55

I am interested in working for the government in the US at the federal, state or city level. Obviously everyone has their own political views, but how important is it to share the views of the elected official of the government you are working for? Could it impact the hiring process or the actual workplace? Are they pretty hardcore on making sure you have the exact same political views as them?

I'm looking at more back office functions like finance, analytics, etc...

  • 3
    So, what happens when the elected official changes? When the new one no longer shares the same views? Do you just change yours? – Oded Aug 20 at 19:21
117

Full disclosure. My father, my uncle, my brother, and I have all worked for the government.

The best approach to a government job is simply to keep your political opinions to yourself. When I worked for one agency, I stopped posting on social media, and stepped down from a moderator position on a political board.

The office politics are complicated by the actual politics, but I have seen people hired and promoted regardless of their politics provided they don't cause trouble. Keep social media calm, don't campaign for anyone, and don't attack others for their politics, and you should be safe both during the hiring process AND while employed.

| improve this answer | |
  • 25
    In the UK, we have the Civil Service Code, which requires political impartiality (without, I think, defining it in detail). – Paul D. Waite Aug 19 at 9:33
  • 13
    @PaulD.Waite I believe this is a key difference between the US and the UK, in that high ranking government employees are conventionally political appointees in the US, but impartial civil servants in the UK - for example the UK's national security adviser is a civil servant, but their counterpart in the US is a political appointee. – James_pic Aug 19 at 11:48
  • 6
    @PaulD.Waite here in the USA right now, people are being targetted for their party affiliation, keeping things low key is best – Old_Lamplighter Aug 19 at 13:08
  • 17
    In the UK, civil servants work for Her Majesty the Queen - not for the Government. The Armed Forces swear allegiance to the Crown - not the Government. So insulating the mechanics of government from the politics of The Government is something useful that the Queen does. – Oscar Bravo Aug 19 at 13:19
  • 9
    Important note: In several jurisdictions of the United States, it is actually illegal for certain people in a government-related job to support their candidate of choice, if it is in connection with their job. This includes things like using office equipment for printing, but generally don't include things like privately chatting with your friends about your personal politics. – Zibbobz Aug 19 at 17:46
31

In the US, political views are largely protected by both state and federal law, e.g., see this page from the EEOC.

Generally, if you keep your personal views to yourself and don't allow personal beliefs to impact your ability to conduct your work, you will have no trouble. This is true for both private and public sector employment.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid volunteering your personal beliefs in hiring unless they are relevant to your performance in prospective or past roles (e.g., don't volunteer who you voted for in the last election)
  • Do your diligence before interviewing if you believe there could be a conflict between your values and your job responsibilities (e.g., don't apply for roles in the office that implements abortion policy if you have strong views on abortion)
  • Avoid overt displays of your personal values at work (e.g., don't wear a provocative shirt to work, dressing professionally is always better)
  • Raise a concern with your employer if you ever feel like you can't act according to your personal values at work (e.g., your fellow employees don't make you feel welcome because of your political views)
  • It's okay to discuss your views and ideas with work colleagues outside of work (e.g., at a friendly gathering after work), and you should expect that your treatment at work is not influenced by disclosures in social settings (so long as what you share doesn't impact your ability to perform your job).

Best of luck with the job search!

| improve this answer | |
  • 20
    +1, but I would offer caution on the last bullet. When I worked for State government, my supervisor at the time shared her strong opinions against state legislative and gubernatorial leadership - in a social setting, with her peers. Word got around perhaps innocently, but her position was close enough to elected officials that she was made redundant very quickly. You should not have a problem, but I would proceed with caution. – Mikey Aug 19 at 14:33
  • 21
    -1 for that last bullet point. It seems naive and could be dangerous. In an ideal world, your political views wouldn't be relevant, but we don't live in an ideal world and are not surrounded by ideal, reasonable people who can separate work and social life that cleanly. It's neither fair, ideal, nor reasonable, but one should expect that their treatment at work will absolutely, most definitely be influenced by disclosures in social settings. – T.J.L. Aug 19 at 14:46
  • 6
    Subtle distinction: political affiliation is protected against discrimination. This does not necessarily map exactly to political views. The degree to which it does is argued by lawyers in a lawsuit you do not want to be involved in. The first three bullet points will help to avoid such a lawsuit in the first place. The last two may encourage one. – Michael Aug 19 at 14:51
  • is political affiliation protected in private industry or only in government jobs? i.e can my boss fire me if I put a trump sticker on my truck? – Billy Aug 21 at 1:15
  • @Billy: It varies; see e.g. rothmangordon.com/…. But U.S. politics have become so polarized that a sticker for a presidential candidate seems to be asking for bad coworker relationships, so I wouldn't recommend it even if you live somewhere where you can't be fired for it. – ruakh Aug 21 at 18:11
17

I've worked in state and federal positions for about a decade now. Some of those roles have brought me close to elected officials, so I can speak from a bit of experience.

