Federal employees who work in Washington and those who work in the field are decidedly different in how they view each other.
More than half of the field workers from across the government in a new Federal News Radio survey said they have to remind headquarters they exist or believe headquarters doesn’t know they exist at all. Additionally, a majority of respondents from field offices use words such as bureaucracy, politics and policy wonks to describe co-workers at their agency’s headquarters.
On the other hand, 32 percent of the survey respondents who work in Washington said headquarters and field offices are on the same page, while 46 percent said they have temporary lapses of understanding. And when asked what words describe their field offices, 60 percent said essential, 37 percent said helpful and 27 percent said resourceful.
As part of a week-long series, Talk Back to Washington, Federal News Radio conducted an online survey asking federal employees across the country what they thought of Washington and vice versa.
Of the 421 respondents, 72 percent work for a civilian agency and 23 percent work for the Defense Department. Of those who responded, 53 percent said they work outside the Washington D.C. metro area and 47 percent said they work in the D.C. metro area. Respondents spanned the globe from big cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia and Phoenix to smaller federal offices in places such as Bath, Maine; Paola, Kan.; and Cheyenne, Wyo., to across the globe in the demilitarized zone in Korea, Osaka, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. Additionally, 64 percent have been in government for more than 15 years and 78 percent are GS-11 or higher.
All survey respondents were asked questions 1-4. Feds who indicated they work outside of D.C. were also asked questions 5-15, while feds in D.C. were asked questions 18-22.
The survey found that communication among Washington offices and their field offices is inconsistent. Of those in field offices, 24 percent said they talk to Washington at least once a week, while 70 percent of those in Washington said they talk to the field at least weekly.
A majority of the Washington respondents said their communication with the field offices was satisfactory, good or excellent, while 71 percent said there is at least some tension between their office and their field offices.
Finally, 50 percent of all Washington-area employees said policy changes are communicated to the field clearly and quickly “sometimes,” and 25 percent said “all the time.”
There was no love lost for the Washington area in general.
When asked what’s the best thing about being outside of the D.C. region, many of the respondents pointed to the area’s high cost of living, the traffic and an overall better quality of life. But 62 percent said their career advancement options were limited because they were outside of the capital.
Along with career options, many feds outside D.C. said being away from the capital means lower pay, less contact with headquarters and a feeling that no one listens to their needs.
“We aren’t offered any of the good assignments. There are no opportunities for advancement. We don’t have access to a lot of the information that staff in Washington D.C. have,” wrote one respondent.
Another respondent commented, “Out of sight, out of mind. Forgotten about. Management doesn’t understand what I do and what I need to be successful.”
Many other respondents said there was “nothing” bad about being outside of Washington. And several respondents said they missed some of the benefits of being in D.C.
“I loved working in D.C. when I was there and would love to go back. More excitement, a greater feeling of accomplishment, more colleagues,” wrote one federal employee.
Finally, employees outside of Washington said fed-bashing is having an effect on the perception of employees.
About 29 percent of respondents said federal employees are viewed negatively in their community, and 59 percent said the attacks from Capitol Hill help promote that poor perception.