surprise that Congress, with its poor record of cooperation and accomplishments, fared worse than any of the agencies, getting an unfavorable/favorable rating of 69/27.

“This should be a wake-up call to all of the candidates,” Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a good government group, said of the survey. Rather than running against government, they should say “how they will make government work better,” he added.

Indeed, the survey does not indicate an anti-Washington sentiment, though Republicans clearly want a smaller government.

“Majorities want the federal government to have a major role in addressing issues ranging from terrorism and disaster response to education and the environment,” Pew said. “And most Americans like the way the federal government handles many of these same issues, though they are broadly critical of its handling of others – especially poverty and immigration.”

Keeping the country safe from terrorism draws near unanimous agreement among Republicans and Democrats for the government playing a major role. But a little more than a third of Republicans say that about ensuring access to health care and fighting poverty. Strong majorities of Democrats want the government heavily involved in those areas. Curiously, only about half the respondents from either party favor a big government role in space exploration.

Labor leaders attributed some of the low IRS and VA ratings to stingy financing.

J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the survey might reflect more on Congress than the VA, where his union represents much of the staff. The VA is “still the no. 1 health care delivery system in the nation” even while understaffed, he said.

As part of the largest transformation in VA history, a VA statement said “we are working to restore the trust and faith of the Veterans we are honored to serve, our employees and the American public. We believe we have made progress, but we know we have work to do. As a result, we are laser-focused on improving both the Veteran and customer experience.”

While most Americans “don’t like to pay taxes,” Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the public might not be aware that the IRS provides about 93 percent of the funding for federal programs they do like, including the national parks and safeguarding America’s food, water, medicine, ports and border crossings.

But Republicans in Congress, upset over allegations of political favoritism by the agency and its role with the Affordable Care Act, have punished the IRS with budget cuts. Given what IRS Commissioner John Koskinen called a “totally unacceptable” level of service for taxpayers, he told the Federal Diary that he thought the favorability rating could “have even dropped further.”

IRS funding has been cut by $1.2 billion over the last five years. That leaves it at 1998 levels, when adjusted for inflation, according to the agency. It will handle, however, 27 million more returns than it did 17 years ago.

“We don’t have enough people to deliver on the mission of the agency,” is the message Koskinen said he gets from his employees.

The White House and the Office of Management and Budget had no comment on Pew’s research, but President Obama did speak to the declining trust in government in a December speech to senior government staffers.

“[W]e do have an issue that we’ve got to address, and that is, Americans don’t trust government like we used to,” he told members of the Senior Executive Service and others. “Part of that is a very deliberate strategy of trying to undermine government. Part of it is political opportunism. But part of it is our need to constantly adapt to the demands of the 21st century…”

“If all we’re doing is hunkering down and trying to push back against complaints and criticisms — many of which are unfair — but we’re not engaging in self-reflection and trying to figure out how every single day we can be doing our jobs a little bit better,” he added, “then we’re failing the American people, and we’re failing an incredible tradition that helped to build this country that you are a part of.”

Obama’s take away: “We’ve got to work harder to make sure that government works.”