NEWCASTLE — The painful national experience of partial government shutdown reminded Americans that the federal government provides an immense array of services, including many that go uncelebrated, even unrecognized. The U.S. government is active across the length and breadth of this land, not simply inside the Washington Beltway.

Americans have also been reminded of how federal workers and government contractors are people like themselves, many of them living from one paycheck to the next. That Transportation Security Administration agent between you and your airport gate may be a parent who faces trouble putting food on the table without a paycheck reliably delivered. During the shutdown, Americans responded with acts of thoughtfulness and generosity; they came to the rescue of fellow citizens whose livelihoods had been disrupted.

Future administrations will confront the monumental task of restoring the reputation of the government as a good employer with good workers. One sign of a free society is the ability to complain about the government, politicians and taxes, but for several decades, federal workers have been targets of unfair criticism.

At the extreme, this has reached absurd and contemptible proportions. Elsewhere on the political spectrum, many have repeated slogans dismissing the government as the problem rather than the solution. Those who badmouth any and all public servants should examine failed states around the globe and consider if they’d want to live there before they launch into vague and easy assaults on their own government.

As a nation, we should acknowledge the numerous good and necessary services that the federal government endeavors to provide in ways that are fair and economical. We should also recognize, thank and celebrate the countless public servants whose work is competent and even admirable. Room always remains for improvement and scandals must be boldly resolved, but often the government does work well.

Formed out of diverse peoples, the United States is one nation. The federal government is an abiding sign of this unity. Advocates of radical individualism and unrestrained markets repeatedly challenge the legitimacy of government, but these forces do not and cannot meet all the real needs of all our people.

Renewed awareness of and respect for government service will inspire more talented and committed people to join the federal workforce. This will make the government more effective in discharging its duties and will in turn draw forth greater appreciation from the general population. The result will be a win for all Americans of good will.

Frances Perkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s labor secretary and the woman behind the New Deal, joined the U.S. Civil Service Commission after 12 years in the Cabinet. In 1948, she gave a speech titled “Public Service as a Career.”

While realistic about the shortcomings of working for the government and the criticisms faced by federal workers, she asserted that the civil service offers much that will appeal to an idealistic, imaginative person. To identify with the processes of government is satisfying, and to help administer public programs is exciting.

The government worker shares in the responsibility for figuring out the best ways to do things and works for the good of all citizens. Looking at a program that affects all Americans, the federal worker can say, “I had a part in that. I thought up ways to make it work.”

She concluded by extending an invitation, one that deserves to be carefully considered today when public servants are under assault from several directions.

“If you have your heart set on being wealthy, I hope I have revealed to you that you must attain your objective in some field other than government service. But if you feel that you would enjoy taking part in work which has a social purpose, at a moderate salary, with opportunities for advancement and with more-than-average security of tenure; if you understand what I mean when I say that work can bring compensations other than money; if you can gain a special satisfaction from the knowledge that while pursuing the career of your choice you are serving all your fellow citizens – then the public service has much to offer you.”


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