FedSmith.com Readers Talk about Why They Work for the Government

By on May 14, 2011 in News

Federal employees have been in the news a lot lately, and not always in a good way. They have had their pay frozen and been the subject of proposed hiring freezes or RIFs in various bills proposed in Congress. On the other hand, working for the federal government generally carries with it good pay and benefits depending on where you work.

We were curious what motivates the people that read our site to work for the federal government. Nearly 3,000 people took the time to share their thoughts with us. The following is a summary of the responses we received.

What is/are the primary reasons you work for the federal government?

Pay 41.4%
Benefits 62.9%
Job security 67.8%
Sense of patriotism 39.2%
Public good/service 49.9%
Interesting work 44.1%
Opportunity to use education/training in relevant field 29.4%
Habit/no other preferable jobs available 5.2%
Other 12.8%


Some of the responses that fell under “other” included the following:

  • I can apply my military time towards retirement
  • I can retire at any time
  • I could move around the country without losing seniority
  • I can retire at age 55
  • Family tradition
  • I have a physical disability and the government gave me an employment opportunity
  • Recommendation from a family member
  • Protecting the taxpayers’ interests
  • Veterans policies
  • Opportunity to work outdoors
  • I believe in the agency’s mission
  • “Coolness” factor
  • I enjoy working with children of military families
  • Laziness
  • It’s easy


Many respondents also shared their comments about why they work for the government. The following are some samples:

  • The other factors above: pay, benefits, job security, et al. are
    positive, great factors. However those are not the reasons that
    inspired me to be a federal government employee. The importance of
    supporting and accomplishing federal-related mission and objectives is
  • In high school, I took the Civil Service Test and was called for an
    interview with the government. I got the job. So it seemed that it was
    meant to be as I have worked there for almost 39 years.
  • One used to work for the feds for job security. We all knew we’d never
    make as much as private industry for the same work, but job security is a
    big plus. Now, I’d advise anyone looking for federal work to look
    elsewhere. Nothing’s worth the crap we now have to take from Congress.
  • After being down-sized twice in the private sector, my first governement
    position was temporary. I now have permanent status and feel more
    secure in my future. I am also fortunate that I work in a field that I
    enjoy, although my compensation is low.
  • I have enjoyed my 40 years with the Federal Government (National Park
    Service). I have traveled to places I never would have gone to on my
    own. History has become alive to me.
  • The main reasons I came to work for the government almost 30 years ago
    was for the age 55 retirement and it was a Monday through Friday job. I
    actually took a pay cut.
  • I certainly do not work here for the pay. I like what I do and I get to spend some time in the woods.
  • I have a bachelors degree, 2 masters degrees, and over 20 years of
    experience between the military, federal government, and private sector.
    I could get more money working in the private sector but at the cost of
    losing job security.
  • In 1981 I had no intention of staying, but found over time that it was
    interesting and challenging. I just had to learn to live with the
    crushing bureaucracy, the next big idea, and the public misconceptions.
  • The work is rewarding. I help people and am dedicated to doing the best
    for the public. I find satisfaction in knowing that what I do is
    important and needed. I work for Social Security.
  • Job Security is my biggest motivator for working for the FAA.
  • I wanted to make a difference. With 35 years in now and consistently
    working 10 hour days for 8 hours of pay, I know that I have, and still
  • It is the easiest job I ever had.
  • My husband was in the military, and working for the government was about
    the only way that I knew I’d be able to have my own retirement due to
    the constant moves. I’ve worked for numerous different agencies besides
    the Department of Defense. Overall, it’s been an interesting career,
    and I’ve met some wonderful, hard-working people along the way.
  • The Fed’l gov’t gave me an opportunity, and challenge, to work with
    program only handled by the gov’t. I also got the opportunity to be
    responsible for projects worth in the millions of dollars. At the end
    of the day I felt challenged and glad I had these opportunities.
  • I work for usda-nrcs. It is work that was once a job that I considered
    top notch but with today’s political climate I am not so sure. Lots of
    programs and no money to support or fund the programs. Don’t want to
    wish my life away but retirement if there is such a thing down the road
    looks pretty good.
  • Best place for a divorcee with children
  • It feels good to contribute to our Agency’s efforts to reduce fatal
    crashes. Each reduction in the fatal crash rate provides great
    satisfaction and the desire to lower that rate even further.
  • I joined the federal government because I want to do what I can to insure that nothing like 9/11 happens again.
  • I’m a disabled veteran and thought maybe I would have an advantage in receiving a position with the federal government.
  • I cam to work for the federal government at the age of 17 as a GS3, at
    the time I wasn’t able to get into college, so this was my only option,
    but it has been a great experience, I have had wonderful jobs traveled
    across the country and had opportunities afforded me that I would not
    have gotten living and working in the midwest. I have come full circle
    now working back in DC at a GS14 level, and ready to retire, what a
  • The United States Air Force took a kid from the wrong side of the tracks
    and gave me a chance to be a productive member of society…so I am
    endebted to the Air Force and when I feel like I paid them back…I will
  • Until the last several months, I was proud to be a federal employee. We
    have been so disrespected recently, that I no longer feel that same
  • Too late now, private sector will not hire anyone over 50.

