Private v public employees

I’ve been working on a project for the past ten years. The short version is I am trying to reintroduce a nearly extinct subspecies of cutthroat trout - the Greenback cutthroat trout - into streams in Colorado.
I am a citizen volunteer with an environmental group in this endeavor. I have to work with the US Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ever accomplish my goal of getting these trout in the streams.
I’m retired but worked my entire life in the private sector as a business owner, except for a few years at the Forest Service. I currently struggle to get much cooperation from the public entities mentioned. I have formed relationships with these folks but then it can go a month and two or three requests to get a voice or email reply. I was even totally ghosted by two Forest Service employees. They act as if their always buried in work.
My question is… what does everyone think about who, generally, works harder, public or private people. I know it of course varies but what you think?
Sorry for the long ramble, I’m pretty new here.

IME working in IT selling to many dozen local through state governments …

The legal, regulatory, and bureaucratic restrictions on any given government worker’s / manager’s discretion are legion. Which is little different from the situation in a Fortune 500 corp. If all your experience is in small-ish biz with an e.g. 1- to 10-person management team, I suggest that experience of decisiveness and speed in your organization is setting up unrealistic expectations. Most managers can’t decide; they’re not allowed to. What they are allowed to do is create a campaign that gets elevated through a series of organized mandatory hoops to eventually get a decision made 3 or 4 layers higher than you might expect and involving 10 to 100x as many side considerations as you might expect. All carefully documented.


As a separate matter, the thing I most noted dealing with middle managers was that they were simply overwhelmed with volume. Unlike in the private sector, there is simply zero correlation between the resources provided and the workload imposed. A badly under-resourced department in a corporation eventually loses the firm enough sales that the business fails, or they get the resources they need to quit losing sales. In government, the public delivers the workload, the legislature delivers the budget, and the two need not match.

Long waiting lines at your local DMV are a practical example of this. A McDonalds with lines so long it took 2 hours to order your Big Mac would be gone in a week. The DMV could be an in-and-out-in-a-few-minutes experience if they had as many clerks (and workstations) as they had demand for services. But they don’t, so it isn’t.

Farther into the bowels of any government bureaucracy the shortfalls may not be as externally obvious. But IME they are there.


The last item, and I’m trying to be delicate here:
The fact you’re on a mission to introduce a species doesn’t mean those organizations have to embrace your mission. They have a mission; several of them in fact. One of which is not screwing up existing stressed ecosystems. You certainly know more about the details than I do, but the approval process for a species introduction may take a couple years and involve a $100K of study by outside eco-experts. If that’s true, it might take 3 years to bubble to budget request far enough up to get it approved. So for the next 5 years there is nothing for them to talk to you about. And no practical way to speed up the process. So you trying the “squeaky wheel gets grease” approach can quickly turn into “squeaky wheel gets ignored as a clueless irritant”


My current Fortune 500 employer just announced approval for a long-overdue retrofit to a large quantity of obsolete factory equipment. This “should” have been done 10 years ago. After 5 years of internal wrangling between manufacturing & finance, they proudly announced approval for the retrofit. To start 1Q2024 and finish around 2030. Big moves slow.

Agree with @LSLGuy . I think you’re making a mistake in assuming that the difficulties you’re having is because of “working hard” differentials.

There are at least three factors that could come into play:

  1. Does your project meet the priorities of the government agency?

  2. Are there legal hoops to go through to implement your project?

  3. How well-resourced is the government agency?

Number 1 is probably the most important. A government agency has its policy and operational priorities set by the relevant elected officials, and by its statutory mandate. If your Project Cutthroat Trout doesn’t fit high in the priority list for the agency, it won’t get much attention.

Number 2 is something that private companies don’t have to deal with in the same way. The statutory mandate, coupled with administrative rules for the implementation of that mandate, must be complied with. The agency might think that Project Cutthroat Trout has merit, but as LSLGuy says, there may be a need for environmental reviews, whether statutory or as a matter of internal policy, before it can proceed. If there’s something like that happening, then there isn’t much point in talking with you until that phase has been completed.

