Buzz of the week: The art of the retirement speech

Editor's Note: This story has been updated on July 27 at 1:12 p.m. EST. Please go to "Corrections and Clarifications" for details.


In recent months, we have been spending a lot of time at farewell parties as a trickle of federal retirements builds into a stream.

This year, a slew of people have either retired or announced that they intend to soon. They include Dee Lee, the General Services Administration’s David Bibb, the Army’s Vern Bettencourt, Lt. Gen. Charles Croom of the Defense Information Systems Agency, Lisa Akers of GSA.

The coming presidential transition is one reason for the rising tide of departures. Transitions are difficult for career employees because they are asked to carry a heavier workload until new political appointees are named — at which time they have to justify what they did during the transition. For many feds who have been in government for decades and worked for many presidential administrations, the upcoming transition seems like one too many.

Last week, there were two swan-song gatherings: one for Ed Meagher, who served as deputy chief information officer at the Interior and Veterans Affairs departments, and the other for Robert Burton, who has served as deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy for more than seven years. Later this month, Bob Suda will finish his 32-year federal career.

Those gatherings end up being half appreciations of long, distinguished careers and half roasts. At Meagher’s retirement party, Dick Burk, former chief architect at the Office of Management and Budget and one of Meagher’s college fraternity brothers, roasted Meagher the way only a friend who knows somebody for 40-plus years can.

That fun aside, one of the most touching parts of these retirement parties is the comments by the retirees themselves. Those speeches are partly science — always remember to thank your loved ones and your bosses — but they are also an art. The remarkable thing is that most people have repeatedly — and we believe sincerely — said how much they have loved their work. Despite the complaints from government workers, they usually do their jobs out of passion for the mission and because they believe they can make a difference and help people.

The turnover can be an opportunity to explore new ways for agencies to conduct their business. Meagher noted that the young people coming up through the ranks are bright and passionate, and they will find ways to get the work done. Their approach might be different from their predecessors, and that isn’t necessarily bad.

We congratulate them as they enter the next stage of their careers.


#1: Thinking of Marty
Marty Wagner is still in a coma after falling from the roof of his house in early July. Wagner, a respected and beloved leader in the federal government, spent more than 30 years of his career at various agencies before retiring from the General Services Administration and becoming a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

While Wagner’s prognosis is uncertain, the outpouring of sympathy and support for him and his family from the federal IT community has been remarkable. FCW Editor-in-Chief Christopher J. Dorobek has posted updates on the situation on his “FCW Insider” blog, while well-wishers have left messages on Wagner’s Facebook page and another page created specifically for support of his family in this time. The family has even established a page on CarePages.com, which lets them update everybody about Wagner’s status.

#2: Shhh...we’re very private
Purely coincidentally, privacy issues have surfaced in recent policy initiatives. The Office of Management and Budget has published guidance on reporting privacy breaches — among other measures — in efforts to comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act. And a recently introduced bill would require the Homeland Security Department to have a desig ated rivacy officer in each of its nine components.

All of this sounds good, but we have to wonder why it wasn’t done long ago.

#3: HUBZone fraud? No!
The Government Accountability Office got four fictitious businesses certified as Historically Underutilized Business Zone firms after providing the Small Business Administration with made-up employee information and false addresses, including the street address of a Starbucks in Washington, D.C.

The GAO report revealed that SBA has lax controls over the program, and SBA said it is aware of the problems and is already moving to fix them. What the report does not say is what the fictitious business owners’ names were. If the SBA granted HUBZone status to companies owned by “George Jetson” and “Homer Simpson,” we are going to really laugh at them.

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