Britain's biggest civil service union is balloting 280,000 workers in 200 government departments and agencies about possible strike action.
There is anger over job cuts and low pay in the civil service
The Public and Commercial Services Union says action could start on 31 January to coincide with the deadline for self-assessment tax returns.
It said workers were angry at compulsory job losses, below-inflation pay offers and outsourcing.
The Cabinet Office said the service had to change to meet expectations.
Union officials say a "yes" vote could mark the start of the longest period of disruption for 20 years.
If approved, the 24-hour strike would hit revenue offices, job centres, driving examinations, and many other sectors.
The union also warned that it would keep up the pressure with an overtime ban and other "surprise industrial action".
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka blamed Chancellor Gordon Brown's approach to public expenditure.
"He is saying we can produce more with less public servants when he isn't telling the taxpayer that his policy is actually seeing services worsen, and more money spent, for example, on consultants than he is saving through job cuts," said Mr Serwotka.
He said the union had tried to negotiate with the Cabinet Office for two years.
"Actually all we've got at the end of two years is see tens of thousands of jobs go while private sector consultants rake in huge profits at a time when services to the public get worse," he said.
Thousands of posts have already been cut, and the PCS is bracing itself for a further loss of 2,000 jobs at the Ministry of Defence.
Officials said the union's political fund would also be used for the first time - to quiz candidates in the elections across the UK in May about the government's policy.
In a letter to Mr Serwotka, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell wrote: "While departments, and the civil service as a whole, will continue to do all we can to avoid compulsory redundancy, we cannot provide any guarantee in that respect."
Cabinet Office Minister Pat McFadden said there was "absolutely no need" for a strike.
"I don't think many people in the general public looking at the overall package that civil servants enjoy in terms of pay, holiday entitlement and pension entitlement would conclude that this was a group of staff that was getting a particularly bad deal," he said.
Mr McFadden said civil servants could not be immune from changes which have taken place elsewhere in the public sector and in the private sector.
Ministers would do "everything we can" to avoid compulsory redundancies but there could be no cast-iron guarantees, he added.