The biggest lie about government

The biggest lie about government
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There is a joke I used to tell when I was running for Congress in 1976 and have told in the years since. It is about the three biggest lies. Lie number one is, “The check is in the mail.” Lie number two is, “I will love you as much in the morning as I do tonight.” And lie number three is, “I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help you.”

Making fun of the federal government gets lots of laughs. Americans are skeptical of authority in general and love to complain about government specifically. But the truth is that the federal government is extremely helpful to millions of Americans. The Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making the federal government more effective for the American people, recently gave awards to creative, career federal public servants who have done amazing jobs to save the taxpayers enormous sums of money. Most federal employees appreciate the responsibility that they bear when their salaries are paid by the taxpayer.

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A team of civil servants from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice halted a scheme by Volkswagen to circumvent U.S. auto emission standards, which led to the indictment of Volkswagen executives and billions of dollars in civil and criminal fines, penalties and other settlements. The work of these civil servants helped consumers recoup money and helped create a cleaner environment for all.

Civil servants from the Veterans Health Administration designed innovative wheelchairs and other assistive technologies, including a wheelchair with robotic arms and hands that can grasp personal items and enable disabled war heroes to access terrain manual wheelchairs could not traverse. A team of civil servants from the Treasury Department led an investigation to stop a massive fraud attempt involving nearly 2 million threatening phone calls to American citizens seeking fraudulent tax collection. The work of these men and women led to the indictment of 61 people and a 90 percent reduction in the number of these fake calls.

A civilian federal employee with the Marine Corps developed body armor that is 45 percent lighter and equally protective for the men and women in service. And a team from the Food and Drug Administration office that regulates medical tests and devices approved the first artificial pancreas prototype three years faster than expected, transforming the lives of the 1.2 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, who must constantly monitor blood sugar levels and correctly dose insulin for their very survival. There are many more examples, like America’s seniors relying on the efficiencies of Social Security and Medicare personnel to maintain a decent lifestyle and pay for critical medical care.

The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, awarded by the Partnership for Public Service, have been given out now for 16 years to recognize amazing federal employees and their accomplishments in health research on cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's at the National Institutes of Health, plant and animal disease protection at the Department of Agriculture, containing the Ebola crisis in Africa, helping farmers and rural Americans on a daily basis, assisting our courageous military personnel perform their jobs more easily, and flat out saving taxpayers money.

I saw the dedication to service by these men and women first hand during my years as Secretary of Agriculture. Our brave firefighters at the Forest Service put their lives on the line every day to save people and their homes from dangerous and increasingly destructive forest fires. Our food safety personnel were successfully working, often with state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to prevent foodborne diseases like salmonella and e.coli from sickening or even killing consumers. And the research team at USDA works continuously to prevent plant and animal diseases from spreading worldwide, helping stave off food shortages and hunger.

Government isn’t perfect. Mistakes are made, and the high profile ones always find their way into the headlines. It is true that there is waste, fraud and abuse to be rooted out, even improper use of private aircraft at the Cabinet level. But overall, we can be proud of the exceptional service of the folks who work for the taxpayers of America on a daily basis. We should remind ourselves that the biggest lie is that the federal government doesn’t help Americans.

Dan Glickman served as U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Clinton and represented Kansas in Congress for 18 years. He is now an executive director at the Aspen Institute and a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. You can follow him on Twitter @DanRGlickman.