Divisions of Labor

Who Runs the Government?

WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT the federal government’s bloat, its bureaucracy, its waste. What we don’t hear much about are the people who actually work in public service, who aren’t elected and whose careers span multiple presidents and parties. We went to Washington, D.C., to meet and photograph these folks.

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Djibril Diallo, sergeant police department, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Rachiel P. Durant, program analyst, Environmental Protection Agency.
Keith Brevard, program manager, Plans and Analysis Integration Office for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.



Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development.

How long have you worked in government? Eleven years.

What’s the best part of your job? Helping to make the workplace fair and an equitable place to work.

What do you wish people knew? It's as important as any other job in the private sector.

Is government bureaucracy really bad? It can be. To get simple things done (for example, a reassignment or a detail), there are too many channels of approval.

Kirk Mensah



Asylum officer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

How long have you worked in government? Twenty-five years—since 1992.

What’s the best part of your job? Helping people.

Why did you get into public service? To help people. I’ve been interested in human-rights work for many years and have spent over 15 years working with refugees. It started when the government created a new unit, recruiting specialists like me to create this program and run it. Before I had to come to the government, asking if they could protect these people; now I can offer that amnesty directly to those who need it, on a case-by-case basis.

Michael Knowles



Federal Pretrial Services officer, Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.

How long have you worked in government? Five years. I served in the military 2002 through 2008, started working here 2013.

Why public service? I used to be a police officer for four years. I decided I wanted to get more in-depth with helping others with co-occurring [mental health disorders and substance abuse] disorders. It’s my calling and my purpose.

What do people misunderstand about public service? That we only work in policy or only in legislation. I don’t think people realize the government is bigger than what you see on CNN. We are in hospitals, pharmacies, everywhere.

Is the bureaucracy inside government really bad? I think sometimes things are only articulated from the leadership standpoint. You never see the employees out there picking up the pieces, so people attack an agency or attack the head of the agency because they don’t identify with the workers. They don’t see [that] we are normal, everyday people.

Audrey Smith
Jacqueline Tillery, lead child and youth program assistant, Cody Child Development Center, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Cynthia Lee, practical nurse, Andrew Rader Health Clinic, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Vicente Lopez, adjudications officer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.



Agent to First Vice President, U.S. Department of State.

How long have you worked in government? Thirty-eight years—10 years in the military, and 12 years in my current position.

What got you into public service? I always had a calling to help. When I was in the military I would arrange different avenues for assistance. I got the job I have now because I was asked to fill a void by friends who thought I would do well in this position.

What do people misunderstand about government work? Not all employees get the feeling that we earn our money, but we do. We work just as hard as nonfederal employees do. We feel somewhat underpaid, or underutilized in certain areas, just like others do. I think the label of “federal” creates a distance, us-versus-them, but the struggle is the same.

Is government bureaucracy as bad as they say? You don’t get the feeling that someone is on Capitol Hill, fighting for you. You just don’t get that feeling.

Anthony Bishop



Federal Pretrial Services officer, Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.

How long have you worked in government? Ten years.

Why go into government work? To be able to give those without a voice a voice.

What do people misunderstand about public service? That federal government workers don’t do any work, when really they put in all the checks and balances. We set the standards for America’s workforce and negotiate fair wages.

How has your job changed with the new administration? Things have gotten more hectic. People are more on pins and needles than they were before, but the morale of my union has stayed the same. No matter what happens, workers’ rights and union rights are protected.

Francis Nichols III



Performance consultant, U.S. Coast Guard.

How long have you worked in government? Nine years. I served for 24 years in the U.S. Army and started working here February 2008.

What do people most often misunderstand about government work? A lot of people don’t understand federal employees are not the highest-paid sector. I would say 98 percent of federal workers work their hardest every day. They get underappreciated.

How has your job changed recently? I know a lot of people are worried. That’s a sign right there, because government employees are always the first ones to be under attack.

Lydell King
Nate James, IT specialist, Environmental Protection Agency.
Joel Colf, refugee officer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.



Social policy analyst, Department of Housing and Urban Development.

How long have you worked in government? Eleven years.

What do people misunderstood about government jobs? The work that we do as federal employees is important in order for the country to prosper.

What do you wish people knew? Federal employees are often viewed as lazy employees who only do the bare minimum. Most of the people that I know and work with can make a lot more money in the private sector, but they choose to stay within the federal government because it is important to them to make a difference.

Ashaki Robinson Johns

6/27/17: An earlier version misspelled the last names of Francis Nichols III and Ashiaki Robinson Johns. We regret the error.

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