Number 3 is also a big one. Resources. An agency will have a wide variety of statutory mandates that it must do. It will also have a fixed budget, that it has to get renewed every year, and a fixed number of employees. Within those resource restraints, it must carry out its statutory mandate. It’s not like a business, where high performance brings in more profits, allowing expansions. For a government agency, even if it carries out its statutory mandate to perfection, that will not bring in more money, allowing more hires, because governement agencies aren’t set up on a for-profit model. High performance does not increase the agency’s resources. So even if Project Cutthroat is high on the list of priorities, and even if the regulatory framework would potentially allow it, implementation of Project Cutthroat will depend on what the agency’s budget is, how many people it’s got assigned to it, and so on.

None of this has anything to do with whether public employees work more or less harder than private employees. It ultimately has to do with the priorities assigned by the political process, and the resources that the public is willing to allocate to the process.

LSLGuy’s mention of motor vehicle agency is a good example. If there is a major mismatch between the high volume of business assigned to an agency, and the low level of resources assigned to it, then there will be huge delays. That’s not because the employees in the DMV are lazy; it’s because with the best will in the world, if they don’t have the resources to get the job done promptly, it won’t get done promptly. Taxpayers get the level of service they’re prepared to pay for.

(as an aside, when I first started posting here on the SDMB, I didn’t understand why the DMV offices in the States have such a poor reputation, and then from following the discussions, I realised it. In my province of Canada, the government has farmed out all the motor vehicle and driver licence functions to private insurance agencies. I renew my plates and my driver’s licence at the same insurance agency that I have house insurance with. Since the insurance agencies get a piece of the premiums, it’s a business for them, subject to normal business rules, unlike a government agency. I can be in and out with a new driver’s licence or renewed plates in 10 minutes or less.

But you socialists down south insist on keeping this as a government function, instead of unleashing the power of the market to improve service. :wink: )

Thanks for those those two enlightening responses. Not being sarcastic. I do realize that the wheels of the bureaucracy grind slowly, but I guess you guys are saying it’s more glacial than slow.
I have been working closely with two representatives from each agency and the communication between us has been pretty good overall. My main issue has been the sporadic ghosting. I don’t think it takes much effort to type an email that says “Hello, currently seeking approval from my superiors, will get back to you” . Maybe 15 seconds for that?
As I mentioned, I did work for Forest Service for a few years early in my career. I saw a lot of donut eating and Monday football talk from the higher ups. In the private sector that would be death as you’ve mentioned. Just saying that it can be frustrating dealing with government agency folks but I understand your points.

To afd on to this: when the mismatch clearly makes it structurally impossible to ever meet expectations, you aren’t motivated to try. It’s not like having a crunch time at work when you are under resourced but have reason to hope that there will be a change in the future. In that sort of circumstance, you’re motivated to work extra hard to try to keep your head above water until things improve. But when things aren’t going to improve, you think more in terms of finding your own personal priorities and boundaries.

Yes, and there is another factor which is that people sometimes demand a service that taxpayers as a group are unwilling to pay for example and sometimes want contradictory things. To use the DMV office as an example. I have been driving for over 40 years. The only times I have actually needed to go to DMV in person have been to change the type of license I had, to get a new photo or to register a “new to me” car. ( and even that registration could be done by a private service bureau for a fee). The problem is that when I go there to do what I must do in person, the place is full of people who waited too long to renew their license/registration and can’t do it online or by mail. Pre-COVID , it was possible to make appointments and not have a long wait , but many people did not want to plan that far in advance. But you need more funding to have people coming in person with no need for appointments and also a short wait.

What does that have to do with the OP? In addition to what everyone else has said about the agency’s priorities and decision making process , keeping outside people updated is low priority. Even keeping people inside the agency updated might not be all that high-priority - when I was working, it was not unusual for me to tell someone " I can either work on the projects or give you daily updates on the projects - you choose". Sure , it takes 15 seconds for me to answer your email - now multiply it by all the people who want that 15 second email and how often they want it.

Maybe , but it depends. I’ve had friends and relatives who work in the private sector who can’t understand why I couldn’t have 30 minute phone conversations during the workday. I’m pretty sure they spent time eating donuts and talking about their weekend , too.

I can definitively state that EVERY career government employee who is currently in the same room with me is a lazy goldbrick who spends WAY too much time on the Dope! :smiley:

IMO, every organization - public or private - has its share of hard workers and goldbricks. I seriously question the assumption that private employees do not waste time. And if efficiency and service is the metric, maybe we should discuss our success in fighting through a private company’s phone menu and dealing with any human (IF you are able to reach one!) And tell me about how well the average retail employee knows their stock, and are willing to exert themselves to help you.

