The bacon was still on the tables at a Capitol Hill breakfast honoring federal employees Tuesday when Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson admitted to a wake-up call.
He had heard, he said, that government employees “didn’t work very hard.”
But once he actually learned about them — after he became head of a major federal agency — he found the workers “are extremely dedicated” to their jobs.
His remarks were reminiscent of President Trump, another government rookie, who said “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”
Everyone knew that, and everyone — at least those who run for president as Carson did — should know that feds are hardworking and dedicated. Regrettably, too many people don’t.
That’s why the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, are so important. The breakfast honored 26 finalists, including teams, for the medals that will be awarded in September.
“It seems like such a straightforward proposition for the federal government to recognize its employees,” said Max Stier, the partnership’s president and CEO. “No organization is healthy if it doesn’t show its appreciation for its employees’ good work. Yet less than half of our government’s workers say that federal employees are recognized for doing a good job.”
Events like these during Public Service Recognition Week are a reprieve from the madness, silliness and ignorance that too often surround government employees.
Trump recognized the week with a proclamation expressing “gratitude for our civil servants. Their daily effort keeps our government functioning and helps make our nation exceptional.” Members of Congress and three Cabinet secretaries, including Carson, praised them during the breakfast in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
“I could not have been more impressed with the career staff,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
“They are some of the hardest-working people I have ever met,” added Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin.
Unfortunately, the love Trump administration officials show with words is not demonstrated with money. Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget would seriously undercut many federal agencies, not to mention the 19 it would eliminate.
Among those hit hard in his plan is an organization honored at the breakfast — the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. EPA and Justice Department staffers teamed up to secure $17.4 billion from Volkswagen for car owners and pollution reduction projects, after the automaker evaded emission standards.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) toured an EPA emission laboratory in Ann Arbor on Monday and denounced the budget plan, which her office said would cut the lab’s staff by 50 percent and its operating funds by 90 percent.
“We can’t afford to lose these jobs, and we also can’t afford to halt the government’s work on creating more fuel-efficient vehicles and lowering overall emissions, which benefit consumers, the auto industry and the environment,” she said. “This vital work must go forward.”
We also can’t afford to lose the work of people like Phillip A. Brooks and Byron Bunker, both of EPA, and Justice’s Joshua H. Van Eaton, whose success on the Volkswagen case was honored. None commented on Trump’s budget plans, but it’s clear he has not diluted their dedication to their jobs.
“I would recommend the federal government as a place to work for anyone who wants to work on some of the biggest challenges facing our country,” Brooks said by email last week. “While there are many ways Americans can contribute to our national progress, working for the federal government often provides a very direct avenue for doing just that.”
All the finalists were listed in my previous column. There’s not enough space here for comments from each, so here is a sampling of what several told me.
- Thomas R. Davis, HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration project, called his work a “dream opportunity.” Davis and his colleagues generated $3.9 billion in private funding over the last two years for 60,000 affordable housing units.
- Alex Mahoney, Agency for International Development, said, “I know that our efforts are saving lives” in Syria and Iraq, where the Middle East Crisis Humanitarian Response Team served millions of war-weary people.
- John Pilotte and Heather Grimsley, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, saved $1.3 billion by compensating doctors and hospital based on the quality, instead of the quantity, of service. Pilotte said working with Medicare “the largest insurance company in the world … is a real opportunity to have an impact on how health care is delivered.” Added Grimsley: “I would recommend the federal government as a place to work. I enjoy working at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and knowing the agency makes a difference in the health care delivered to millions of Americans.”
- Timothy P. Camus, Treasury inspector general for tax administration, and the IRS Impersonation Scam Team investigated cons designed to cheat millions from citizens with phony tax bills. He became interested in federal law enforcement “when a taxpayer attempted to bribe me. I helped investigators develop the criminal case against this individual and four others by wearing a wire for about two years,” Camus said. “I was incensed that these individuals believed that they could bribe their way out of paying their fair share of taxes.”
The lack of recognition for workers like these, and many more federal employees, can be fixed, Stier said, if federal leaders “spread the stories of federal employees who excel.”
“They deserve our recognition,” he added, “and to know that their work and their dedicated service garners our appreciation and respect.”