Opinion

Why I Left Federal Service

This week was my last in the federal government. I could wax poetic about the amazing adventures, connections and insight I’ve gained over the past six years working to protect our National Parks and public lands, but suffice to say, it’s been a privilege to be a civil servant. One of President Trump’s first moves was to deliver on a campaign promise and impose a federal hiring freeze, even though studies have shown cutting services increases costs over the long run. The language in the executive order was hostile, with misleading statistics. Many federal employees get paid worse than their private sector colleagues, and the reward is fulfilling an honorable mission in service of the American public and working with equally passionate, talented people. I’m sick of the scapegoating, long hours, low pay and rigid advancement structure. While some employees don’t carry their fair share of work, the majority of feds want to make a positive difference and pour their soul into their jobs. I am so proud to have helped implement a progressive public lands agenda, and have no interest in helping dismantle protections, especially when I can continue to fight the good fight elsewhere.

With the onslaught of executive orders out of the gate, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and eventually to tune out or normalize. As a reminder, comedian John Oliver suggested taping a note to your fridge that says “This is not normal.” To cut through the miasma, activists suggest picking one or two causes to focus on as an individual. The battles I’m picking are the environment, the stewardship of which is the underpinning of our continued existence. I love that the National Park Service is leading the alt social media revolution, but hopefully climate change retweets can be translated into more tangible actions to advance science and transparency. The second is women’s access to reproductive care, including birth control and abortion. Besides donating, I’ve signed up to volunteer with Planned Parenthood.

I’m also subscribing to news organizations, because journalists are on the front lines of calling out this administration’s blatant and unapologetic lies. While I fault the media pre-election for giving Trump so much airtime and treating his actions with false equivalence, a free press is essential to a free citizenry. What I’m not sure of is how to bridge the gap and talk to people face to face in such a polarized world where we’re not all getting accurate information because of social media bubbles. Some of my new colleagues worked on the Trump campaign — while I disagree with their political views, it’s been interesting to get to know them and to be reminded that people are just people who basically want similar things. These types of conservations and growing bonds (hopefully) are happening right now across our government agencies. How do we bring similar discourse into our daily lives, where we might not cross paths with someone who holds different views?

It took me a long time to warm up to the Federal City, having tasted the purple mountain majesty of America’s western landscapes. Two days in a row after President Trump’s first week in office, I biked past protesters outside the White House on my commute home from work, mobilizing first against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the second in support of refugees. I felt swells of pride to live in such a progressive city, one that will continue to be hostile to an administration that is intent on carrying out decisions that make America less safe and less free. Living in DC is frustrating, since our representatives in Congress don’t have the power to vote, and DC is disproportionately affected by the whims of a hostile Congress (read: Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz’s exploration of moving parts of DC to Maryland and his pledge to block the District’s right-to-die law). What we denizens of the District can do is show up at the government’s front door.

Never forget that the government works for you, not the other way around. See you in the streets.

Leah Duran is an ex-park ranger, writer and stalwart supporter of the environment.