Updated 4:25 p.m. ET
President Obama candidly critiqued the performance of rank-and-file federal employees and bemoaned the government’s arcane technology during what he thought was a private a conversation Thursday evening with financial donors.
In comments overheard on live microphones by CBS Radio News correspondent Mark Knoller, Obama said it is “striking ... how generally smart and dedicated” federal workers are.
But shortly after that, he added that some government workers “are slugs and not trying to do their job.”
In his public comments, Obama has generally applauded the work of federal employees — even thanking them for their performance during the recent budget impasse in a note sent earlier this week. But his thoughts on “slugs” are new.
His comments contrast a bit with Americans generally. More than half of Americans say they think that federal workers are overpaid for the work they do. A third think they are less qualified than those working in the private sector, and half say that the men and women who keep the government running do not work as hard as employees at private companies, according to a Washington Post poll from last fall.
Obama went on to tell donors that the government’s information-technology “is horrible.” He said that’s the case “across the board,” at the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and other agencies, according to Knoller’s account.
Sounding exasperated, Obama said, “Come on, guys. I’m the president of the United States. Where’s the fancy buttons and stuff and the big screen comes up? It doesn’t happen.”
Obama’s complaints about government technology match concerns raised by his predecessor, George W. Bush, who in his new memoir recalls how poorly equipped Air Force One was to handle communications between the plane and the White House in the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
White House press secretary Jay Carney shrugged off any concerns with the comments. “He was taking questions from supporters,” Carieny told reporters Friday. “But there’s nothing — nothing he said that contradicts anything he said in public.”
This isn’t the first time Obama has been caught making off-the-cuff remarks to donors. During an August 2008 private fundraising dinner in San Francisco, Obama said that some rural voters “cling to guns or religion...as a way to explain their frustrations.” An attendee blogged about the comments, triggering days of controversy on the campaign trail. Obama later conceded that the comment was “clumsy.”
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