Celebrating Distinguished Federal Leaders, With a Nudge Toward Change

The American people want change, OMB deputy director Margaret Weichert reminded federal managers and executives on Thursday. The American people want change, OMB deputy director Margaret Weichert reminded federal managers and executives on Thursday. Cameron Whitman Photography LLC

Margaret Weichert, the White House deputy for agency management, appears mindful that some federal employees are less than enthused about some of the new directions ordered by President Trump.

In a Thursday morning speech commending the winners of the 2018 Distinguished Rank Awards, she encouraged senior executives to “embrace your role” in implementing “the goals set by the American people.” She described herself as “coming to Washington driven by the spirit of change from the last election,” expressing gratitude that career employees keep focused on their tasks.  

“You were here when I got here, are here now, and will be here after I leave,” she said.

In serving the warfighters, veterans and scientists, she added, “You are the steady hand that guides us into the harbor,” and “the makers of reality in the 21st century.”

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Weichert acknowledged “how difficult this time is, how divisive this time is.” Leadership, she stressed, “is not what the press says, not what the pundits say, but an understanding” of what the American people want.

When “employees look up at you worried,” federal agency managers can “bring a spirit of teamwork, a spirit of capacity, and embody that spirit of service, spirit of unity,” she said. Executives’ hard work is “reflected by the challenge you seek, not for the glory, not for the money, not even for rank awards,” Weichert added.

She cited recent results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey showing that 90 percent of respondents believe the work they do is important. “No private-sector organization I worked for could boast of that,” she said. She called it “astonishing” that 96 percent of federal executives would put in extra effort to get the job done.

Weichert also thanked the federal executives’ families for putting up with their long hours, noting that she is a single mother working both as deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget also as acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. “Keep striving and push boundaries to make what you do even more impactful,” she told the audience. “But to whom much is given, much is expected. We need even more from you.”

The all-day program of panel discussions at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel put on by the nonprofit Senior Executives Association drew agency employees and contractors to honor 43 Distinguished Executive Rank Award recipients, three distinguished professionals, and 75 Meritorious Executive award winners. The biographies of the top winners, who receive cash bonuses, are here.

The message of embracing change was echoed the other morning keynote speaker, Bill Eggers, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Government Insights. He delivered a state-of-play on the movement to adopt artificial intelligence in government, noting that his firm in recent years had produced 15 papers on the topic. They identified 100 opportunities for applications, from Army recruitment using online chatrooms to the first Air Force Academy graduating class to be trained in virtual reality simulations, he said.

Deloitte has also used artificial intelligence to “scrape” 26 years of Government Accountability Office reports from the agency’s website, building algorithms to detect “patterns the human eye can’t see,” Eggers said, a project that greatly interested the inspectors general community. His team also assembled data on how federal employees spend their time, concluding that the 4.3 billion hours a year is tilted too far toward paperwork that should be automated to make more time for “high value” work and human development.

“The future is not just automation,” Eggers said, “but the pairing of humans and machines in government.”

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