Wow! A letter from the White House!

Federal employees head into 2020 anticipating across-the-board pay hikes. No one will get rich on 2.6%, but, as the sages say, it’s better than a jab in the eye with a sharp object.

Especially after a year in which they’ve endured the back-and-forth over probation times, how to get fired, and whether to telework — all of which have come under proposed policy changes by the Trump administration.

In this, the season of the holiday missive, they’ve also got a letter, delivered Friday, from President Trump himself. He wants you to know he appreciates “your devoted and vigilant efforts.” And that he personally signed into law the statute granting that PAY INCREASE (emphasis by the president). Along with those 12 WEEKS OF PAID PARENTAL LEAVE FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES (ditto).

A similar letter went to members of the military, who also get a PAY INCREASE (yep).

The letters are vintage Trump. Some will appreciate it, others will cringe, still others will break the delete key, they’ll poke it so hard. Take from the letters what you will, but he did send them. They’re like 10-year or 20-year service plaques — corny maybe, but you display them in your beige cubicle. I’d frame a copy if only for that unmistakable jagged signature.

Contrast that with an unfortunate greeting the employees of the Department of Agriculture received from Secretary Sonny Perdue.

It’s a pleasant enough greeting initially — maybe not using the current vernacular of “holiday” but rather of “Christmas.” Most non-Christians don’t mind that. The email notes the “tough year” many farmers, ranchers and producers have had. It thanks Americans serving in uniform far away.

But then it quotes the New Testament book of Luke, containing a specific Christian point of reference. I don’t doubt Perdue’s good intentions, but what  was the man thinking? I wonder why an aide didn’t caution him about how such a specific religious reference sounds in an official communication. He’s talking to thousands of federal employees with a wide diversity of backgrounds and beliefs, not the 1919 or 1619 senior class of Eton College. Even Eton today has Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and atheists. Just like the federal workforce.

Trump gushes over federal employees. Perdue says he and the missus consider you family. But all is not candlelight, gingerbread and mistletoe in the federal environment. A little-mentioned survey done by Eagle Hill Consulting of Washington found that only 55% of federal employees think their agency’s policies align with its core values, a condition the company called a “foundation” of organizational culture. Only 49% would stay where they are if offered a comparable position elsewhere.

Now, the Eagle Hill survey only polled 400, randomly-selected feds. Yet it tracks with the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), in which only 47% of hundreds of thousands of respondents are satisfied with their senior leaders policies and practices. The so-called engagement index in the FEVS is a middling 68%. Who knows, maybe that’s the best you can do in an organization as big as the federal government, with its diversity of sub-organizations.

I’ve always wondered how much changes in federal policy — as contrasted to federal employment policy — affect morale and engagement. Just one small example: On Friday, the Energy Department announced it was canceling a new and stricter efficiency standard for incandescent light bulbs. It was supposed to go into effect January 1st.

True to the federal government, it took 175 pages to say so.

Regardless, to some, it is an abandonment of efforts to save the planet from climate change. It’ll cause tens of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide. To Secretary Dan Brouillette and others, the move preserves consumer choice and prevents a cost-ineffective rule that would have made the bulbs 300% more expensive. My question is how rank-and-file employees in Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy think of it. Can they separate their reaction to specific policy from how they feel about their jobs, their supervisors and the agency culture?

I don’t know, but it’s a lot easier if you feel like management, and especially the appointee crowd, listens to you and has your back in other ways.

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