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Go on, thank a federal worker

Steve Mihalisko, 29, senior analyst for the U.S. Air Force team at Deltek at work at the Deltek office building. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

This year’s theme for Public Service Recognition Week is “Proud to Serve,” a fitting reminder that federal employees are highly motivated and dedicated to serving the America people and the interests of the nation. A number of federal leaders have been making a special effort this week (May 4-10) to publicly express their appreciation and support, and to articulate their own views on the value of public service.

While all these words and gestures don’t change the political dynamic in Washington, or make up for budget cuts and three years of pay freezes, it is important for employees to hear from their leaders that they are valued, that their work is important and that they are contributing to a larger mission that benefits the nation.

Such praise should come more than once a year, and should play into a broader plan to motivate the workforce and improve employee commitment. Here are highlights from the week so far — which hopefully will prompt more federal leaders, at all agencies and levels, to realize that even modest gestures can have a big impact on their workforce:

 (Also check out the 2014 Service to America finalists, who were just announced)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, for example, emailed a message to employees thanking them for their service and circulated a video about how EPA employees exemplify what public service is all about. The EPA also scheduled a forum for employees to share their views on what such service means to them.

“Growing up, I always thought public service to be the most honorable profession there is,” McCarthy said. “I want to express my thanks to the bright and committed women and men of the EPA for their exemplary public service and for all that they do to safeguard our environment and our families' health.”

The U.S. Geological Survey used the week for its annual awards ceremony in Reston, Va., recognizing select employees for their contributions to the agency and the nation. The Department of Labor also scheduled its annual awards ceremony and used various social media outlets to engage employees and spread the word about the importance of the department’s work.

In a statement, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez thanked employees for helping citizens get the skills they need to succeed in good jobs that pay a fair wage, for ensuring safe workplaces and for giving people the chance to retire with dignity. “Our work matters. So thank you for your commitment to doing it so well,” Perez said. “We’re doing incredible things together and your hard work does not go unnoticed.”

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen highlighted some of the outstanding accomplishments of his employees, including members of the Virtual Service Delivery team who used interactive technology allowing taxpayers to receive face-to-face help from IRS employees at 95 sites where the agency does not have staff.

At the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Chairman Tom Wheeler held an “all hands” meeting with the staff to talk about the agency’s priorities and to provide an update on the commission’s recent activities.

“But the most important message I wanted to convey to FCC staff at this meeting was ‘thank you,’” Wheeler said. “One of the great joys of being FCC chairman is the honor and pleasure of serving with dedicated public servants who make remarkable contributions to our nation every day. I am always impressed at the innovation and ‘can-do’ attitude displayed in every circumstance.”

At the Peace Corps, Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet sent a personal message to agency employees thanking them for their efforts, and along with other senior managers greeted employees in the headquarters lobby as they arrived for work this week. The Government Accountability Office held a special discussion on the millennial generation and young government leaders, and the agency’s head, Gene Dodaro, publicly acknowledged employees for the work they do every day. “It is an honor to serve with them to help improve government performance and accountability,” Dodaro said.

Others issued statements praising the workforce.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said she “sincerely believes that the most important asset of the Commerce Department – and our government – is our people, and I am proud to work alongside so many passionate, dedicated and talented public servants,” while National Science Foundation director France A. Córdova told employees it is an “an honor to work with you, as we push forward the frontiers of research and education.”

Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee thanked “all of our hardworking employees for the outstanding work and enthusiasm,” while National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said protecting the parks for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations is “a mission, a calling and a solemn responsibility” that is fully embraced by the Park Service’s dedicated employees.

Louis W. Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, also has kind words for employees, praising their “dedication and daily execution of our mission to save lives and property inspires me every day.”

“Each of you plays a vital role in making the weather service one of the best public service organizations in the country — and the world,” Uccellini said. “Whether you’re issuing a warning or conducting an outreach event, briefing our partners or working diligently behind the scenes to support our operations, your individual duties collectively weave together a fabric to successfully fulfill our mission. Time after time, America depends on us. And time after time, you deliver with professionalism, passion, and commitment.”

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

Read also:

Federal workforce honored amid struggles with morale

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



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