Federal employees work in a political environment. The budgets for each agency are decided through the political process; pay raises and benefits are determined by Congress and the mission of an agency or program is also dictated by the political process.
In short, federal employees tend to be more aware of politics than most Americans because the outcome of the political process defines their careers and professional lives.
Within this large and relatively sophisticated audience, what is the opinion of Congress as an institution?
Not very high, apparently. In our recent survey, a majority of those responding rate Congress’ performance as unacceptable; a vast majority think Congress has an ethics problem and a large majority favor term limits.
From the hundreds of comments sent in by readers, many people also think that Congress no longer works for the good of the country but is interested in serving the interests of lobbyists and organizations that send them money. Many readers expressed frustration with the inabilty of Congress to pass a budget or address other significant current issues because so many in the institution focus on getting re-elected and scoring political points rather than working toward a solution to problems.
Recent national polling on term limits for Congress is relatively sparse, but an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in July 2003 found 67% said term limits were a good idea. It is possible that the figure would be higher now that in 2003 or it may be that the federal workforce is more directly impacted by Congressional action. In any event, the results of this recent survey show that the preference for term limits is a little higher than the 67% found in the 2003 national poll.
Here are the results of the survey:
Do you favor term limits for Senators and Representatives?
Does Congress as an institution have an ethics problem?
How do you rate the performance of Congress as an institution?
highly successful: 2%
barely passing: 29%
Here are a sample of the comments from readers on these issues.
An employee from Robins AFB, GA wrote: "They get in Washington and start on ego trips that we the taxpayers have to fund. I will say that I do not agree with every decision my senators and representative make but on the major issues mentioned are following the voice of those here in Georgia. Pelosi is a reminds me of wild-eyed Jack Nicholson in The Shining. She put people in positions of power who have ethics issues and then puts forward a bill with huge amounts of pork and big tax increases. And she represents a majority of those in Congress now. The American people are sick and tired of them getting to Washington and having a party on our expense tab. Maybe it’s time to change the limit to two terms and the benefits afterwords reduced 50% or more. It needs to go back to being a public service like it was intended and not a job for life."
A project engineer with the IRS in Covington, KY contends: "I believe congress needs to spend it’s time doing the country’s business and NOT try to control everything. Politicians need to let the soldiers run the war."
An electronics technician with the VA in Missouri favors short term limits: "Both parties have failed miserably when it comes to fullfilling the Constitutional mandates on which they are to serve the American people. Every Federal elected office in this country should be for one term ONLY. John Q. Citizen could and would do a much better job than nearly any of our elected "elites". "
An acquisition specialist with the Defense Logistics Agency in Richmond, VA commented: "I have always been in favor of "term limits" for Congress. Otherwise, these people become life-long politicians instead of actually doing what’s best for the Country. I say do like the Romans’ did. Roman citizens served free. What we have now in this Country is an institution with positions that provide opportunities to gain money and power. This institution provides a sess pool for fraud, abuse, and robbery of the American taxpayer for those who will do anything to gain power and money."
An administrative assistant with the Social Security Administration in Birmingham, AL compares Congress to a state legislature: "Congress seems to have become an institution so concerned with themselves that the Nation, as a whole, is of no concern to them. Their concern seems to be, "how can I stay in office? What must I do for them to re-elect me". They are asking like a State legislative body, of late, and a very poor one, at that. "
A supervisory auditor with DCAA in Anaheim, CA would like to start over: "Congress is the largest collection of work-avoiders on the planet. From immigration to prayer in schools, they spend most of their time trying to figure out how not to govern or set policy that might actually result in someone having to actually accept the will of the vast majority. Its too bad we don’t have the option of just clearing them all out and starting over from scratch – we might actually end up with a few people with principles in office."
A consumer safety inspector with the USDA in Boston writes: "It seems that their only concern is staying in office at any cost. They promise people anything for their vote no matter what the cost to the working taxpayer who winds up paying the tab."
An engineer with the Mlitary Sealift Command in Virginia Beach, VA thinks the problem is the tax system: "The single biggest problem with Congress is that they are beholden to the abomination known as the tax system. The system encourages the most outrageous abuses of the budget as the primary means of keeping congressmen in power – they buy votes with other people’s money. Until this changes, the only viable solution is term limits."
An employee with the Dept. of Homeland Security in Dallas is tired of the politics: "The House and Senate have done very little lately other than to hold endless inquiries into alleged misconduct by the Administration, most of which end up nowhere. They, of course, do this in the name of exercising Congressional oversight. What they are actually doing is retaliation against the President for exercising his power and pay back for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. When will they get down to the all important business of addressing the pressing domestic issues that face this country."
A revenue agent with the IRS in Phoenix thinks Congress no longer represents the people who elect them: "Congress as a whole spends too much time trying to undermine the other party and forget that they are supposed to take care of the business of running the country. Term limits would prevent someone from building an empire, and might make them remember that it is the people they are supposed to represent."
A management analyst with DCMA in Hanover, MD says term limits would help get rid of political corruption: "Politics are corrupt from the bottom up. I believe many go into public service with sincere and honest hearts, but, due to lobbying and then the acquisition of power, even the most honest become corrupt. I favor term limits so that these folks have as little time as possible to ruin our lives."
A food inspector with USDA in Sweet Grass, MT observes: "Anytime congress holds funds for the miltary hostage and refuses to secure our own borders it is failing. The reason that most of Congress is failing is because it is almost impossible to be defeated if you are an incombent. I feel that if there are term limits then the congress has to realize that they need to do something in the time they are there, otherwise they will accomplish nothing, and leave with no record."
An HR specialist with the Department of Justice in San Antonio has a harsh view of Congress: "With few exceptions, none of which represent my district, members of congress appear only interested in promoting a political agenda. They have no apparent interest in actually solving problems and working to improve the country. I believe very little I hear coming out of the mouth of any Member of Congress. I cannot think of another profession where you can lie through your teeth every day, never answer a question (at least truthfully) and continue to have a job. Companies can’t use false advertising to promote their products but persons in and running for congress can use whatever false statements or outright lies they can think up to get elected/re-elected. What really frightens me is the American people appear to think this is just "fine". "Ethics" – let’s not even go there."
Not everyone is in favor of term limits. We received several comments (out of several hundred) from readers who do not think that term limits are necessary. An HR specialist from the Dept. of Labor in Washington thinks the notion is a partisan issue: "Senators and Representatives already have term limits. They are called elections. Any time the people are no longer satisfied with the job they are doing, they can vote them out. I am curious about how this idea is only raised when the Democrats control Congress. I don’t recall that it was an issue when the Republicans were in charge. The other curious thing is that many of the Republicans that campaigned on this issue in the early 90s are still in Congress."
Thanks to all readers who took the time to vote in this recent survey and a special thanks to those readers who took the time to send in their written comments as well.