There are three levels of government; federal, state, and local. I am going to focus on the federal level as that is where my experience of 30 years is, 11 years on active duty in the Army and another 19 years for the Department of Transportation. The group of employees I am addressing are the civil service workers, not the political appointees.
Every member of the military is a government employee and I do not think that needs any explanation. But behind them, in the Department of Defense, are tens of thousands of civilian employees who support them. This sort of employee exists in every federal agency. They are managers, engineers, lawyers, inspectors, researchers, office assistants and a host of other jobs. The overwhelming majority of federal lawyers spend little to no time in the court room. Theirs is the world of assuring that the various activities of the particular agency they work for are proper and legal. They are the overseers of contracts, employment activities, interagency agreements, agreements with the private sector, and anywhere else their agency’s business takes them. One of the largest portion of the Defense Department’s civilian employees are support services. These are people assist in the development and fielding of equipment that our troops must use. They are engineers, inspectors, supply experts, logistics experts, etc.
There are at least two places that the entire American public relies upon on a daily basis. All food and medications are inspected by employees of the Department of Agriculture. Because of this we have the safest food supply in the world, and this includes our water supply. Everyday there are inspectors who go around checking to see that the food entering our stores meets certain federally mandated qualities. They make sure the medications we buy at the drug store, not just prescription medications but over-the-counter as well, also meet certain high standards. In this our country is also second to none. When epidemic possible diseases are detected it is the federal government in the form of its employees who are on the front lines figuring out what those diseases are exactly and what we can do about them.
Every time you get in any sort of vehicle on any public road the standards for those roads and the vehicles that cover them, are set by the federal government. Government inspectors are constantly inspecting large trucks and the roads they travel over. In this same vein, all of aviation falls under the purview of the federal government. The regulations that cover every commercial aircraft, and their inspections, are federal mandates. So strict are these mandates that if the same standard we used on our private cars, a large portion of the public could not afford to own the vehicle. The federal government maintains a database of every aircraft in the air today, of every pilot, of every commercial airline regardless of the sort of business they do, and holds each to a very strict level of standards. It takes a lot of people, government employees, to complete such work.
One of the false notions that people have about government employees is that they have it easy and do not do much work. I can assure you that at the federal level, at least, nothing could be further from the truth. Most government workers work in excess of 40 hours of work but most do not get overtime pay for their efforts. Furthermore, government employees pay 50% of the medical insurance, pay into their retirement, and pay social security medicare taxes as well.
The federal government employs approximately 2.5 million people full-time, and another 250,000 part-time. If there is fault to be found in these numbers, that is looking to reduce those numbers, people must consider from which department the reductions are going to come. If, for example, people do not understand what the Department of the Interior does and want reductions to start there, they need to know that all National Parks come under the Interior and it is those people you are looking to reduce. Anyone who works at a military research facility is part of Defense. And so it goes.
You may think you do not know any federal employees, but chances are you do. But even if you do not, you count on their existence for your personal happiness and safety. Most government employees are very well-educated and dedicated people who work hard and turn in a full day’s work.