Careers in Government: An Overview

Author:  Yeva Ragauskayte

Have you been hearing about the NSA or FBI on the news lately? Or how about the CIA, NASA, and FDA?  This alphabet soup of government agencies appears in the news often, as they are responsible for the well-being, safety and happiness of United States citizens.  These agencies, along with other departments and branches of government take care of homeland security, the environment, health issues and many other basic concerns of the country.  In order to ensure that these agencies can handle a wide variety of problems, they employ many professionals to take care of administrative research duties.  Science positions are especially important because the federal government depends on the latest technological and scientific developments to keep the country at its peak performance in serving its citizens and in international relations.

There are various government agencies to choose from and careers for every type of specialty and personality.  After all, there are so many aspects to running a country smoothly and the government needs talented and able people for the different positions offered.  These positions are often competitive, requiring strong skills in organization, cooperation, leadership, diplomacy, research and communication.  Government employees are usually paid well, receive many benefits, are compensated for any difficult working conditions and enjoy job security that cannot always be found in the private sector.  Below are listed the general categories of careers and some of the types of jobs available in each. 


National Security

The United States government has to ensure the safety of its borders and the lives of its citizens from any intrusions or attacks by foreign enemies.  This task requires the collaboration of government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—all of which need specialists from all scientific fields.  For example, they need engineers, technicians, and computer specialists to keep all their advanced technology and information systems running without glitches.   There is also a constant need for advancement and thus engineers are in high demand. 


Domestic Security

The government also has a duty to protect its citizens within the country’s borders from criminals that might cause harm to others.  Here, agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also employ computer specialists for their advanced investigative technology as well as science specialists in areas like forensics and narcotics to catch criminals.  The latest advances in science allow agencies like the FBI to figure out mysterious crime scenes.  Such a field requires specialist from anthropologists and geologists to dentists and ballistics experts. 


Armed Services

The military is known for its promotion of rapid technological advances, especially in developing tools of warfare.  Many national labs work to discover better ways and equipment that would improve the country’s offensive and defensive capabilities.  This requires advanced knowledge and experts in all scientific fields.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) develops satellites, conducts space exploration, and builds amazing aviation machines.  The armed services also employ medical and health specialists, physicists, geologists and a whole range of other scientific personnel.


Public Health and Medicine

The government is responsible for the health of its citizens and it ensures that health through various public health and medicine programs.  Public health focuses on large healthcare issues, disease and epidemic prevention, health policy, health education and medical relief.  The government has specific agencies that employ administrators, medical professionals, scientists (such as epidemiologist) and public policy officials.  Education requirements for this field vary but most require a graduate degree in public health or a related health management field. The U.S. government also sponsors many research programs in the medical field and often employs medical doctors and scientists for its projects.


Environmental Safety

The environment and the limited resources it provides need to be protected from overuse and pollution due to human consumption and industrialization.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the major governmental agencies dedicated to this mission.  By protecting the fragile environment, the government ensures the well-being of individuals as well as their livelihood.   As one can imagine, such an agency also employs many scientists, administrators, environmental experts, engineers, public policy officials and environmental policy enforcement officials. 


Public Policy

The key to running a country through all the above areas is a good foundation of public policy that guides the actions that government takes and that regulates all the above mentioned areas.  Public policy requires politicians and all the people that research important issues, present them and hope to enhance the well-being and efficiency of the country.  This wide category includes not only politicians but also lawyers, specialists, grass-roots organizations, non-profit organizations and all those that bring public policy to the table and get it passed or thrown out. 


When considering a government career one must also consider the general aspects of education requirements, salaries, benefits and some more specific issues like security clearance.  Government employees usually enjoy job stability and benefits such as health insurance, vacation time and extra privileges that may come with the responsibilities of a certain position.  Salaries range widely because so many different types of positions at all levels, from secretarial to administrative, are available. According to the March 2005 OPM, the average full-time biological gov’t scientist makes $62,057 per year, while the physical scientist makes $84,302.  There is also a great variation in the required level of education for these jobs.  Some positions may only require a high school diploma while positions that require a lot of knowledge and responsibility may require professional degrees.  Government work is often very competitive to get into since there are a large number of qualified applicants and furthermore, many positions that open up are filled by transferring or promoting other government employees.  However, many feel that the benefits and stability of working for the government are worth the hard work and competition.  Applicants must also be U.S. citizens, which may be a large hindrance for otherwise very qualified candidates.  U.S. citizenship is required to ensure loyalty to the government one is directly working for and to prevent leaks of classified information or espionage.  Extensive background checks are the norm for applicants that need to obtain security clearance, which is why applicants are advised to start the application process a few months early.

The Internet is one of the best sources when looking for a government career.  Websites dedicated to exactly this purpose like provide links to government agencies that are looking for employees and give further direction on how to acquire applications from the agencies. 


For more information: 


USA Jobs

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

U.S. Department of State Careers

“The Federal Government: Limitless Career Opportunities”—Gary Weaver

 “Uncle Sam Wants Just a Few of You”--  Kemba J. Dunham

“Spies Like You”-- Anne Baye Ericksen