Removing “Servant” from Public Servant

“ . . . the federal workforce has the same number of employees in 2017 as it did during the Kennedy administration, despite the creation of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and various agencies, as well as a roughly 40 percent increase in the total U.S. population during that interval.

“And yet one popular narrative is that the federal workforce has become too large, and must be pruned. But the work still has to be done by someone.” (Paul Verkuil, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, quoted by David Thornton, Federal News Radio, October 20, 2017, “Federal Workforce in Jeopardy”)

The work that must be done, Thornton goes on to say, is often picked up by contractors. Verkuil points out two differences between government workers and contractors:

“‘For me, the first reason is the oath of office. You may not think about it, it may be just a symbolic act, but … it means something,’ he said. ‘It differentiates you, it separates you. It should; you took an oath to uphold the constitution. It’s meaningful. … If you don’t take the oath, you’re not in the same club, if you will. It’s an important club.’

“And that speaks to another difference Verkuil pointed out: motivation. Federal workers overwhelmingly point to the mission of public service as one of their primary motivations for what they do. Contractors don’t.”

After swearing the oath to protect the Constitution and defend my country when I joined the U.S. Foreign Service, I was assigned to a U.S. consulate in the Middle East. Contractors came in for a few weeks to set up a new computer system. As far as I know, the contractors did a good job, and certainly fulfilled a vital need for expertise not available at our post.

They left at five o’clock in the afternoon. I stayed to finish my work, which seldom could be done in an eight-hour day. I was available for any American citizen who suddenly ended up in a foreign jail. If danger threatened from terrorism, I came in no matter the hour and sent off a warning to our American wardens to pass to all American citizens in the district for which we had records.

The contractors, as skilled they may have been, were there for the money. For them and their companies, it was the bottom line. I and the other officers had been assigned there to serve.

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