Role of a Federal Employee in Presenting America’s History and Values

One of the most important roles played by federal employees is representing America to its citizens and to foreign visitors. Here is an example one federal employee who leaves visitors impressed with our history and our values.

A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated. We are not here trying to carve an epic, portray a moonlight scene, or write a sonnet; neither are we dealing with mystery or tragedy, but rather the constructive and dramatic moments or crises in our amazing history.

Gutzon Borglum

Federal employees do many things while employed by Uncle Sam. From comments and survey results both on this site and surveys by federal agencies, there is no doubt there are federal employees who are sometimes dissatisfied, discouraged and a few who spend considerable time filing grievances and appeals.

But, while these events gather the most publicity, they are relatively unimportant.

When a person has a job, he can choose to perform it well and with enthusiasm or do it poorly and perhaps express job dissatisfaction by displaying an attitude of unhappiness when dealing with the customers of that agency.

For those of us who work in the federal community, getting out of an office or even out of a large federal building and seeing how federal employees perform their jobs on a daily basis can be a satisfying experience. Here is one example.

The vast majority of Americans are proud of our country and our heritage. Without regard to poliltical affiliation, political parties or disputes on current events, we take pride in our country and what has been accomplished by Americans. One important way in which a country displays its values and its history is how it displays and explains our national monuments.

Any American school child has heard of Mount Rushmore. By the time we are adults, some of us have taken a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The majesty and imagery of this national monument is impressive. It shows our national heroes as we like to see them. Bigger than life, portrayed in massive mountain photographs overlooking a rural area of mountains, meadows and plains.

How were the figures selected to be portrayed on Mount Rushmore? What did they accomplish that makes them stand out from other leaders? Why do we want to remember what they did? Who carved the figures and how was the sculptor selected? And, more importantly, why should we appreciate and remember the accomplishments of the men emblazoned on Mount Rushmore?

Three million people a year visit this national memorial. All of these questions are answered by a federal employee who represents America to the millions who walk underneath the figures in the Black Hills. The person who explains our history to school children, foreign visitors and adults who are visiting for the first time has a responsibility to portray his or her country in a way that will make all of us proud.

A visitor to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial is apt to hear a discernable Massachusetts dialect echoing through the Black Hills explaining to relaxed tourists when the mountain was carved, who carved the figures into the mountain and the cost of the carvings. With patience, knowledge and humor, Park Ranger Ed Menard walks the array of visitors through the narrow path to get visitors closer to the carvings of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.

No doubt, he has answered the same questions hundreds of times. But throughout the presentation, he is friendly and respectful. He answers all questions asked by the inquisitive tourists and displays knowledge and enthusiasm of the history of the area and the monument. No one is rushed or cut off. There is no question asked by the 50 or so visitors that he cannot answer.

He explains that Abraham Lincoln is enshrined at Mount Rushmore because he preserved the union. Teddy Roosevelt was selected after a time because of his role in conservation and modern development of the counry and recognizing the importance of preserving our impressive national resources. George Washington was the first president, set the nation on a course with a democracy that eschewed the concept of royalty and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and expanded our country with the Louisiana Purchase.

If this Park Ranger is bored from the repetitive questions, it does not show. He is enthusiastic about America’s history and proud to be able to explain the history to visitors. If he has any political comments when explaining why the four historical heroes are displayed on Mount Rushmore, he keeps them to himself. The discussion is lively, factual and done professionally and with a touch of humor. He ensures that any visitor probably leaves with a more in-depth knowledge of American history and a deeper appreciation for our culture and values.

In short, a federal employee doing a good job as he probably does every day. No doubt, he takes satisfaction in having provided an education to senior citizens and school children, foreigners and college history majors as well as any retired federal employees who are walking in the group and enjoying the experience of watching a federal colleague do a good job of representing his country.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47