From Washington, DC — 02/07/2009
I have worked for the federal government for 12 years. I am an Ivy League graduate. I have stayed with the Federal government because I am interested in actually trying to implement policies, as opposed to working at a think tank or university, where, in my opinion, the rubber never meets the road. So here are my thoughts: PAY -- Very good. I have been promoted repeatedly through both merit and seniority-based ("career ladder" in government-speak) systems. I am now a GS-14, which means I make over $100K per year in a non-supervisory position. RESPECT -- Below average, from both my superior and the world at large. No, folks, the Federal government is NOT staffed entirely by trained monkeys. Some really intelligent, hard-working people work there, as well as some people who really put the "oaf" in LOAF. More specifically, at my agency, I would say that respect is largely a matter of playing politics, and I'm not good at that. But it's not an unbearable situation, either. BENEFITS -- Above average, but not spectacular. Good health insurance, fairly good vacation/sick, some tuition assistance (but lots of paperwork, of course). JOB SECURITY -- Well above average. It is extremely difficult to fire a federal employee. WORK/LIFE BALANCE -- Very poor. In my agency, job shares do not exist, telecommuting is extremely limited, and family/medical leave is statutory but unpaid. CAREER POTENTIAL/GROWTH -- I work in a very small agency. There are no promotional opportunities for me. But I have also gained a fairly transferable set of skills, so I could get another job with more potential. There is growth potential if you know how to work the system. LOCATION -- The Washington area is very expensive, and I have a very long commute. However, if you're interested in federal policy, there really isn't anywhere else to be. CO-WORKER COMPETENCE -- I've met some very talented, dedicated people who are excellent stewards of public funds and public priorities. I've also met more than my share of livestock. So you have to learn who is alive and thinking, and go to those people when you need to get something done. You have to work around the livestock. WORK ENVIRONMENT -- In my agency, a neutral, for a lot of reasons that are too complex to explain here. In general, I would say that the manager determines the work environment for his or her group/division. I've worked under wonderful managers and terrible managers, and one who was certifiably insane. The environment has varied accordingly. A good manager instills a sense of mission and maintains an attitude of "productive until proven retired-in-place." When that happens, things hum along nicely. ON THE WHOLE -- If the subject matter interests you, there are far worse places to work. I posted this review to try to provide a more balanced perspective of the federal workplace.