Chris O'Meara/AP

Your Country Really Needs You Right Now, Obama Tells Feds

The work of government employees “has never been more important,” president says in farewell address.

President Obama told federal employees on Tuesday that the country really needs them right now, and that their "good work has never been more important.”

In what is likely his last address to feds before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, Obama praised feds for doing hard work every day to protect and serve the American people, and urged them to continue providing the country with vital services and security -- especially now.

“It’s when our politics feel most divisive, that we are most in need of people like you,” Obama said in a pre-recorded video message aired during an event with White House officials to tout the career workforce and the administration’s management accomplishments. “It’s times like now when we need people who show the rest of the country what it means when we say we are all Americans first. By choosing public service you carry on a proud tradition at the heart of some of this country’s greatest and most lasting achievements, so keep doing it.”

There was a poignancy to Obama’s remarks, coming just a few days after the news broke that the Trump transition team gave Energy Department employees a 74-item questionnaire asking about their work on climate change, prompting fear of retaliation and possible civil service law violations. The team also asked for the names of individual employees and contractors who have worked on the issue, and attended climate change conferences. The department is refusing to provide the Trump team with the names of individual employees or contractors, according to a report in The Washington Post.

“Public service has always been a noble calling, and it will always be a noble calling,” Obama said, adding that “it has been my privilege to call you my colleagues.”

Empathizing with federal employees, Obama noted that, “The American people have high expectations of their government. Trust me, I know. Your jobs aren’t easy. Believe me, I know that, too.”

The event, which featured remarks from employees, as well as officials including Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert, was a showcase of what the administration views as its “greatest hits,” mainly in the area of using technology to make government smarter, faster and more responsive to the needs of citizens.

Officials ticked off what they view as their various accomplishments in a kind of swan song for the Obama administration: ending veteran homelessness in several cities in the country; making the college application and financial aid process easier for students and parents to navigate; reducing wait times at airports; providing vets with better access to benefits; and streamlining hiring for cybersecurity jobs at the Homeland Security Department.  

Cobert specifically mentioned the administration’s efforts to do a better job recruiting and retaining senior executives, as well as improving employee engagement across agencies and making the federal workforce more diverse.

She listed examples of how some agencies are implementing Obama’s executive order on strengthening the Senior Executive Service, including the Housing and Urban Development Department’s year-long onboarding program for new senior executives, focused on “action learning” assignments, coaching and mentoring.

The event also featured the administration’s second annual customer service awards to individual federal employees and agency teams.

The winners were:

  • Jack Tran, Social Security Administration
  • Frank Minnick, Homeland Security
  • Oliver Villalobos, Jr., Veterans Affairs Department
  • Taxpayer Assistance Centers Team, Treasury Department
  • Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Tribal Desk, OPM
  • Bureau of Land Management Recreation Mapping Project Team, Interior Department

"I've never been more impressed with the people who are here today, and the people whom I've served with over the last eight years," said Lisa Danzig, OMB's associate director for performance and personnel management. "On behalf of the Obama administration, thank you. ... As the president said, keep doing it. Your good work has never been more important."