Obama Cabinet officials denounce 'cheap shots' at federal workers

Three Obama cabinet secretaries and the president's chief personnel officer on Tuesday denounced what they called political attacks on federal workers at an event held to boost worker morale.

Congressional Republicans have called for the two-year freeze on federal worker pay instituted last December to be expanded and combined with a hiring freeze to counter what members have called a bloated bureaucracy.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun DonovanShaun L. S. DonovanHouse Dems call on OMB to analyze Senate budget plan Overnight Finance: Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | New rules for prepaid cards | Justices dig into insider trading law GOP reps warn Obama against quickly finalizing tax rules MORE, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusKansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? New Dem Kansas gov reinstates protections for LGBT state employees MORE and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry pushed back against what they called cheap political attacks. They did not signal out Republicans by name.

“This idea that politicians want to take pot shots at public servants: I despise that,” LaHood said at the Public Service Recognition Week event, organized by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He added that “government should not be the whipping organization for politicians.”

LaHood said President Obama made what was a difficult decision to freeze federal worker pay in December as part of an effort to cut federal spending.

“I know one of the most painful decisions the president made was to freeze pay for two years,” he said, pointing out that Obama had said as much in a Cabinet meeting.

Donovan said that political focus on “what is going wrong” is “insidious” because it causes agencies to fail to look at the bigger organizational picture when renovating programs.

Berry noted that a large proportion of civil service workers are veterans.

“As politicians are making cheap potshots, they are also attacking veterans,” he said.

Berry argued that the federal government is smaller today than when Lyndon Johnson was president but civil servants are helping 110 million more Americans. This is a reflection of great efficiency, he said.

He said workers and job applicants should ignore the characterizations of workers as useless bureaucrats and realize that civil servants can have an extraordinary impact.

Sebelius said the politicized atmosphere has been bad for morale.

“People are hearing way too much in terms of the cheap shots,” she said. On the other hand, surveys of workers have shown that many believe bonuses are not distributed in a way that rewards the hardest work the most, and reforms are under way to address this.