After representing hundreds of federal employees throughout the federal government, we can say with confidence that the civil service is overwhelmingly comprised of hardworking, dependable, intelligent, and skilled professionals in every field personally invested in the mission of their employing agency and proud of their public service. Nevertheless, instances of poor judgment, corruption, and bureaucratic inefficiencies frequently capturing the public’s attention. This is only natural – stories about “scandals” are far more interesting that stories about workers doing what they are supposed to do as best they can.
The truth of the matter is that these newsworthy instances are anomalies. They are newsworthy because we generally expect – and have good reason to expect – that the federal government hires based on merit, attracts skilled professionals, protects against conflicts of interest, has systems in place to monitor productivity and address problems, and maintains transparency and accountability while providing a vast range of public services. Federal workers typically deliver on this expectation. Scandals outrageous us, at least in part, because we have come to expect better.
It may not be particularly interesting to read the Cabinet Exit Memo from the Former Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management generally discussing how the 2.1 million women and men of the Federal Workforce are tackling some of our country’s most pressing issues, at least compared to a story about an employee embezzling taxpayer money, but the flipside of a scandal – the fact that it is an anomaly – is a very good sign.