Thanks to all of our readers who took the time to share their personal experiences about working for the federal government!

© 2016 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ian Smith.


About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

9 Replies

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  1. Taxpayer says:

    I would have figured that a bunch of honest responses would have been: To do less work & get paid more, with better benefits.

  2. grannybunny says:

    I “retired” from non-Federal — but public service — employment to take care of my parents in their final 11 years.  After they both passed, the Postal Service allowed me to start a second career, with decent pay, good benefits and excellent job security, leading up to my “real retirement,” if and when I can afford to take it.

  3. Andy says:

    I wanted to serve the public and make a difference.  Now, after all the attacks by Congress, seeing how dysfunctional my agency is, and realizing how many people out there have no clue what we do for them, I am constantly asking myself why I work here – and can’t come up with a good answer.

  4. sassygal says:

     The reason I applied for a Federal Government job is I thought it would be a rewarding job, and I would work with professional types, people who take their job seriously. It’s not exactly what I anticipated, but it depends on the agency and management. I was and am surprised at the behavior of many and how the hiring process works within the agency. Everyone knows before the job advertisements who will be getting the job. I don’t think “placing” people into positions is right. I think an outside committee should be formed not affiliated with the applicants to make the hiring decisions within the agencies. I have noticed very qualified people passed up for jobs due to favoritism and nepotism. And if a family member wants a job and you’re in it, watch out! A Federal Government job is a pretty good job, but it’s not always a fair job, but it happens in the private sector as well.

  5. Retired One says:

    After my discharge from the Army I went on unemployment and Uncle Sam hired me as a civilian.  I finally retired after 39 years of employment.  Really enjoyed what I did and managed get several promotions.  Now I hope the Uncle won’t dishonor his retirement contract!! 

  6. Outside the Beltway says:

    To what extent do these results provide us information about those attracted to FedSmith, vice the reasons people chose a career with the government.  Feds who are less obsessed with pay, retirement, and security may be the ones who find little of interest on this site.

  7. Jells says:


    The reason I stayed with the Department of the Army was a
    change of job does not mean starting over toward retirement.  I have held six major jobs while in Federal  Service and 
    lived in five different locations here and overseas .  My career started as a WG-00 apprentice and
    finished as a GS-15 Project Manager after 38 years.   The biggest reason for staying in Federal
    Service for me was you could move to any new job and not lose your time of
    service.  Serving the men and women in
    the Army was also a critical reason to stay all those years.

    The pay was much less than my counterparts in industry, the
    risks and stress was much higher than those in a single system or function job
    but I never run out of new issues and challenges and resolved those in a
    successful manner. 

  8. Gnatman says:

    Another reason to work for the GOV – REVOLVING DOOR TO WALL STREET!
    Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker the proverbial Poster Girl for conflict of interest. Baker is resigning to take a top lobbying position at …NBC Universal in Washington, just months after she voted to approve the COMCAST + NBC Universal deal.

  9. PublicCitiZen says:

    When I first got hired, I made more money in the private sector than I made in my first federal job.  In fact, I took a 50% pay cut.

    The retirement benefits were a large part of my decision.

    That and the fact talking to airplanes sounded “kinda cool”.

    That being said, my job has been a lot more exciting and rewarding as an ATC specialist, and now, manager, than my old job was.

    I have a lot more job satisfaction in my current job than I could have ever have had in my old job.

    Would I make the same decision today if there weren’t the retirement benefits?

    Probably not.

    Security and retirement were the primary reasons I was willing to take the financial hit.

    As a young man, I didn’t have the foresight to see that even though I was making more money, that the tradeoff between income and job satisfaction was in and of itself a reason to change occupations.

    I suspect that if you “reform” federal retirement, federal job recruiters might as well save the taxpayer money by not bothering to set up booths at colleges.

    Given the attack on federal pay and benefits, very few college age students will bother to attend.