Should your political views match those of your bosses? If your position is a government position and you are hired as a staff member, then your political views will be largely irrelevant. There are a few situations where your views may matter a lot:

  • You are a political appointee. In this case, you are likely "hired" based almost entirely on your views matching your boss's.
  • You aren't a government employee, but working in the office of an elected official (perhaps as legislative staff, campaign staff, personal advisor, etc.).
  • You aren't an appointee, but you are very visible and have significant discretion over policy choices.

As a staff member in a government office, you will be expected to enact public policy whether you agree with it or not. Your own beliefs and values should not influence how well you do your job. All of the offices I've worked in enforce a very clear code of conduct which includes non-partisanship. You should expect people to discuss public policy in a professional tone based on the function of your office, department, and specific job.

Federal jobs may fall under the Hatch Act, which describes what kind of political activities are allowed. The specifics will vary based on what kind of job you have. Some state and local offices opt to follow the Hatch Act, even though they aren't required too.

During the hiring process, it's best not to discuss your political views unless asked. Offering your views up front may indicate that you aren't able to perform your job in a professional, non-partisan way. It is acceptable to answer questions about your field, but do so in a non-political way. For example, if you were an auditor in a Department of Labor you could expect questions about fraud in unemployment programs. This isn't a question about you personal political views, but about the job of being an auditor and their business environment.

| improve this answer | |
11

how important is it (during the hiring process and in the work place) to have the same views as the elected official of the government you are working for. Are they pretty hardcore on making sure you have the exact same political views as them?

It depends almost entirely on the position, and the part of government in which you would work.

Some roles are appointed by each administration. For those roles, compatible political views are likely important.

Other roles persist through and across administrations. For those roles, it would likely be best to keep strong political views to yourself.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Precisely. If you have a job that you competed for through a normal interview/merit process like working in a post office or department of motor vehicles office, your politics are irrelevant. If you have a job where you are selected by an elected official and you can be fired at their whim such as a deputy sheriff (in many states) or Deputy Commissioner of a cabinet-level office, then it matters a lot because you are supposed to be loyal to the administration and helping them execute their policies. – David Schwartz Aug 21 at 5:18
8

What the other posters haven't yet mentioned is that the vast majority of their experiences are before the current administration. There was a long history of government agencies being rabidly apolitical in order to attract top talent who were looking to make a career out of this.

Obviously this does not include political appointees and cabinet secretaries that change when administrations change, but they're expected to follow the advice and counsel of the career government workers despite not being required to share the same political neutrality.

Unfortunately, the last 3 1/2 years has changed this fundamentally. Anti-retaliation legislation has become essentially worthless given the long lag time between the president firing someone and the commission case challenging his reasons for doing so, and the loss of security clearance makes it extremely difficult to transfer after an event such as this. So yes, at this point in history, it is important to share the political views of the government in power, because it is no longer an apolitical entity that values the best and the brightest.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    For the federal government, it does not go to court, it goes to a commission. There was recently an expose on 60 Minutes about this. There are three commissioners, and by law, one must be Republican and one must be Democratic. Since Trump took office, all three commissioner slots are empty, he has not appointed anyone to any of the three slots, and there are hundreds of cases unable to proceed. – DrSheldon Aug 20 at 18:53
  • 2
  • 3
    @DrSheldon: Regarding "unable to proceed" - that Wikipedia article says: "With a vacant board, its general counsel becomes the acting executive and administrative officer, and administrative judges still hear cases and issue initial decisions." That said, it definitely isn't proceeding normally. – V2Blast Aug 21 at 6:28
  • Your assessment is spot on, but the conclusion you arrive at is the opposite of what it means to live in a democracy, if we're to hold onto that concept. We have to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions instead of retreating to safe places, or we risk losing everything to a dictator. How is another question, but it's not impossible. – Rich Aug 21 at 23:20
  • @Rich I completely agree, but this is a Workplace sub, not a politics one. – Carduus Aug 23 at 17:29
7

Unless you are dealing directly with the elected ones, most chances are that your views should have no bearing on your position.

This is a great thing as you can have a long career, that should be stable.

The only exception is if you are close to the elected officials/party. In this case if your position depend on them you will probably be booted once someone else is elected are your connections were more important than your skills.

