The Basics of Government


Government is the system through which people organize themselves to create and enforce rules, manage society’s security needs, provide benefits to citizens and fulfill other essential functions. A country’s specific form of government depends on its ideals, which may include a commitment to egalitarianism, or to destroying socioeconomic inequalities; whether it supports a philosophy that favors the safety and well-being of all citizens, or just those who are considered to be most “deserving”; and what level of freedom, or degree of social control it desires.

Most governments exist at the state, city, township or village level, and are formed to meet the specific needs of the population they serve. At the local level, the primary functions of government are providing education, ensuring public safety, ensuring adequate housing and addressing infrastructure needs, and serving as an economic driver. The role of government in providing these services can vary greatly depending on the size and structure of the nation, but all forms of government have at least one common trait: the authority to tax and spend money.

In a democracy, the power of the government comes from its people through elections, in which voters choose representatives to represent them at the local, state and national levels. The representatives in turn allocate money to address the community’s needs. The type of money allocated is determined by the goals of the government, which may be as broad as promoting economic prosperity, securing borders and national security or as narrow as ensuring that all citizens receive quality education, health care and housing.

While private businesses often complain about the burden of government regulation, these regulations are necessary to protect consumers from exploitation and to ensure that companies compete fairly with others. Governments also regulate the safety of products and services, set standards for environmental protection, and ensure that the rights of citizens are protected.

Many government jobs allow employees to work remotely, either full or part time. The federal government offers telework programs that provide opportunities for qualified employees to work from home, at their employer’s site or another location approved by the agency. Some agencies also offer alternative work schedules that allow employees to balance the demands of work with their personal and family responsibilities, such as compressed and flexible work schedules or job sharing.

Government programs are designed to support the well-being of the workforce. Some examples of these programs are subsidized child care, tuition reimbursement for employees and their children, and financial assistance with educational loans. Most agencies also have Employee Assistance Programs, which are staffed by trained counselors to help employees cope with stressors in their lives. The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, flexible spending accounts and survivor benefits are other examples of programs that assist with the cost of medical expenses for Federal employees and their families. For more information on these and other programs, contact the human resources office at your agency.