The Ethical Servant

There is a joy found in the times of serving others. Many at one time have had the opportunity to serve or help someone else and have experienced this inner joy. It is more than just a “warm and fuzzy” but a satisfaction that you are useful to someone else. It has been my experience that this joy is experienced to a greater degree when done every day, behind the scenes, without the spotlight of attention.

“There are people in this country who work hard every day, not for fame or fortune do they strive…” These are the opening lines to Alabama’s song “40 Hour Week.” In this song, they pay tribute to America’s working class. Many trades or occupations are mentioned in this song, but one that is left out is our nation’s federal workers…do I need to pause while y’all quit laughing?

Would it be right to judge all carpenters, electricians, mechanics or whatever based on the one that messed up your home or vehicle? No, it would not. Would any of us like it if we were criticized because a peer acted dishonorably? No, we would not. I have worked in both the private and public sectors. I have seen the good and bad in both. While in the private sector I told jokes and made fun of municipal, state, and federal workers. Then in the public sector I realized the importance of the mission and the benefit of having a workforce that can respond at once to the needs of our nation.

I get the feeling that some of y’all are still laughing. Maybe this will help.

In the federal workforce there are two informal and non-official terms used to describe employees. Whether in offices found in the Federal Triangle of D.C. or utility trucks roaming our nation’s parks, there are two distinct types of employees. They are, “Government servants,” or the “Federal employee.” One does not want to be referred to as the latter. In this article I want to focus on the government servant. In future articles I will take excerpts from my pending book, “The Chronicles of Mediocrity” to expound on the, “Don’t be this guy” federal employees.

The government servant finds purpose in meeting the needs of the people of our nation. The servant is in proper submission to his or her authorities but understands that the Constitution is final over any agenda of men. The servant is authentic. He or she will empty themselves of personal desire and reward to become both useful and used by those they serve. The servant understands that it is a privilege that demands integrity and faithfulness.

Those that serve our nation, whether at the lowest level of a wage grade, to a Department Secretary, or an elected official, have guiding principles for honorable performance in their duties. These are commonly known as “14 Principles of Ethical Conduct.” Most of these deal with money, go figure, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. These are not holding financial interest that would conflict with the performance of duty. Using nonpublic information for personal gain or using the position or office for personal gain. Then of course the big one, the cardinal sin of indebting the government. Many feel they put that in because Congress does not like the competition.

Then there are the ones concerning conduct. Be honest in the performance of duty. Avoid activities that would interfere with performance of duty, or moonlighting. Protecting government property. The government servant takes seriously the trust given to him to wisely manage his time and to safeguard that which he has been entrusted with. The first of these fourteen principles is that “Public service is a public trust.” The conduct of the government servant should reflect this. Servants need to have a reputation as someone that is honest and will tell the truth even to his own hurt. They will not steal or waste property. They live their lives on and off duty with the integrity that every citizen deserves from them. And #12 they pay their taxes. I can only imagine the fervency of Congress that this one be put in there.

The servant does not engage in discrimination, nor does he give preferential treatment. This one is such a problem that it has caused the creation of The Office of…, and the Agency for…, and many Boards and Committees. Discrimination manifests in one of the evil isms, those being Racism, Cronyism, Nepotism, and Favoritism. The servant treats everyone with dignity and respect.

But there are two that look proactive and wise but can be a snare to the diligent servant. One is the requirement to report waste, fraud, and corruption. Government servants take seriously their duty to report. Most will show great wisdom by not reporting it to the ones that created the problem. A few years back I found myself in this situation and after careful consideration and navigation of my chain of command, found myself in front of the desk of another servant that took the proper action. Had I, like many have, trustingly reported to the next level of authority, I could have found myself the target of reprisal.

The last principle, which I believe should have ranked number one is, “Do not give appearance of impropriety.”

You are laughing again. I do not have to see you; I know you are laughing.

Being a servant to the people of this nation has been without comparison the most rewarding time in my secular career. But it has not been without frustrations. Frustrations caused by the hypocrisy of those that have put forth these principles, where most violations of ethics manifest. But again, let us not judge the whole based on the actions of a few. Just as it is possible for the body to live while the brain is dead, there are far more government servants that do their jobs for our nation with honor and integrity, than those that are self-serving, corrupt, and deserving of having, “The Honorable so and so” replaced with “Inmate 112874.’