Federal employees in the crosshairs explained

Friday - 8/20/2010, 9:40am EDT

Mike Causey, senior correspondent, Federal News Radio

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Perhaps you've noticed it: there appears to be more anti-government sentiment in the air these days. No, not much gets past us.

There's the debate over federal pay, and whether federal workers make more than their private sector counterparts. And if so, what to do about it. And on, and on...

Federal News Radio Senior Correspondent Mike Causey tells us that he's seen this before.

Causey told the Federal Drive it might be something like Old Faithful. An issue with a cycle. "Every seven years or something like that."

Why The Anger?

But, said Causey, "I think it's different this time in the fact that we are in a serious recession and most of us haven't been through a major recession in our lifetime, so this is a first for us." Various institutes, newspapers, interest groups "suddenly discover that government workers make more money, that they have better fringe benefits, that the government is hiring while everybody else is cutting back on jobs - even state and local governments. So I think there's a lot of, uh, call it 'pension envy' in here, you know?"

Possibly Misdirected

Add to that, Causey noted, for many "their big complaint with government is with their local government, their hometown government."

It doesn't matter to them that their gripe may not be with federal employees. As an example, Causey noted the ill will currently blowing in and around the Washington area about recent power outages. Somehow, in some minds, someone in government isn't doing enough to protect consumers from losing power.

"I don't know very much about the meat packing business," said Causey. "And I don't know very much about a lot of things. And I think the average American doesn't really understand how the government works. A lot of people still think it's all in one building here in Washington."

Fedophobe?

Or, Causey said, it may be a matter of painting all feds with one big brush. Like lawyers or dentists, a federal employee, said Causey, is often considered to be a type and not an individual. "As a breed, you think there are too many of them, they're clockwatchers and whatnot, but your neighbor, the mailman, people that you know and deal with are pretty good people."

Consider the Source

And don't forget about those who make a living fanning the flames.

In Washington, a lobbyist once told me, we were having a heart to heart and he said "you know what's the worst thing that can happen to me?" and I said "To lose, right?" and he said "No, to win." Because if he wins, he's out of business. You need to keep the ball rolling. And a lot of this, I see this as... it's almost full employment for people like us, for people in the think tanks who attack the government for being an overly-generous employer, and for people in the government whose job it is sometimes to defend it. So let it roll.

Hire the Naysayers

Causey noted that changing the perception won't be easy. It's not even as though the doors can be thrown open and invite everyone else in.

"When I started covering the government (in the mid-1960s), it was pretty much an army of clerks. It was highly clerical. The average age of hire was 18, 19. A lot of people were hired right out of high school. That's completely changed."

Now, said Causey, education and skill requirements are very high. "It's not just a matter of walking in and saying 'I think I'll work here.' What are you going to be? Head of the missile program down at Redstone Arsenal? Are you going to go out at NIH and be a research scientist? 'Let me in. I'll jolly well discover a cure for all diseases.' It's a very tough place to get into."

Keep a Stiff Upper Lip

The senior correspondent showed a bit of his sardonic side when asked what the answer is.

"I'm not sure there is one. I think 'this too shall pass' and things will settle down. When the economy improves, a lot of this will go away and then we'll, if we're lucky enough, we'll be around in five or six or seven years and we can have this same discussion again."


Senior Correspondent Mike Causey's Federal Report is updated Monday through Friday and heard on WFED, 1500 AM, and on WTOP, 103.5 FM.