Public service

Why the Civil Service and Civil Servants Should Be Celebrated

May 1-7 was Public Service Appreciation Week. Since 1985, this first week of May has been the annual celebration of public servants’ contributions to federal, state, local and tribal government. Across the country, more than 18,000,000 of our neighbours, friends and relatives serve in government, including in our public schools and universities.

For more than two years, despite the pandemic, these public servants have continued to do their jobs quietly and efficiently, including serving on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus. Many medical professionals who courageously and selflessly cared for Covid-19 patients are government employees. Other public servants across the country continued to protect our country and communities, fight fires, preserve the environment, operate public transportation, provide social services, deliver mail, and maintain our public facilities and infrastructure.

These dedicated individuals have risked their health, and in some cases their lives, to serve people across the country, including many of the most vulnerable. Other government workers provided essential services behind the scenes, in less visible but equally important ways.

The dedication of these public servants stands in stark contrast to the often heated budget battles and rhetoric about the size, function, scope and effectiveness of government. This debate frequently generates harsh, and usually unwarranted, criticism of public servants who provide essential services.

And that’s too bad, because government employees do vitally important work that touches us all every day.

We continue to call on the government to address some of our country’s most difficult and intractable issues, which have been underscored and even intensified by the fight against the coronavirus.

We expect the government to protect our nation and our communities; maintaining a strong economy; preserve our quality of life; reduce poverty and homelessness; recovering from disasters; save the environment; educate our children; ensuring affordable health care; and playing a leadership role in creating an equitable, inclusive and diverse society.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, the government is particularly affected by the so-called “great resignation” (aka the “great reassessment”). A recent survey revealed that 52% of government employees nationwide are considering leaving their jobs. As the U.S. economy recovers jobs lost during the pandemic, the public sector is lagging businesses in this job recovery.

To succeed in this challenging environment, government must attract, develop and retain talented and dedicated employees. In the current context, it becomes more difficult.

Public service was once a highly respected profession, described as a “noble calling” by President George HW Bush. The best and the brightest aspired to make a difference through government service – in Washington, DC, in their state capitals, and in their local communities.

However, according to a national survey conducted by MissionSquare Research, more than three in four government leaders who responded worry about the government’s ability to recruit and retain talent and maintain employee morale and engagement.

That’s why now, more than ever, it’s important to celebrate the public service and public servants. The career employees I’ve met in my 45 years of working in and with government don’t want rewards, big salaries, or big bonuses.

They just want to make a difference.

And they have made a big difference during the pandemic. These public servants also want the people they serve to understand and appreciate the contributions the government makes to our nation, our states, and our communities.

It is especially fitting during Public Service Appreciation Week that we recognize the contributions of our country’s public servants. But also try to do it all year round.