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Max Stier

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Max Stier, president and CEO, Partnership for Public Service:

After the threatened government shutdown was averted last month, President Obama wrote a memo to federal workers thanking them for their patience and professionalism during a very trying time.

“You do your jobs without complaint or much recognition. But it is men and women like you who help make America all it is, by responding to the needs of our people, and keeping our country safe and secure,” Obama said.

Those were welcome words, but unfortunately such praise is a rarity these days.

Amid the heated budget battles regarding the size and scope of government, federal workers have become the brunt of much misguided criticism. Instead of being viewed as assets, our nation’s public servants have been unjustly vilified and their value diminished.

These unbalanced conversations and the overblown rhetoric ignore the fact that each and every day, dedicated civil servants across the country are finding solutions to serious problems, assisting Americans in need, keeping us secure and advancing our national interests.

There is a clear disconnect between what Americans hear about their government and what takes place — the routine successes, innovative initiatives, cutting-edge science and other amazing work.

The criticism routinely drowns out the good, begetting increased cynicism and reinforcing mistrust of government.

Recent public opinion polls show that the political haggling that took the nation to the brink of a government shutdown created broad dissatisfaction with the way Washington operates.

But it also had a negative impact on the nation’s 2.1 million federal employees, who lived with great uncertainty and in many cases were told at the last minute that they were nonessential and would be furloughed without a paycheck. This disheartening message came after federal managers had spent weeks preoccupied with making contingency plans for a shutdown rather than focusing on their agencies’ missions.

It was a demoralizing time, one that federal managers should address by re-energizing and re-engaging their employees, and by re-emphasizing the importance of the work that federal employees do for the American people.

After all, our democracy and our well-being depend on the capable people willing to serve their nation and effectively carry out the policies of the president and the Congress. Instead of discouraging and degrading our public employees, we should be motivating them and encouraging top-flight individuals to enter government service.

During the first week of May, we celebrate Public Service Recognition Week to honor the men and women who serve our nation as government employees. It is a good time to redirect the conversation, reflect on the value of public service, and give our civil servants the praise that so many richly deserve, but so seldom receive.

By answering the call to serve our nation, public employees place public service over personal gain. They deserve our support and appreciation.

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