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To the Unsung Hard Workers, Many Thanks

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, November 22, 2007

Here's a holiday salute to Sarkis Tatigian. He has been a public servant for a remarkably long time: 65 years.

Tatigian has worked for the Navy since 1942, as a sailor and as a civilian employee. Put another way, the Navy is 232 years old, and Tatigian has been on duty for 28 percent of the time that the Navy has existed.

At the age of 85, he has no plans to retire, even though he became eligible for full retirement benefits in 1973. "If you like what you're doing, you're not working," he said.

Tatigian's long service is a reminder to say thank you to the hardworking, and often underappreciated, employees of the federal government. Even on holidays such as Thanksgiving, thousands of federal employees are deemed essential and at work.

About 30,000 employees, for example, will be working today for the Transportation Security Administration, with most of them screening holiday travelers at airports. Border Patrol agents will be monitoring the nation's borders. There's never a day off for the troops in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tatigian works at the Washington Navy Yard, serving as associate director in the small-business program office for the Naval Sea Systems Command. He calls himself a small-business coordinator, assisting and counseling small companies to ensure they receive opportunities to bid on Navy contracts, as required by law.

On a typical work day, he is still in the office for an hour to 90 minutes after closing time, he said. There are "lots of phone calls" to make, reports to review, and meetings to attend -- "enough variety to keep me interested."

Tatigian began his civil service career with the Navy in the summer of 1942 as a junior radio inspector at an aircraft factory in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. With World War II underway, producing equipment for war-fighters was a national priority. Tatigian soon transferred to Linden, N.J., where he worked at a commercial plant inspecting aircraft for the Navy as they came off the assembly line.

His next step, in April 1943, was to join the Navy as a sailor. After boot camp and training in electronics, he was sent to Washington, where he worked on a classified project to develop one of the first radar-guided bombs, known as the Bat. It was put into use by the Navy in January 1945.

With the project finished, Tatigian left the Navy in 1946 and planned to return to the Philadelphia area. But a Navy official asked him if he would take a "desk job" and stay with the guided missile program as a civilian. Tatigian said yes, and went to work for an annual salary of $3,400.

He first worked in a Navy building near Constitution Avenue, then moved to offices in Crystal City. About six years ago, he moved to the Washington Navy Yard.

The Naval Sea Systems Command, which oversees the construction and maintenance of ships and combat systems, honored Tatigian for 65 years of dedicated service at a ceremony Oct. 30. Vice Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, called Tatigian "the kind of person we're looking to hire now. This is the kind of employee that will make us succeed."

Tatigian said the Navy seems to be doing a good job recruiting young people, even as competition in the job market has increased for specialists in contracting. "There's a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the interns," he noted.

Asked what changes he has seen in government over the course of his career, Tatigian said he believes "administrative processes and procedures have become more and more cumbersome." Employees undergo mandatory training in ethics, computer security and a new pay-for-performance system, he said, leaving less time to think up more creative and original ways of accomplishing program goals.

Tatigian's spouse died four years ago, and his two children "say I should retire, see the world, clean the attic."

But, he said, he isn't interested in sleeping in late and hasn't come up with a goal unrelated to work. "What am I going to do after I retire -- I don't have an answer to that," he said.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address isbarrs@washpost.com.

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