Remembering Mike Causey: Federal community loses a peerless reporter – and a friend

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The federal community lost a peerless reporter and friend this week.

Longtime Federal News Network columnist Mike Causey died on Monday at 82.

Before joining the Federal News Network team in the early 2000s, Mike wrote his daily Federal Diary column in The Washington Post for 40 years.

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The federal community lost a peerless reporter and friend this week.

Longtime Federal News Network columnist Mike Causey died on Monday at 82.

Before joining the Federal News Network team in the early 2000s, Mike wrote his daily Federal Diary column in The Washington Post for 40 years.

Since joining our newsroom in the early 2000s, Causey wrote and went on the air about matters crucial to federal employees, including salary and benefits issues, investing, health care and retirement planning.

Immediately after hearing the news of his passing, Causey’s longtime readers and the community he covered all these years began sharing what he meant to them.

While we don’t have room to publish all the well-wishes we’ve received over the past 24 hours, we wanted to share some of the kind words that Causey’s audience and colleagues submitted.

Robert Honig, the former director of the congressional Federal Government Service Task Force from the 1980s, had this to say about our legendary colleague:

“I haven’t seen Mike Causey in years, but I remember our lunches at the Post, and his willingness to cover the Federal Government Service Task Force in the 80s, led by Reps. Mike Barnes (D-Md.), Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as we tried to protect the Federal Service from RIFs and policies that would have clearly undermined the cause of public service.

Mike believed in public service, but he also believed in the people who served, with all their warts, their anxieties, and problems reflecting the humanity and frailty of those they served. He never shied away from the heart of a story, but probed to understand, and help his readers understand. We need his like today more than ever, but his rare breed in truly endangered.”

Bill Hirzy, a former risk assessment scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency and officer of the union representing EPA headquarters employees, NFFE Local 2050 and NTEU Chapter 280, said he’s relied on Mike’s columns throughout his career:

“They were always refreshing takes on what it meant to be a federal employee, and on what was happening across government in other agencies and regions. When he left the Post it was like a friend moving away, but still accessible on the air. He was one of the good guys.”

Mary Davie, the deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Mission Support Directorate and a career-long federal employee, had this to say about reading Causey all these years:

“I’m a longtime fan and so appreciated his service and dedication to providing information to the federal workforce. I found his blogs and interviews incredibly informative and helpful and relied on him for providing analysis about matters related to pay and retirement.”

In addition to his prolific columnist career in the news industry, Causey in the 1960s also wrote the “Washington Window” column in the member newsletter for the National Treasury Employees Union.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement that “NTEU is proud to be part of Mike’s long and stellar biography,” and called him “a gentleman and a friend:”

“NTEU mourns the death of the legendary Mike Causey. For decades, anything Mike wrote about federal employees was must read for everyone who cared about the federal workforce. His deep knowledge of the players and the issues was only matched by his bottomless trove of stories and anecdotes. His charming personality, extensive network and journalistic talent will be deeply missed. We at NTEU have a personal connection to Mike that he often reminded us of.”

Lawmakers within the Washington, D.C. metro area also remembered Causey as the trusted name in news for the federal employees they represent.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) wrote in a tweet Monday that Causey was “a fierce advocate for the federal workforce.

“His institutional knowledge, which was legendary, and his distinct voice will be missed dearly,” Cardin said.

Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) tweeted that “Mike was a diligent pro who had an expert knowledge of the federal workforce.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) recognized Causey in a May 2000 address on the House floor when his last Federal Diary column was published:

“Most members of the House have been unable to get through a year, and certainly an appropriations period, without consulting Causey. Federal Diary provided an always reliable place where anyone could be knowledgeably and quickly informed of all one often needed to know about federal sector matters. Especially for those of us ‘inside the beltway,’ a phrase coined by Mike Causey, his column was an indispensable resource”

Federal Diary, later rebranded as Federal Insider, is believed to be the Post’s longest-running column, having started in 1932.

Current Federal Insider columnist Joe Davidson said Causey had left the Washington Post prior to his arrival at the newspaper, and that they had only spoken a few times before he started writing the column. However, Davidson said Causey left an incredible legacy:

“Mike had a strong following among federal employees because of his dedicated coverage of issues important to their lives. He was well respected among feds and their employee organizations for the many years he devoted to reporting on federal workforce topics that other, general audience news organizations ignored.

Although I didn’t start writing the column until years after he stopped, when my tenure began in 2008, I would still get the occasional email complaining that I didn’t do things the way he did. He probably got similar messages when he took over the column, as my successor might.”

