Menus Subscribe Search

Hey America, Government Doesn’t Suck

• October 28, 2010 • 2:54 PM

Hating government and dismissing its work force as incompetent has become second nature, much to the chagrin of a work force that doesn’t share those opinions.

Steve Ressler is keenly aware of all the stereotypes about government workers: They’re overpaid, they’re incompetent, they’re lazy, they’re ineffective. Their benefits are too generous. They don’t actually solve problems. They’re paper-pushers, clock-punchers, tax mooches. There are too many of them. You know the saying: “Good enough for government work”?

Yes, yes, Ressler gets the idea. (Although he does want to point out that “good enough for government work” was originally meant as a compliment.)

The Washington Post actually field-tested these insults recently (“A Negative Poll for Federal Workers”). The paper found that a majority of people  think federal workers are overpaid and don’t work as hard as the private-sector counterparts. Mulling these poll results, Ressler Googled upon the ultimate affront: There’s even a national Government Sucks Day.

A third-generation public servant, he is quite certain its organizers have his colleagues pegged all wrong. And while anti-government sentiment seems to be at its apex these days — catching in its sights institutions and individuals alike — he decided to plan a counter event, timed this weekend to riff off of Jon Stewart’s mock-serious Washington “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

Ressler is calling his event — to borrow the lofty language of his accusers — the “Government Doesn’t Suck” march.

Planned signs include:

“Government is awesome.”

“I’m not red tape.”

“Chicks dig govies.”

“What if Gov. was one of us?”

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class] “We believe government is more than not sucking, it’s actually awesome, but people have such low expectations,” Ressler said. “If the idea is to restore sanity, let’s restore sanity in our conversation around government employees. We’re not all evil, we’re not all lazy.”

In 2008, while he was working for the Department of Homeland Security, Ressler founded a kind of Facebook for feds, a networking site where government workers meet up to do exactly what a majority of survey respondents suspect they don’t do — share best practices and innovations for more effective government. GovLoop, which now has more than 36,000 members from federal, state and local governments, also serves as a source of affirmation (available swag: “Gov’t Rock Star” T-shirts) Ressler, who perhaps a tad ironically has left government and now runs the network full time, is using it to help spearhead the Saturday march.

“You can imagine, if you work in public service, you’re giving your heart to something you believe in,” he said, “and to have people bash you every day, it’s not fun.”

Many critics may not even realize they’re bashing these people. But when politicians preach about slashing “wasteful government,” they’re implicating millions of government workers in the waste. And when angry activists shout about “taking back our government,” it is in fact from an army of apolitical fellow citizens, not a monolith of party power, that they would take it.

(Vexed by these recent slogans, the largest union of federal employees is even airing ads in some heated congressional races this fall: “Food and mine inspection — gone,” intones the narrator, should “cut government” solutions come to pass. “Forget about border patrol or keeping terrorists locked up. And returning veterans? Give them a cheap voucher instead of a quality VA hospital.”)

Ressler sadly notes that government workers get the smear from both sides. Small-government activists don’t like them. But neither, surprisingly, do the do-gooders, most of whom would pick a non-profit or NGO gig over government service.

“People don’t think deeply about the issue,” Ressler said. “They think of maybe their experience of how they interact with government at the DMV, or with TSA screeners. They don’t think of the reason why we have national parks and they’re effective, the reason why we have clean water, the reason why there’s rules around protecting radon in your house so you don’t get hurt.”

Government workers, though, may benefit from a phenomenon familiar to many other maligned groups: Anyone who actually knows one of these people is more likely to view the whole lot favorably. So maybe Ressler’s “Government is Awesome” sign on Saturday will encourage a few cynics to come up to him and ask why.

“For me, it’s not about politics, it’s not about whether we should have health care or not, whether we should build up troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Homeland Security is too big or too small,” he said. “It’s about once we get those issues, let’s implement them well as government bureaucrats. If the politicians have decided we’re doing health care, I would want the smartest people in the world implementing it to make it the most effective.”

Most people, he suspects, would say the same.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.




August 19 • 12:00 PM

How ‘Contagion’ Became Contagious

Do ideas and emotions really spread like a virus?


August 19 • 10:00 AM

Child Refugees: The New Barbarians

The disturbing rhetoric around the recent rise in child refugees into the United States from Central America may be shaping popular opinion on upcoming immigration reform.


August 19 • 8:00 AM

Making Police Departments More Diverse Isn’t Enough

Local police departments should reflect the communities they serve, but fixing that alone won’t curb unnecessary violence.


August 19 • 7:15 AM

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.


August 19 • 6:00 AM

Seeking a Healthy Public School Lunch? Good Luck

Mystery meat will always win.


August 19 • 4:00 AM

The Positive Effects of Sports-Themed Video Games

New research finds sports-themed video games actually encourage some kids to get onto the field.


August 19 • 1:00 AM

DIY Diagnosis: How an Extreme Athlete Uncovered Her Genetic Flaw

When Kim Goodsell discovered that she had two extremely rare genetic diseases, she taught herself genetics to help find out why.



August 18 • 3:30 PM

Mister Rogers’ Heart-Healthy Neighborhood

Researchers find living in a friendly, cohesive neighborhood lowers seniors’ chances of having a heart attack.


August 18 • 2:00 PM

Wealth or Good Parenting?

Framing the privileges of the rich.


August 18 • 12:00 PM

How Much Did the Stigma of Mental Illness Harm Robin Williams?

Addiction treatment routinely fails people with mental illnesses, while mental health care often ignores addiction. And everywhere, stigma is rife. Can a tragic death prompt a more intelligent approach?


August 18 • 10:00 AM

Punished for Being Poor: The Problem With Using Big Data in the Justice System

Correctional departments use data-driven analyses because they’re easier and cheaper than individual assessments. But at what cost?


August 18 • 8:00 AM

What Americans Can Learn From a Vial of Tibetan Spit

Living high in the mountains for thousands of years, Tibetans have developed distinct biological traits that could benefit all of us, but translating medical science across cultures is always a tricky business.


August 18 • 6:00 AM

The Problems With William Deresiewicz’s New Manifesto

Excellent Sheep: a facile approach to an urgent critique.


Follow us


Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.

How a Shift in Human Head Shape Changed Everything

When did homo sapiens become a more sophisticated species? Not until our skulls underwent "feminization."

Journalists Can Get PTSD Without Leaving Their Desks

Dealing with violent content takes a heavy toll on some reporters.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.