WASHINGTON — Calling on the government to improve the way it serves the public, President Barack Obama on Tuesday directed top management prospects in the federal bureaucracy to develop a more diverse set of skills as the upper ranks of the federal workforce retire in greater numbers.
The effort comes amid growing public misgivings about government and in the face of user satisfaction rankings that place the federal government below the private sector.
“Americans don’t trust government like we used to,” Obama told a gathering of the federal workforce’s Senior Executive Service, which comprises the career management leadership of federal agencies. “Part of that is a very deliberative strategy of trying to undermine government; part of it is political opportunism.”
“But part of it is our need to constantly adapt to the demands of the 21st century,” he added. “We’ve got to work harder to make sure that government works.”
In a series of executive actions Tuesday, Obama was launching a leadership program for future government career executives with a goal of giving potential managers multi-agency experiences and breaking out of a tradition of promoting senior bureaucrats from within their own agencies.
The administration is also creating a program of non-monetary customer service awards to reward excellence by individual federal employees.
Obama thanked members of the Senior Executive Service for their work and said many toil in obscurity to serve their country. He noted that they have had to endure pay freezes, budget cuts and a government shutdown and said they also must work in “a political climate where folks too often talk down government for cheap applause.”
The Senior Executive Service fills top career positions below senior presidential appointees and run virtually all government activities in about 75 agencies.
The White House projects that by 2017, about 1 in 4 senior managers will retire. The White House plans to create an advisory group on how to make changes to the Senior Executive Service to prepare for that loss in the leadership ranks.