10 Questions Federal Employees Should Ask Presidential Candidates

What questions would you like to ask presidential candidates? Here is a list of 10 questions from one author within the federal community he would like to see the candidates address.

Campaigns are longer, candidates are exposed to not only more but more in depth questions focusing on "What If" you are elected. Federal employees and contract employees (an enormous voting bloc) will be vitally affected by the next president. I would like to hear from candidates of all stripes on issues directly related to the operation of the government they want to lead. If you could ask them a question, what would it be? Here’s my list.

1. Lots of candidates are accused, fairly or not, of running against the civil service. Federal employees are usually lumped together with appointees and called "The Bureaucracy". What is your view of the Federal employees and the job they do?

I believe that government is an easy target for political candidates. It can’t rebut or fight back. Let’s see whether the candidate is a sound bite star or potential serious manager.

2. If you could change one thing about the way Federal employment works, what would it be?

If you’re going to manage the country’s largest workforce, you ought to know something substantial about it. I’m sure at least one thing needs changing.

3. If you are elected, what will be the top 5 items on your agenda for the employees who work for you?

Want to lead a specific group of people? If so, you ought to have a plan for how to treat them. It would be nice to hear one.

4. It is clear that over at least the last two (Clinton & Bush) administrations, contract employee numbers are up and Federal employee numbers are down. Is this positive or negative for the country as a whole and why?

This is a pervasive phenomenon that has never been legislated or owned up to as policy by either administration. I’d like to hear each candidate’s take on the wisdom of this development and effect on the country’s future.

5. If the military commitment to Iraq declines and frees up money for non-defense programs, what are your top 5 programs that are in need of more funding?

All would agree DOD has had first priority on funds for most of the Bush administration for good or ill depending on your view. If more cash becomes available, I wonder if the candidates have a clear wish list to spend it on.

6. Previous presidents have been criticized for taking too long to get their management teams in place. Do you have a plan to speed up the process and a list of likely candidates to fill senior positions in the government?

Maybe candidates should be reminded of the differences in running for office and executing the responsibilities once elected. I, for one, would like to know a candidate’s prospective choice for Attorney General, Secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security and others much more than who might be V.P.

7. In the past 20 years, the number of political positions in the Federal government has risen. Would you maintain or reverse this trend? Why?

This question can help us judge a candidate’s confidence in the Federal service. The more hacks, the less professionals. How many real estate salesmen from Des Moines, does this candidate have to find a job for?

8. Do you think the current method of determining Federal pay increases is fair?

The biggest single cost in Uncle’s budget (other than defined benefits) is most likely labor dollars. Wouldn’t you like to know if a candidate has the vaguest clue how complicated this process has become.

9. The screening workforce at the Transportation Security Administration is not currently permitted union representation. Would you change that? Why? Why Not?

Sen. Kerry, when running in the last election, made a commitment to allow TSA employees to organize if elected. This question gets to the candidate’s position on unions. I think this is an answer worth knowing one way or the other.

10. Defense and Homeland Security are implementing pay for performance programs. Would you continue, expand or halt that initiative? Why?

This is not a trick question. Just about every administration has had a take on assessing Federal employee performance. Let’s find out if the candidate has their own "new" program to deal with this thorny issue.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.