"Too often we get stovepiped at a time when we need...to be working together," the president told senior feds.
The president thanked senior government officials for their service, stressing "how important you are, not just to me but to the country."
President Barack Obama offered a "thank you" to members of the Senior Executive Service and other federal leaders in a Dec. 9 speech in Washington. An estimated 3,000 senior officials, including members of the Cabinet, gathered at the Washington Hilton for a meeting convened by the White House to give Obama the opportunity to personally thank government leaders.
"I'd like to come bearing raises and perks, but I can't," Obama said. "What I can do is tell you how important you are, not just to me but to the country."
The speech was intended as a pep talk for an executive workforce buffeted by shutdowns, sequestration, budget brinksmanship and minimal pay increases. Overall job satisfaction among feds has dipped for the fourth year in a row.
"Doing your job right often means nobody hears about you," Obama said. "They only report when something goes wrong, or when there's a shutdown and suddenly somebody notices, 'Oh, we need that.'"
He also bemoaned a "political climate where folks too often talk down government to get cheap applause," which generated a small ovation from the gathered feds.
The president also announced three initiatives to honor outstanding senior leaders and train and grow the senior ranks of the civil service.
Under the White House Leadership Development Program for Future Senior Career Executives, select civil servants and candidates for the SES will rotate through assignments at various agencies to get a longitudinal view of government and build professional networks.
"We want the generation of leaders to have the experience of solving problems and building relationships across the government," Obama said. "Because one thing that we have to acknowledge is that our government often statutorily was organized for the needs of the 1930s or '40s or '60s, and too often we get stovepiped at a time when we need people with different skill sets at different agencies to be working together."
The administration is also establishing the White House Advisory Group on SES Reform, designed to solicit observations and opinions from future leaders and senior technical professionals.
"One of the things that we know in the private sector about continuous improvement is you've got to have the folks right there on the front lines able to make suggestions and know that they're heard and to not simply be rewarded for doing an outstanding job but to see their ideas implemented in ways that really make a difference," Obama said.
He also announced a new Customer Service Awards Program to recognize feds on the front lines of service delivery. And he took the opportunity to honor a handful of civil servants who have made exceptional contributions or have compelling personal stories.
He cited NASA's Julie Kramer White, for example, for her work as chief engineer for the recent Orion launch, saying, "America was already the first nation to land a rover on Mars. When an American is the first human to set foot there, we'll have Julie and her team to thank. At that point, I'll be out of the presidency, and I might hitch a ride."
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