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Thomas McFee; Staffing Chief At Health and Human Services

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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 16, 2006

Thomas S. McFee, 75, the former assistant secretary for personnel administration at the Department of Health and Human Services, died of pancreatic cancer June 14 at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney. He lived in Ashton.

As the department's personnel leader for 18 years, Mr. McFee was often in the news.

In 1977, he supported a policy that allowed the agency's purchasing officers to stand up to top agency officials who wanted to violate the rules. "You've got the problem where the procurement man quotes the rule and some Nobel laureate who runs the office says he doesn't care. We want the procurement officer to know that he can blow the whistle and he'll be backed up," he said.

In 1989, he warned that federal salaries were falling behind the private sector's. "The brain drain is ongoing. It has been occurring for the last five or six years as the federal salary slips further and further behind," he said.

In The Washington Post's Federal Diary column in 1984, Mr. McFee was lauded with the headline "How to Run a RIF!"for managing to eliminate 1,264 jobs from the department secretary's office without a layoff. The reduction was accomplished with early retirements, a hiring freeze and by placing dismissed workers in other departments.

He served under seven Cabinet secretaries and in 1980 helped launch the Candidate Development Program of the Senior Executive Service, which sought to find and train the next generation of leaders for top-ranked jobs in government service.

Among his honors were the National Public Service Award from the American Society for Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration in 2004, the NCAC/Government Executive magazine Leadership Award in 1993, American University's Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership in 1991 and the Presidential Meritorious Rank Award in 1982. In retirement, he was the recipient of the public administration society's Keeper of the Flame award.

He was born Thomas Stuart McFee in Milwaukee and graduated from the University of Maryland. He taught school briefly in the Montgomery County system before serving with the Air Force as an education and communications officer.

In 1958, Mr. McFee worked at the David Taylor Model Basin, where he led the systems analysis branch in the operations research division. He moved to the Defense Department in 1962, then three years later became technical assistant to the president's science adviser in the Office of Science and Technology.

He joined what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1967 as director of systems development, later becoming deputy assistant secretary for management planning and technology until he got the personnel job. He retired in 1995.

He was an elder, deacon and Bible study teacher at the Church of Christ in Olney. He was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and was past president of the public administration society's National Capital Area.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Mary Virginia McFee of Ashton; three sons, Richard McFee of Friendswood, Tex., John McFee of Boerne, Tex., and Charles McFee of Clarksville; a brother; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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