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FLOTUS to Feds: You’re Invisible

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Carolyn Kaster/AP

“People don’t even know you exist.”

No, that’s not some high school mean girl in Anytown, U.S.A. talking. That’s First Lady Michelle Obama speaking to Interior Department employees on Tuesday.

The line elicited laughs from federal workers in the audience, and to be fair, was couched between high praise for the department’s 70,000 employees across the country. It was Mrs. Obama’s second visit to Interior (the first was four years ago at the beginning of the president’s first term). The pep rally was especially well-timed; furloughs for the U.S. Park Police started on Sunday. Sequestration is threatening Interior employees’ paychecks, not to mention the public’s summer vacation plans.

Here’s the excerpt with the line from the White House transcript of the First Lady’s remarks:

But I also know that the work that you do isn’t easy, especially right now during these times. I know that budget cuts mean that you all are juggling even more responsibilities with fewer resources. And I know that many of you are stretched thinner than ever before. So that’s one of the reasons why it’s just as important for me to be here at the start of this term as it was to be here four years ago, because I want you to know how much Barack and I truly appreciate everything that you do. And I know you don’t hear that. People don’t even know you exist. (Laughter.) It’s so true. I mean, federal workers are this invisible face. No one knows what they do, what it means, how much they benefit us.

I bet feds wished they were more invisible when the administration was putting together its fiscal 2014 budget. Among other things, the president wants to switch to a less generous formula for calculating retiree benefits and proposes increasing the amount current federal workers contribute to their pensions.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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