Causey leaves behind a loyal audience, but also an incomparable legacy in the newsrooms where he worked. Aside from his institutional knowledge, current and former staff remembered Causey for his keen sense of humor and his idiosyncrasies.

Former Federal News Network workforce reporter Nicole Ogrysko, now a reporter at Maine Public Radio, recalled how Causey, preferring to read things in hard copy, once tried to print out the entire bill text of the Affordable Care Act — all 974 pages of it

“Either the printer experienced a full-on meltdown, or someone intervened a few hundred pages in,” Ogrysko said.

Ogrysko also remembered Causey as someone who always valued the opinion of his colleagues and who always made the feedback of others part of his work:

“When I became a reporter, Mike would leave printed copies of a report or his next day’s column on my desk if he knew I was working on a story about a particular topic. Sometimes he would ask me what I thought about his column, and he would often solicit ideas from us about whatever he was writing that day. Of course, he was the expert, but he still looked for feedback.

It would have been easy to laugh off all the printed material, but it made me a better, more knowledgeable beat reporter.

Mike never took himself, or the content, too seriously, an admirable feat for someone with the experience and list of stories that he had. Maybe it was that mindset that inspired me and former FNN reporter Meredith Somers to ask Mike to record the voice track for a silly, shutdown-themed parody of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas that we had written. He quickly looked at the script, said, “yup,” and recorded it in one take, like a pro. He was game, no questions asked.

A year or two before I left FNN, Mike, after covering the long-awaited rollout for his readers, began his own ‘phased retirement,’ writing three columns a week instead of five. A few of us were asked to take on writing the Federal Report in his place. It wasn’t easy, and the readers noticed. It was nearly impossible to replicate his humor and his expertly crafted headlines, because Mike is irreplaceable. He left an impact on his readers, and on his colleagues, that most of us hope of having in our own careers.”

Former Federal News Network producer Shefali Kapadia, now the managing editor of CPG Specialist, remembered how Causey made her first few guest appearances on his “Your Turn” radio show an “effortless, easy, comfortable conversation.”

“I nearly forgot we were live on the radio, and it felt just like our lunch conversations at Café Deluxe over his usual order of a salad topped with well-done tuna. That half-hour on his show flew by,” Kapadia said.

Kapadia also recalled how Causey would crowdsource the newsroom for some material for his columns:

“Mike Causey wandered out from the tall stacks of papers in his office one day to the newsroom and asked the staff a question: what’s the craziest dream you’ve ever had? It stirred plenty of fun anecdotes from staff, many of which ended up in the next morning’s column.

I was just a few months into my journalism career and had no idea if this was ‘normal’ newsroom chatter. A decade later, I realize it’s not, and how special it was to have Mike’s presence in the workplace. He was witty without being snarky, incredibly smart without coming off as a know-it-all. Like your friend, your grandpa and your mentor all at the same time.”

Former FNN web editor Amelia Brust recalled how Causey took a keen interest in the Nearly Useless Factoids at the bottom of each of his Federal Report columns. She said they often remind him of “some strange historical trivia or of something that happened to him.

“His style was all his own, it could not be taught,” Brust said. “But what impressed me the most about Mike was his graciousness toward those who disagreed with him, and his willingness to let his critics” have their say even in his own column. His humility revealed his intelligence.

Coworkers also remember Causey for his wit and sense of humor that carried through in his writing and everyday behavior.

J.J. Green, WTOP’s national security correspondent, who recently moderated a panel featuring the leadership of six intelligence agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit, began his panel by sharing what Causey had told him about taking on such an opportunity:

“Some of you probably know my colleague Mike Causey, who’s one of Washington’s most famous journalists who used to work for the Washington Post. I told him I was doing this a few days ago. And he said, ‘If I were you, I would be scared to death.’ And then he told me, ‘Look, I’ve got a safe house down in Dale City somewhere.’ He said, ‘You can come and hide out until this thing blows over if you want.’”

On a personal note, here’s what sticks with me having worked with Mike Causey for about eight years: Mike was one of the best writers I’ve ever met and a one-of-a-kind reporter.

He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever worked with. He was the best at what he did, but was humble and self-effacing. He valued the opinion of everyone he worked with, and he was THE trusted name in news for federal employees.

As a former web editor, I used to read a lot of Mike’s columns before we posted them online. Every year, he’d leave behind a week or so’s worth of radio hits and guest columns before leaving for vacation, and I’d invariably have to beg him to send over something he missed in the jumble of content he’d left behind.

One summer, after a few years of this runaround, he mailed me a postcard from the Bahamas, having taken the time to jot down: “Couldn’t have done it without you!”

We’re all lucky we got to know him.

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