10/20/2014 02:05 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2014

Bleeding the Federal Workforce

After 17 terms serving in Congress, Rep. Frank R. Wolf announced plans to retire at the end of this year. Wolf, a Republican from Northern Virginia, has been a longtime advocate for federal workers. And in this interview, Wolf speaks about problems confronting the federal civil service with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership.

Fox is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, and also heads up their Center for Government Leadership. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q. How would you describe the state of today's federal workforce?

A. A high point for federal employees was during the Kennedy administration when President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." There was a sense of pride -- that was the heyday.

I don't sense that the president really cares about federal employees, because when the Congress comes out with something bad, you very seldom see the administration push back. You are finding tremendous morale problems in the federal government. This is bad because if you continue to criticize, you begin to beat them down. I think morale is probably at the lowest point I've seen it.

Q. In this climate, what do federal agencies need to do to attract and motivate high quality people?

A. There always will be interest in working for the federal government as long as young people have hopes and dreams and imaginations. For instance, a young person at the State Department probably has more responsibility in an embassy than they would in the corporate world. Young FBI agents work on counterterrorist cases and have a great impact.

In government, you'll always be working on issues that are really significant and relevant. I see a lot of new people come in and I think they're pretty good. But we can't keep knocking and criticizing and condemning the federal government.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.