I am not sure if this was the intent of your question or if you have strong views that you need to express, if this is the case the other answers might be more relevent.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    No. I don't have strong views at all. I just don't want to feel pressured into needing to have strong views one way or the other. – confused Aug 18 at 23:52
  • 1
    @confused I work for the Dept of Mental Health for my state. We have employees with a range of political views who have had long careers with us, regardless of who has been elected to various state offices throughout the years. Having said that, if one of them was vocal about, for example, opposing some program that the dept is responsible for, or complaining about their tax dollars being used to support the dept.. you could see how that might lead their boss to believe they might not be the best fit for the job. Constructive criticism to help the dept run better is welcome, though! – Keiki Aug 20 at 16:41
  • 1
    @confused I suppose if you work for a private company and regularly slam them on Facebook or in discussions with your coworkers, you could find yourself in the same situation.. – Keiki Aug 20 at 16:45
  • @Keiki The only difference with a private company is that a government body works for the people, and not just for supporters of a particular political (or politicized) viewpoint. – Rich Aug 21 at 23:15
3

In my experience, yes. Not for professional reasons, but for your personal health.

You are seriously contemplating spending a good part of the day working against your own political beliefs, in exchange for money. In your free time, your options are either more political work that counteracts what you do during the daytime, or abstaining from politics completely, making the politics you disagree with the only political work you do.

That way lies burnout.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    So, you are saying that when the leadership changes, everybody from top to bottom should quit? – Stig Hemmer Aug 19 at 8:12
  • 4
    @StigHemmer, if there is a change in leadership, everyone from top to bottom needs to reevaluate where they stand and if they still feel comfortable enacting the policies of the new leadership. A disconnect between your own values and your own actions is unhealthy, and the system will not reward you if you disregard your own health. – Simon Richter Aug 19 at 8:34
  • 2
    OP is talking about "back office functions like finance, analytics, etc" so most of the work OP would do would be apolitical, even if the intent is to make political work easier. If OP is a rockstar at the job that could potentially lead into a position high up in the ranks where they actually have to implement policies but that's not true of almost everybody who works in government in non-elected and non-appointed positions. – gormadoc Aug 19 at 16:51
  • 1
    I think this neglects to take into account the difference between the mission of the office, agency, or administration and the political goals of the administration. 8 years is not really that much time, and before the current administration, most parts of the federal government were at least somewhat respected. There are many worthy missions undertaken by the federal workforce, and valuing the mission goes a long well into helping workers fit in, be motivated, and be fulfilled by their work. The missions rarely change with the politics. – Todd Wilcox Aug 22 at 7:05
  • 1
    @Rich, because it's the thing missing from the other answers, which already cover a wide range of philosophies -- but making a decision for oneself is not purely a philosophical choice. – Simon Richter Sep 3 at 20:53
2

Diversity = success

Speaking from personal experience, I tend toward the view that nothing gets done in an echo chamber. We have many highly successful international corporations excelling because of their diverse hiring practices.

Why would a pacifist work for a defense corporation, for example? Because it serves as a check on company practices. That company won't make DU munitions, clusterbombs, or landmines; but will focus on precision strike technology, intercept, hypersonics, ... y'know, defense.

Applied to your question then, if political loyalty is expected, you're not working for a government but a dictatorship. And going further, if your views differ from the government and you have a chance at a position in that government, then I say it's your civic duty to seek employment there.

(And after all you might get there and be surprised that others also don't share the administration's views. You'll have a coffee & donut buddy at least.)

| improve this answer | |
  • This seems more like an answer to "how should it work?" than "how does it work?", which appears to be the OP's main interest. – Geoffrey Brent Aug 28 at 0:42
  • @GeoffreyBrent I'm speaking from personal experience, confirmed by several friends and coworkers. I'm giving an answer to how it actually works, in context of the OP's main interest of "what should I do?" Hope that helps answer your concern! – Rich Aug 31 at 17:45
  • Good to hear! I'd suggest editing your answer to make it a bit clearer that you're talking about what you've experienced and not just how workplaces ought to be. – Geoffrey Brent Sep 2 at 3:59
  • @GeoffreyBrent Why on earth would anyone read this as a wishlist rather than speaking from experience? Goodness... – Rich Sep 3 at 18:27
  • 1
    Unfortunately, SO gets a lot of answers from people who are offering personal opinions about things they may not actually be familiar with - when the answer doesn't clarify that it's based on experience, it's sometimes hard to tell the voice of experience from the armchair experts. The "it's your civic duty" part of the answer, in particular, reads much more like "this is how things ought to be" than "this is how things are". – Geoffrey Brent Sep 4 at 2:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .