White House honors federal workforce

The White House honored federal employees by recognizing the range of achievements and the ways the workforce has influenced how government operates by leveraging technology over the past eight years

Shutterstock image: the White House.

As part of its sendoff, the Obama administration honored federal workers by recognizing the ways groups and individuals leveraged technology to improve customer service.

President Barack Obama praised and thanked feds for their contributions throughout government through a video message that touched on the achievements of the past eight years and looked to the future.

"It's when our politics feels most divisive that… we need people who show the rest of the country what it means when we say we are all Americans first," he said. "Over the past eight years, you have hauled government to a place where it is smarter and faster and more responsive to the needs of the American people in the 21st century.… So keep doing it."

Officials from the Offices of Management and Budget and Personnel Management credited the increased responsiveness referenced by Obama to the greater focus on technology and the shift towards agile ways of doing business across government.

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert stressed the importance of data and technology not only in streamlining bureaucratic processes but for enabling collaboration across agencies "to improve engagement, communicate actions, partner with unions and labor, create leadership accountability, create development opportunities and engage our front line."

Specifically, officials honored a range of tech programs aimed at cutting costs across government and facilitating myriad interagency projects. Some of the projects recognized were efforts to eradicate veteran homelessness, accelerate and improve drug safety reviews as well as those to reform public education and forgive student loans.

Cobert also described the ways increased emphasis on tech has changed the way government recruits, hires and retains a quality workforce and holds employees accountable. She specifically cited agencies' uses of flexible hiring authorities to fill high-demand tech positions, improvements in how the senior executive service is developed and evaluated as well as the administering of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the publication of its results on UnlockTalent.gov.

"This country has an extraordinary skill at upgrading ourselves constantly," U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said. "But one of the things that's hard in government is that because we're so big, we often talk about what we're doing, and not as much who" is driving the projects.

To honor the "who," the White House announced the winners of the President's Customer Service Awards, created in 2014 to "recognize, promote and reward service excellence" from both individual and group projects, said Lisa Danzig, associate director for performance and personnel management at OMB.

Recipients of the individual awards included the Social Security Administration's Jack Trann for promoting the agency's mission and his work with the homeless; the Department of Homeland Security's Frank Minnick, who headed a team that improved the efficiency and accuracy of refugee application reviews; and the Department of Veterans Affairs' Oliver Villabos, Jr., who, as head of renovation of Riverside National Cemetery, reduced maintenance costs and safety hazards.

Recipients of the group awards included the Department of Treasury's Taxpayer Assistant Centers Team, which designed an appointment-based taxpayer service that benefited almost one million citizens; OPM's Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Tribal Desk Team, which expanded health benefits to Native American populations; and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management Recreation Mapping Project Team, which developed new digital tools to map about 250 million acres of public land.