I suspect gov’t employees are pretty dependable at doing what is within their defined duties. When you ask them to do something outside those duties, I suspect you are more likely to receive less dependable service.

I agree with this.

I work with many government employees. Some are very hard working, and the taxpayers are definitely getting their money’s worth out of them. Others do nothing of value; they spend all of their time trying to figure out how to advance themselves without doing any real work. This is usually done by becoming friends with those in upper management, and taking credit for work performed by others.

Want to swap health care systems?

People eat at McD fairly often, sometimes once a week, but it is optional. People need to go to the DMV maybe once every four years.

In most states, you can get almost everything you need from the DMV at your local AAA Auto club. Or online or by mail.

What you say is certainly true. I don’t see it as relevant. I’m kinda obtuse today; what’s your point?

Let us say people are willing to wait 10 minutes for Fast Food, once a month.

Say two hours a year then? So you are willing to wait two hours a year to get fast food, how then is two hours every 4 years all that bad?

Thanks for the clarification; I totally did not get that angle. Like I said, I’m having an obtuse day.

Long waiting lines probably come from the powers that be underfunding the DMV and thus guaranteeing long wait times. It doesn’t have to be this way. The last time I went in person, to renew my license and get the RealID license, I was out of there before my official appointment time. The employees were all great. The guy who did eye tests pulled people out of a waiting line to give it to us, to make best use of dead time.
Much better than most private industry.
Ditto for social security. Go in there and wait, or make an appointment and breeze through. You could wait less if Congress gave more money, but that would be increasing the budget - oh, the horror.

Yeah, quiet quitting is not a government only activity. My Fortune 500 company stopped giving raises for most people, even in good times, and then was shocked when people stopped coming in early and leaving late.
Not any real difference between government and industry, except that industry doesn’t have some funders actively trying to break the services.
I have a friend who used to be treasurer of a large state. When his boss lost the election, he got a job in a quasi-governmental agency, not government really but not private industry either. His pay skyrocketed and his stress level plummeted. Lots of government workers are badly underpaid.

If the OP thinks dealing with the Federal government is bad, they should try working with a Fortune Top 10 company.

And in my case they were paying for our services, and we billed by the hour.

Nope, that’s not what I’m saying; I’m not saying that government projects always move slowly; I’m saying it depends on the circumstances.

I’ve seen local infrastructure projects move very quickly, because they were high priorities for the local government, and they were well-funded.

I’m not entirely sure this holds up, but it strikes me that another possible distinction is that, even when you aren’t trying to get the government to help you with your pet project - or even to renew your license/apply for Social Security - the governmental entity is working in ways that you benefit from. It just isn’t a direct interaction. We each benefit from drivers licenses being properly administered, and from earnings and Social Security entitlements being monitored. I’m not sure private entities are working for you in a similar way - with a goal that isn’t making a profit off of you.

But I guess that is somewhat different that the proposition that more private employees are harder working that most public employees. Yeah, I guess that characterization does piss me off more than I originally let on. The OP’s interaction with wonderfully nimble large private organizations that are eager to take on my pet projects is obviously different than my experience.

But if a private company is not giving me something of value, I’m not going to be a customer much longer and they won’t make a profit off of me. Making a profit in the long term is not at odds with providing good products and service. Though with the emphasis on quarterly results it might be hard for some CEOs to get this.

this is spot on.

It’s not even quiet quitting. It can be earnest and hard work, but you aren’t really trying to meet impossible expectations. Like, here is what the state of Texas saying you should teach in a regular (not AP) Junior English class. It’s utterly impossible for anyone, ever, to teach all that in a year, unless you had about 25 kids total and a half day with them, every day. The committee making the list of “required knowledge and skills” has no connection to the people teaching. It’s just a wish list of everything they wish kids knew. When someone tells you with a straight face that you need to teach all that in a year, it’s so unbelievably clueless to the reality of how learning works, or how long it takes to teach a concept, that you just can’t take it seriously. It’s just ludicrous. So you set your own expectations. And in my experience, a lot of people set very ambitious expectations because they still do take pride in doing a good job. But it’s internal.

I imagine someone coming into the DMV and telling them that they expect wait time to be like under 10 minutes or whatever gets the same reaction. It’s just so ridiculously impossible that you don’t even worry about it. You know no one, anywhere, is going to be able to do that within current constraints.