Each and every day, dedicated and committed federal employees are hard at work serving their fellow Americans. Whether they are defending our borders, safeguarding the food we eat and the water we drink, or inspecting our drugs and medical devices, these dedicated public servants are committed to doing the things that preserve and protect the American way of life.

Yet, these vital services and the employees that provide them are rarely discussed in the debate about how to address our nation’s deficit and fix our economy. Instead, in the quest to address our debt, proposals for cuts have gone too far in the wrong direction. Such deep cuts will have devastating effects on our nation’s recovery.

Moreover, many agencies, already working without sufficient staff and resources, are examining where to cut even further. Many have asked for buyout authority to trim the workforce without layoffs. While we support efforts to avoid pink slips, encouraging the most experienced employees to leave results in a loss of institutional knowledge, hurts
training efforts and hinders the agencies’ ability to fulfill their critical missions and serve the American people.

Consider that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has faced chronic underfunding for years. Yet, a House Committee has proposed more than $242 million in cuts. That means 2,000 fewer food inspections of domestic and foreign food and medical product firms, 10,000 fewer import inspections and 6,000 fewer laboratory sample analyses of food and medical products.

At Customs and Border Protection (CBP), there has been a net decrease of 500 CBP Officers positions between 2009 and 2011. This not only weakens our security at ports of entry and border crossings, but is also undermines CBP’s collection of trade revenue. CBP collected $2
billion less in 2009 than it did just a few years earlier.

Despite the increasing importance of policing Wall Street, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has suffered through years of frozen and reduced budgets. During this period, trading volume has more than doubled, and, since 2003, the number of investment advisers has grown by roughly 50 percent, and the funds they manage have increased nearly 55 percent to $33 trillion. Despite these cuts, in 2010, the SEC returned $2.2 billion to cheated investors.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protects Americans in a different way: from risks to human health and the environment where they live and work. However, its budget proposal in the House cuts funding by 18 percent and caps personnel. This would have a devastating effect on addressing environmental problems that could harm this American people.

Nonetheless, Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann said, “And I guarantee you the EPA will have doors locked and lights turned off…”

Sadly, this has become the pattern for some in Congress and on the campaign trail. Rather than addressing key issues such as jobs, home foreclosures or rising prices, they have set up the federal employee as a straw man to distract the public from the real problems
that face our nation. This must stop.

Therefore, the National Treasury Employees Union is stepping up with the “They Work for U.S.” public service campaign to respond to these attacks and to give Americans a full and honest discussion about the services they depend on. The truth is that while federal employees touch our lives in innumerable ways, few Americans stop to consider
the important contributions they make and how their lives would be affected without those services.

It is time for that to change, and we ask our leaders in Washington to step forward and join us in acknowledging the important contributions of federal employees and recognize that by working together we can resolve our nation’s fiscal challenges and preserve the quality of life and values that make our country great.

Colleen M. Kelley is national president of the National Treasury Employees Union.