Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, thinks many Americans tend to project their frustrations with Congress and other elected officials onto the federal workforce. And why not? A sprawling, largely faceless bureaucracy makes an easy target.
Reardon wants to change that with a new multimedia campaign aimed at changing how Americans perceive the federal workforce.
“We want people to remember that many of the things they depend upon — clean air and water, a sound financial system, safe food and medicine — are provided by professional, nonpartisan civil servants,” Reardon said in a Sept. 6 phone conference. “They were hired based on merit to serve the taxpayers, not the politicians. ‘They Work for U.S.’ is not just a slogan, it’s a fact.”
The campaign, which launched Sept. 6, wants to show American voters that the majority of government employees are middle class workers who live in all 50 states, not just the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. It includes 15- and 30-second public service announcements that will be sent out to more than 10,000 TV stations and cable providers, a website and a series of images tailor-made for social media that share facts and debunk myths about the federal workforce.
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“It’s easy to forget that we’re talking about working class, middle class Americans,” Reardon said. “They have the same kinds of bills that many of us have: They’ve got to pay for their mortgage, they’ve got to pay for their food, they’ve got to pay for their children’s education.”
And the timing of this campaign is no coincidence, Reardon said. NTEU timed it to coincide with the end of the fiscal year, as budget and debt ceiling negotiations sparked discussion of a shutdown and the recurring specter of budget cuts cause many feds to fear for their jobs.
“They find this annual dance, if you will, to be very demoralizing,” Reardon said. “In my view, threatening these folks with budget cuts and [reductions in force] and shutdowns also threatens the services that they provide.”
He said that that’s a concern frequently raised by the feds that he meets with every day: that when federal employees find their jobs disrupted due to political concerns, it’s really the taxpayers that suffer.
Reardon said this isn’t the first time NTEU has launched this kind of campaign; the union ran public service announcements on the same subject in 2014 and 2015. On TV, they netted 4, 294 airings on 38 stations nationwide, which resulted in 638,000,000 impressions. Meanwhile, on radio, 1200 airings on 14 stations yielded 5,700,000 impressions.
NTEU got these numbers by working with Nielsen to track the audiences the campaign reaches, and will continue to do so during this new campaign.
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And Reardon noted that these are public service announcements, not paid ads. That means they’re voluntary for the station to run.
“I think [anti-federal employee sentiment] has been being pushed since the 1970s at least. And, just like anything else, once somebody starts making their case, if they keep saying it and saying it and saying it, then people start to believe it. It makes it even easier to believe for the public when you’ve had the economic situation in our country that you’ve had since 2008,” Reardon said. “And let’s face it, there are those in elected office who have tried to make it seem as though it is the federal employee that is the bane of our existence, that they are at the core of all of the problems of our government. And candidly, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
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