You’ll be home for — and before — Christmas

Feds have it good this season. A 3.1% pay raise coming, it looks like, and Christmas Eve day off, courtesy of the now-viral executive order from President Donald Trump.

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of hosting the ceremonies for the Presidential Rank Award winners. They followed dinner at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, pointed out in her remarks that the last president to give the day before Christmas off was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Remember him? There’s a Paris Metro stop named after him.

Somebody will complain about “those bureaucrats” getting a day off.

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But if you really want to know what public service is all about, check out the list of this year’s Presidential Rank Award recipients. I had the privilege of hosting the dinner at the Mayflower earlier this week at which the Distinguished Rank winners received their commemorative glass obelisks. Federal News Network’s Nicole Ogrysko wrote a roundup of the awards.

Having worked in journalism for more than 40 years, I’ve come to realize that what other people do is really hard. I love the opera. When I see a great Magic Flute or Tosca, I don’t hear the talent so much as the years and years of toil that turned a latent thing, like talent, into the right to appear on a professional stage in a major city. I recently helped a former professional athlete refine a business pitch. I’m thinking, how does one perform that sport, at that level, for that many years?

And so it is with the top senior executives in the federal government — the average citizen never heard of, and will likely never hear of most of these people.

The Air Force’s Kathy Watern led efforts to filling hundreds and hundreds of vacancies in the acquisition workforce, reversing a steady decline while acquisition requirements were on the rise. She lent her expertise to  major award programs so they avoided protests.

Frederick Maurin is not a household name. But he led efforts to rebuild Social Security Offices wrecked in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after a hurricane, helping insure people caught in the aftermath would keep getting their benefits.

How about Charles Fulghum? He somehow reined in a bunch of old systems and a tangle of processes to get the Department of Homeland Security to clean financial audit statements. What kind of perseverance, powers of persuasion, and shrewd financial acumen must that have taken?

Mark Honecker received the award for transforming Navy manpower, training, logistics and maintenance “to meet new threats from China and Russia.” The citation goes on and on … but in effect he grabbed aircraft carriers by the anchor port and moved them to another direction.

A program overseen by Eugene Tu as NASA Ames Research Center discovered 2,500 planets. NASA’s Janet Kavandi oversaw creating of a large scale acoustics test facility, leading to the development of quieter jet engines.

Expectant mothers are safer from scourges like the Zika virus thanks for the work of Laura Kavanagh of the Department of Health and Human Services. She convened the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health.

Those are just a few. They’re all impressive, and characteristically modest about their achievements. Lots of people can say what a program or an agency should do. Very few can move bureaucracies, convert naysayers, orchestrate the rules to  make it happen.

So, yeah, the federal workforce gets an extra day of leave this year. Got a problem with that?

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