Recognizing Public Servants Across Government

I recently had a meeting with a senior corporate executive and he asked how long I had been in the government.   When I responded, he said: “Thank you for your service.”

Those five words surprised and stunned me.   After years of hearing that career civil servants are bungling and incompetent, I had to admit to being a bit humbled that someone at this individual’s level and with his experience and depth of knowledge of the Federal government would say those five words.

I recently had a meeting with a senior corporate executive and he asked how long I had been in the government.   When I responded, he said: “Thank you for your service.”

Those five words surprised and stunned me.   After years of hearing that career civil servants are bungling and incompetent, I had to admit to being a bit humbled that someone at this individual’s level and with his experience and depth of knowledge of the Federal government would say those five words.

And, frankly, that’s a sad state of affairs.  Civil servants are so inured to being demeaned and insulted that a certain amount of resignation inevitably creeps in.   And for SES, it’s even worse because we are considered to be the tip of the spear when it comes to public perceptions of an unaccountable and out of control bureaucracy.

Whenever an article comes out in the press about the SES, I always go to the comments section to see what readers are saying.  I’m rarely surprised when I find out that SES are portrayed as “fat cat” bureaucrats who deserve whatever punishment is being meted out.

That’s why it is so refreshing to see what the new OPM Director, Dr. Jeff Pon, is saying publicly about the civil service in general and SES in specific.  He recently described the SES as “our executive athletes for the government” and talks about the need to restore civility to our public discourse when it comes to Federal employees.  He wants to honor public service, not demean it.

This return to civility and a respectful discussion is the rationale behind SEA’s collaboration with the Hoover Institution to engage in three “Modernizing the Civil Service” dialogues that we will hold over the next few months.  We are bringing together a “coalition of the willing” that includes the Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, unions, good government groups, and other thought leaders to see if we can find common ground.

The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which created the SES, is showing its age.   As the framing document for the dialogues says, “The CSRA was passed 40 years ago at a time when the Internet was science fiction, oil embargoes were disrupting the world’s economy, and the Cold War was in full bloom.”  Our 2018 world has fundamentally changed over the past four decades and the CSRA, which provides a strong foundation to build upon, must be modernized to deal with 21st Century realities.

Our goal is to host a workshop in September that is informed by the three dialogues we will have this summer.  We’ll know we’ve been successful if that coalition of the willing is able to come up with areas of mutual agreement that helps to build a Federal government that delivers real value to the American taxpayer.

And, I hope, it will also lead to more moments like the one that I had recently when I met with a group of aspiring Federal leaders.  They asked the common question of why anyone would want to become an SES when the hours are long, the pay isn’t that great, and SES are used as piñatas by politicians.  So I turned the question back to them and asked them to share their reasons why they might wish to become an SES.

The first answer?  “Because it’s a noble calling and I want to serve.”

That answer made my heart soar and I hope will be more common in the coming years.

Tags: Message from Your SEA President, Bill Valdez

Our Corporate Advisory Council

  • BCBS-Logo
  • FLTCIP
  • logo bf
  • logo d

Special thanks to SEA's Corporate Advisory Council, helping to support a federal career executive corps of excellence.
Looking for SEA's partners? Check out the organizations we partner with.

Business Hours

The Senior Executives Association is
available eight hours a day during normal business hours.

Monday-Friday: 9am to 5pm 
Weekend: Closed

Our Office Location

Interested or have questions?

Login

Your username is the 5 digit number on your ACTION newsletter address label.