What Does the Public Think of Federal Employees?

A new survey offers insights into what the American public thinks of federal employees.

A new survey offers insights into what the American public thinks of federal employees and the level of trust that it has in the federal government.

The Partnership for Public Service and Freedman Consulting have released the results from a national survey conducted recently on over 2,300 Americans to assess the levels of trust the general public has in the federal government.

Generally speaking, trust in government is not that good. Only 4 in 10 Americans say they trust the federal government to do what is right at least some of the time, and 53% of respondents said they think the federal government has a negative impact on the country.

However, views of federal employees are more favorable. The survey found that 58% of respondents believe that federal employees are “as competent as an average private sector employee,” 57% said they think federal employees are engaged in public service, and 56% believe federal employees to be hard workers.

On the flip side, however, about half of respondents said that they think federal employees are “more interested in helping themselves than the public.” Three in 10 respondents also said they believe federal employees are “corrupt.” “While that is less than the 49% who did not agree with that notion, the fact that about a third of the public views federal employees as corrupt could be a source of negative feelings toward the government,” said the survey’s authors.

These are examples of the sentiments towards the federal workforce shared by some of the survey respondents:

  • “We have many dedicated, hard-working people in this country. I believe in every job you have people who work hard and others who do not. This is not limited to the federal government.”
  • “I think people start [in the federal government] with the intentions of doing good. But after a while they become drunk with the power and the money.”
  • “I think the majority of people that work for the government are looking for an easy job where they don’t have to do much work.”
  • “People want to serve their community or country. Others like to try to get a government position because most of the time it is a stable job and career.”
  • “[People work in the government for] the money they would make, the status in social circles, to further a dream or goal they want to attain.”
  • “The people in government are so far away from blue collar they can’t even relate.”
  • “[People work in the government] to better our nation, help their fellow citizens, and to feel a sense of accomplishment as they do genuine good in the world. Heaven knows it’s not for a paycheck.”
  • “I think that the people who are hired that are civil servants are just doing their job. And I do trust them to do their job.”

As to why respondents think federal employees choose their careers, the top reasons were benefits, job security and salary. Among the more negative reasons were control and power, although fewer percentages of respondents cited these.

Views of Federal Employees

How important do you think each factor is for someone who decides to work for the federal government?Extremely/very important
Job security77%
Serving their communities57%
Public service47%
Source: Partnership for Public Service survey of 2,301 U.S. adults from October 18-24, 2021
Most non-elected federal government employees…AgreeDisagree
Are as competent as an average private sector employee58%26%
Are doing public service57%24%
Are hard workers56%26%
Are competent55%27%
Work as hard as an average private sector employee53%33%
Are committed to helping people like me50%33%
Are corrupt30%49%
Source: Partnership for Public Service survey of 2,301 U.S. adults from October 18-24, 2021

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.