Anti-fed sentiment likely to linger, but future not all doom and gloom

Friday - 12/23/2011, 12:15pm EST

John Palguta, vice president for policy, Partnership for Public Service

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By Michael O'Connell
@moconnellWFED
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

Last March's near-shutdown of the federal government was something of a wakeup call for federal employees and the public in general.

"We last went through a real shutdown back in the mid-'90s and I think people forget, after a period of time, the trauma that can cause," said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service. He spoke with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris Friday morning about the big stories affecting federal workers this year.

The averted shutdown was just one of the the significant events that made 2011 such a roller coaster year for federal employees. Palguta added the rising "anti-public-employee sentiment" coming from the proposals to cut the federal workforce and to extend the pay freeze as other factors negatively affecting the feds.

John Palguta, vice president for policy, Partnership for Public Service

Proposals can be made anytime, Palguta said, but the difference now is that federal employees are in the second year of a pay freeze.

"This is the first time in recent history that we've a two-year pay freeze and calls for a third year," he said. "Not only are these proposals out there, but some of them may very well stick."

Palguta's concern is that if any of these proposals do stick, they would make working for the federal government less desirable. Even if the economy continues to slowly improve, Palguta thinks the government will have difficulty filling some of its mission-critical jobs.

"There'll still be plenty of folks looking for work," he said. "But many of the needs of the federal government are in very high skilled, highly technical engineering, public health, medical areas. They may find that they're having some difficulty attracting the quality talent that they need."

What the future holds

It's not just the employees who retire the government needs to worry about. For every two federal employees who retire, at least one other employee quits.

"The greatest turnover on a voluntary basis outside of retirement is during the first one to two years of a person's employment," Palguta said. "Folks come into government. They're persuaded by a call to public service or a belief that they're going to have a chance to do something meaningful. And if they get into a work environment that is not conducive to bringing out the best, or not engaging them or they're feeling unappreciated by the public they serve, they exercise their option to work elsewhere."

Although the anti-federal-employee sentiment will likely linger into 2012 and the federal budget deficit continues to be a concern, Palguta remains optimistic about the future.

"We're going to have an election in November, and some of the partisan, political campaigning against government will abate," he said. "The bottom line for 2012, in my view, is that the work of the federal government and the service provided by federal employees is valuable and needed. In 2012, not only will federal employees know that, but I think the general public will start to remember that and political leaders do ultimately respond to public sentiment."