Obama: ‘we should praise’ federal workers

The final question from President Obama's town hall in Minnesota Thursday came from a federal worker concerned after this year's furloughs. Obama replied by praising the work of federal agencies. (WH.gov)

Did you see what President Obama said about federal employees at a town hall meeting Minneapolis on Thursday?

The last question he took was from Katie Peterson, who works for the Defense Contract Management Agency.

“My co-worker here and friend, we’ve been working for the federal government for almost 29 years. And we feel really privileged that we’ve been able to serve that way,” she began.

“It’s been a great career, we love it, but lately, as you know, there’s been a few rough patches with three years of pay freeze and sequestration and furloughs.  And we’re just kind of wondering what you foresee for the next fiscal year for government workers,” she asked.

Obama replied at length. We’ll let you read his answer for yourself in this transcript, courtesy of the White House, which was edited for length.

“Well, let me make a couple of points.  First of all, folks in the federal government, the overwhelming majority, they work really hard doing really important stuff. … (applause)  I don’t know when it was that somehow working for government — whether the state or local or federal level — somehow became not a real job, when you listen to some of the Republican rhetoric sometimes. …

“We’ve got floods right here right now.  The federal government is coming in and it’s going to be working with local communities that are overwhelmed to try to make sure that people get help rebuilding.  Those are federal workers.  If they weren’t around after a tornado or a hurricane, communities would be in a world of hurt.

“When you check the weather, even on your smartphone, that information didn’t just come from some Silicon Valley office.  That came from the National Weather Service. …

“The folks who help our men and women in uniform make sure that they’ve got proper equipment, those are federal workers.  Fighting fires — a lot of times those are federal workers in the Forest Service.

“So it frustrates me when I hear people acting as if somebody who’s working for the federal government somehow is less than somebody working on the private sector — if they’re doing a good job and carrying on an important function, we should praise them. (Applause.)

“The same is true, by the way, at the local level.  The same is true at the local level.  I don’t know a job more important than teaching.  Those are all government workers. …

Now, are there programs that the government does that are a waste of money or aren’t working as well as they should be?  Of course. …

So my job as president, working with Congress, is to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.  We shouldn’t be wasting a dime.  And where we see waste, where we see things not working the way they should — like recently, these long waits for folks trying to get in the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) health-care program — we’ve got to crack down and we’ve got to reform it.  But we can’t paint in a broad brush and just say somehow stuff is not working — because even in the VA health-care system, once people get in, the quality of care, the satisfaction rates for customers are actually better than in private sector health care. (Applause.)  So we can’t generalize like this.

Here’s a video of the town hall meeting.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012.
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Joe Davidson · June 27, 2014