Much Good Is Done By Government Workers

This was originally published as an exclusive to McClatchy-Tribune Information Service.

Anti-government sentiment has been prevalent across the country, fueled in part by the acrimonious health-care debate, anger over the Wall Street and auto industry bailouts, anxiety over high unemployment rates, and worry over increased spending and ballooning budget deficits.

These feelings of distrust and resentment, seen in public opinion polls, vocal town hall meetings this past summer and during various demonstrations, have been stoked by provocative television and radio commentators, bloggers, and by some politicians who seem to take pleasure caricaturing public servants as faceless, uncaring "bureaucrats." Lost amid the emotion and the inflammatory rhetoric is what our government and its dedicated public servants accomplish every day -- the delivery of vital services and the creation of innovative programs to deal with some of the nation's most serious and seemingly intractable problems.

There are countess success stories of unheralded federal workers making a big difference in the lives of Americans.

Take the issue of veteran's care. Janet Kemp, a dedicated public servant in Canandaigua, N.Y., created the Department of Veterans Affairs' first-ever national suicide prevention hotline. The 24-hour, seven-day- a-week service has handled more than 160,000 calls in the last two years and helped rescue more than 5,000 callers from suicidal situations.

In one case, a soldier deployed in Iraq put a gun to his head and threatened suicide while talking to his mother during an online video chat. The mother called the hotline, the staff contacted his unit, and she watched as authorities saved her son's life.

Don Burke and Sean P. Dennehy, both CIA analysts at the agency's headquarters in Virginia, worked tirelessly to break down cultural barriers that have prevented information sharing across our nation's 16 intelligence agencies. They built Intellipedia, a Wikipedia- like clearinghouse of intelligence expertise that now has more than 900,000 pages and 100,000 users.

Analysts have used Intellipedia to examine potential threats to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to argue about potential perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and to create a protocol for documenting cases of improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

Thomas Waldmann has spent five decades working on behalf of the American people at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., making cutting- edge discoveries that have led to significant advances in the treatment of cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

At the Naval Medical Research Center in Silver Spring. Md., microbiologist Patricia Guerry spent years creating a promising Campylobacter vaccine to prevent the world's top cause of food-borne intestinal illness, while at the Justice Department in Washington attorney Walter Benjamin Fisherow has presided more than 16 legal settlements with coal-fired power plants that led to the removal of 2 million tons per year of harmful pollutants from the air.

Michael German
of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Atlanta office has also been working to help the nation, tirelessly building a successful program that brings an array of community partners together to attack and deal with the root causes of chronic homelessness in cities around the nation.

There certainly is a legitimate debate about the size, the role, the spending and the effectiveness of our government, and there is no doubt that federal workers can improve their performance and that government should be held to a high standard.

Recent public opinion polls show that only about 23 percent of the public trusts government to do what is right, not a historic low but certainly a sad commentary and well below the 44 percent in 2000, and the 60 percent in the 1970s who felt government was on their side.

But it is important to keep in mind that collectively it is our government and that the people of our government are engaged day-in and day-out seeking to protect our health, safety and welfare of the nation.

It is easy to fall back on old stereotypes that often are reinforced in the media, where a 2008 Gallup poll found that 57 percent of the public believed the news coverage about government was negative.

Attacking government may make some people feel good, improve media ratings or provide some short-term political gain, but it is shortsighted, ignores the positive accomplishments that take place every day, and in the end, demeans us all.

Stier is president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.