Analysis: What does public anger mean for feds?

Tuesday - 10/19/2010, 7:41pm EDT

Janet Kopenhaver, Washington Representative, Federally Employed Women

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Mike Causey, Senior Correspondent, Federal News Radio

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Tom Shoop, Editor-in-Chief, Government Executive

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With much of public opinion against feds, federal pay, benefits and hiring have become both a rallying point for Republican midterm candidates and a target of potential government cost-cutting in the current Democratic administration.

Federal News Radio's Mike Causey asks the question, "Is this pre-campaign rhetoric...or does this thing have legs?"

What's clear is that the anger toward feds is "a groundswell from the public," Causey said in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER. A Washington Post poll this week found that 52 percent of Americans think feds are overpaid and only 9 percent think feds are underpaid. Half of Americans polled said feds worked less hard than people in the private sector.

The poll results found opinions divided sharply along political party affiliation, with more Republicans holding unfavorable views toward feds. This might not be surprising because targeting feds to cut costs is historically a "Republican-only agenda," Causey said. What's troubling now is that the "pro-federal worker, pro-union" President Obama announced last week that federal jobs may stay vacant and he isn't ruling out furloughs.

According to Federally Employed Women's congressional score card, feds had allies in the 111th Congress who voted against anti-fed legislation. That support, however, could change after the midterm elections.

Janet Kopenhaver, the Washington representative at FEW, told the DorobekINSIDER that there was a "flurry of legislation" for federal furloughs and pay freezes introduced at the end of this session. She predicted more of these kinds of bills in the next session.

"We know the next Congress is going to be a much tougher fight for us," Kopenhaver said. "We're going to be fighting more bills instead of working for passage of more bills."

Kopenhaver said she understands that people are impacted by the economy and are turning to federal compensation as one solution, but bills -- such as the one that calls for 10 days of federal furlough in 2011 -- ignore the need for feds to work so they can deliver services.

"It's easy to say furlough, but then what happens?" Kopenhaver said. "The work is still going to be at that high level, and Americans are still going to expect those services."

Kopenhaver also said arguments that federal pay is higher than the private sector are misguided, comparing "apples to oranges" because there are more minimum wage jobs outside of the federal workforce, Kopenhaver said.

Tom Shoop, editor-in-chief at Government Executive magazine, said the Post's poll results are not surprising: People are seeing a lot of government activity without direct results from them. People are still losing jobs, taking pay cuts or not seeing pay raises, he said in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

"People have a perception that government is not doing its job and their view of federal employees is affected by that," Shoop said.

However, the Post poll also found that 73 percent of people who had come in contact with a federal employee thought they did a good job.

Shoop said he does not think the negative results of the poll will have "any long-time ill effects." Although the public may lack an understanding of the challenges faced by feds, he said people generally recognize that certain things federal employees do are very important.

"What people like less than government is not getting government services," Shoop said.

TAKE OUR POLL: What's the biggest challenge feds face that the public doesn't know about?