We the Partnership

Why do federal employees choose public service?

By Will Butler
May 5, 2021 | Updated on July 14, 2021

To celebrate Public Service Recognition Week, we sent out a survey that asked federal employees about their experiences in public service. The responses came from employees working across government and illustrate a clear passion for their work. But why did these public servants initially choose to enter the federal workforce?  

For some, public service is a long-standing family tradition. When Angela C. entered the National Guard, for instance, she followed in the footsteps of her brothers, uncles, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers who had served in the armed forces. She ultimately decided to pursue a career at the Veterans Benefits Administration as a way of thanking veterans like those in her family for their service. 

Others discovered their passion for public service in high school or college. Thomas J. from the Census Bureau realized that his calling was to serve others when he began carrying the American flag in his high school’s JROTC Honor Guard. He learned that public service is “tied directly to your own personal pride and self-esteem,” an idea that drove him to a career in the federal government.  

Elda R. from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said that “public service chose me right out of high school.” During one class, her teacher invited an employee from the Social Security Administration to help teach a lesson about filling out job applications. She connected with the employee, interviewed with the agency two weeks after graduation and still proudly serves as a public servant 39 years later. 

Angela G. at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families discovered the value of public service in college when she began teaching children to read, feeding the homeless and helping the elderly as a volunteer at a local community center. While doing this work, she realized that she took a lot of pride and joy in serving others. “Over time, after consistently helping and being there, I began to see people transform and blossom. And likewise, so did I,” she said. By the time she graduated, she had changed her major and was on the path to a career in government. 

Still other employees transitioned to a federal career later in life. Lin B., for example, was a teacher before entering the federal workforce. Her passion for public service and experience as a learning professional led her to become a chief learning officer at the Department of Justice. In that role, she leads staff development and intern programs, where she can encourage young people to enter public service. 

Each federal employee takes a different path to a government career. Some find motivation in their family histories, others have formative educational experiences and others make later career transitions. But regardless of their path, every federal employee who responded to our survey carried a deep pride in—and passion for—their public service. 

To share your own experiences working in the federal government and explain why you chose public service, take the #IServeBecause survey.  

Will Butler is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.