Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I’d like to say a few things about President Donald Trump’s recommendation to deny raises to federal employees.
First of all, in bragging incessantly about how well the economy is doing, a signal is being sent that demoralizes these workers, after many years of below average wage increases.
It’s hard to think of a sector of our economy, e.g. Social Security processing, national defense, energy and nuclear weapons production, and scientific research, that doesn’t depend on these vital services. I have been active in the National Association of Retired and Active Federal Employees in the past half dozen years and am astounded at the talent base and diversity of employees. This workforce doesn’t get the recognition that Google, Apple and Microsoft employees often get.
Yet our nation would be lost without this work force. Mail wouldn’t be delivered, science and technology would slow, and much of the administrative activities we take for granted would slow or stop.
To some extent, working in the government sector makes you a political whipping person as every new administration has re-directions and their own priorities. Unfortunately, as you become more senior, the disruptive effect is more pronounced.
Most employees stay in the system — in my case I did a lot of re-training, some on my own and some within the government system — and do the best they can to adapt. These periodic partisan changes often reflect changes in national priorities and, although creating temporary inefficiencies within federal agencies, generally results in improved national priorities.
We have seen the Federal Emergency Management Agency come under fire in the past two years of bad hurricanes as some funds have been diverted to border security. Hopefully, this issue will be worked out.
Some functions, e.g. production of nuclear weapons in my case, could not or should not be done in the normal commercial bidding process, in my opinion. Secrecy and security are often more important than the actual “performance” of a particular weapon. The existing process has undergone over 60 years of continuous refinement.
A lot of scientific research often has conflicting political agendas, and this changes as new information arises. Yet this is still a big reason why the United States has maintained our world leadership position.
Since retirement I’ve read a lot about the global economy and the rise of Google, Amazon and Silicon Valley companies. And I have to say that the stock market has responded favorably in the past year and a half. Yet the employment picture has changed dramatically and individuals with “key skills” do OK, but they are generally a small minority of the overall workforce.
Nobody knows what to do with the large majority of the workforce, often with college degrees, but lack these “key skills” — which often are a rare combination of tailored education and work experience.
The strength of the federal employment system was to “hire and promote from within.” It often took 10 to 15 years to ripen, but there was a systematic process where new hires, often at relatively low wages (and being underpaid especially at lower graded positions with a lot of supporting data) was often one of the main complaints of federal employees, took a job, learned how to manage their money, and eventually became efficient workers. Collectively, in my view, this is the backbone — or at least one of them — in our American economy.
There has been a gradual erosion of both private sector staffing — bringing new people into the work force and training them — as well as this more recent effort to discourage people relatively new to government employment and perhaps at mid-career levels. This is like a Major League Baseball team breaking up their farm system.
The tried and true federal work force continues to offer a solid employment base. But this vital cog in our economy must be carefully nurtured, especially in relatively good economic times.