Obama paid a visit Tuesday to the Environmental Protection Agency after making a similar stop at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Friday — events that mirror a tour of federal agencies made by first lady Michelle Obama in recent years. Aides confirmed Wednesday that the White House is planning similar stops in the near future.
The first visit was meant to bolster the consumer watchdog agency and its new director, Richard Cordray, while the EPA visit provided a brief opportunity to promote the administration’s work on environmental protections. But in speeches, Obama also delivered a personal thank you.
“I could not be prouder of the work that you all do every single day as federal employees,” he told EPA employees Tuesday. “I know the hours can be long. I know that sometimes spending time getting these policies right means less time at home than you’d like, and you’re missing birthday parties, or you’re missing a soccer game, and the spouse is not happy with you. I know a little bit about that sometimes. I know these jobs are demanding.”
Obama delivered a similar message Friday at CFPB: “I know that all of you have devoted enormous amounts of time and energy, and many of you are here making significant sacrifices with your families to make sure that this agency gets up and running really well.”
The president “is keenly aware of the high level of — the high quality of people working out in the agencies, doing exemplary work for the American people,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday, adding later that “he is noting important work that people are doing.”
Using the presidential bully pulpit to full effect Tuesday, Obama acknowledged there would be “tensions” and strong debate over environmental policy and the role of government. As those debates continue, he urged federal employees to “make sure that we are achieving our goals in the smartest way possible, in the most efficient ways possible, in the least bureaucratic ways possible, in the clearest ways possible.”
“There’s not a federal agency that can’t get better and be smarter in accomplishing our mission, and we have an obligation every single day to think about how can we do our business a little bit better,” Obama added. “How can we make sure the taxpayers are getting every dime’s worth that they’re paying in order to achieve these important common goals that we have?”
The visits come as the White House is planning to request a 0.5 percent pay increase for federal workers as part of the 2013 federal budget. Though the proposed raise is small, aides said the White House will no longer support freezing federal salaries to help curtail the federal deficit.
The decision earned tepid support from federal worker union leaders, who strongly opposed the freeze and have warned that proposed changes to federal compensation floated by the White House and congressional leaders might make it more difficult to motivate federal workers to support Obama’s reelection campaign.
Despite recent disagreements over changes to federal pay and benefits, federal employees and their unions overwhelmingly supported Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. The American Federation of Government Employees, with more than 275,000 active members, spent more than $2 million on behalf of Obama and Democratic congressional candidates in 2008. Union leaders are working on similar plans to assist the president’s reelection effort, likely in unison with the AFL-CIO.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama responded to a series of specific questions from AFGE regarding federal personnel issues. Shortly after Obama’s inauguration, federal union leaders met personally with Obama in the White House Blue Room — their first visit to the executive mansion in more than eight years.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost