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Obama: Some government workers ‘are slugs, not trying to do their job’

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The president's watching. Everybody look busy!

President Obama was caught on an open mic during a closed-door fundraiser last night, sharing his thoughts about the federal workforce.

According to CBS reporter Mark Knoller, who heard Obama’s private comments and posted them on his Twitter feed, Obama said that in general, “I would put federal workers against any worker in the private sector.” Obama reportedly said it was “striking … how generally smart and dedicated people are” in the federal workforce.

But he also said that some government workers “are slugs and not trying to do their job,” Knoller reported. “But that’s true of any large institution.”

Both congressional Republicans and the Office of Personnel Management are starting to focus on the government’s problems holding poor performers accountable. And Obama’s “slug” comment may strengthen the hand of those who say agencies need to do more to punish slackers and reward hard workers.

It also somewhat contradicts the letter Obama sent federal employees Monday after the shutdown was averted, in which he said their patience and professionalism affirmed his confidence in “everyone who works in our government.”

What do you think of Obama’s comments? Does he have a point about the lackluster work ethic of some federal employees? Or do you think he’s unfairly piling on?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find audio of his “slugs” comment online. But CBS posted a recording of Obama describing budget negotiations over the health care bill, which I embedded below. It’s worth listening to, if only to hear an irritated-sounding Obama ask, “You think we’re stupid?” He also predicts the upcoming debt limit vote will invite more of the same grueling public policy debates that the 2011 budget debate brought. Which means we have lots more fun to look forward to in the months ahead. (/sarcasm)


  1. DJH Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    The only only worthless slug not doing his job lives in the Whitehouse.

  2. Yep Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I work for the federal government and he’s absolutely right. There are really sharp, motivated people in the gov, and there are people who only want to collect a check. The problem is that the “slug” faces few or no consequences for their poor performance. Even if they don’t get the same grade/step increases as the person who works their butts off, they still have job security.

  3. Antonia Darling Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Of course he’s right. It would be silly to think otherwise. The majority of federal employees are hard working – but there is always a slacker or two. A good manager knows they need to get rid of or demote the real slacker, or the resst of the employees pay the price. Its hard to do, but a had working manager can do it.

  4. KAT Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I think the President is correct. The vast majority of Federal workers are very dedicated to ther jobs. However, as he said, in any large institution there are exceptions. The managers are the problem, though, as many are unwilling to address the “problem children” head on. This is demoralizing for those who do work hard. We have several people who have “retired in place” and no longer contribute to the mission. But the managers allow this to happen. Shame on them for not holding people accountable.

  5. Lcb Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I know plenty of poor performers in the government both military and civilian. It’s sad to see these adults pampered, promoted and pacified while the hardworkers go unnoticed. Managers definitely need more training and document, document, document. The latter is taught in the military and it’s your best defense to rid your command of lackluster performers. Take heed civilian counterparts! BTW I’m still waiting to go over my IDP and initial performance appraisal after year and three months. My super tells me ” oh, I really don’t have time for that”.

  6. Edward Says:
    April 15th, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    The real “slugs” are the congress . They deliberately keep US borders open to facilitate the entry of drugs into the US. They receive huge “gifts” for this service.

    Congress also produces fantasy productions like the one we just saw. Pretending to be negotiating to the last hour, before they turned into a pumpkin at midnight, on a budget they should have done last year.

    Mr. Obama might be the biggest “slug” of all. Always on vacation, golfing, playing basketball, etc. While the country careens into fiscal chaos, foreign policy debacles and other serious issues.

    Perhaps we all are slugs, to continue to accept this type of performance from our so called “elected” officials.

  7. The Truth Says:
    April 16th, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Obama is certainly no leader. He has no experience as an executive, no real experience as a leader, and frankly could not run a lemonade stand. I would go so far as to say he is an anti-leader. He creates confusion at every opportunity. What he does like to do is to moralize and blame everything and anyone. How does he know anything about the private sector? Do they teach that in community organizer school?

    If he was my new federal hire he would not have finished his probationary period. He cannot set goals and cannot figure out options to achieve the goals. Big mouth, empty words and no action. Use to see all the African-American federal employees who all voted for Mr. Hopey Changey and they are all sorry for that now. Lots of voter remore in the A-A community. How do I know, I sit and listen to them talk especially after the threat of shutdown. How are the federal African-American going to take this man comments? Where is the AFGE AFL-CIO, NFFE and the NTEU and how do they cover his butt on this one?

    Nice to see Arizona passed the Barack Obama Retirement Act of 2012.

  8. Lyla Says:
    April 16th, 2011 at 12:11 am

    The audio is here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7362919n&tag=morephotovid

    As a federal worker, his comments are consistent with what i’ve observed.

  9. Marsha Says:
    April 16th, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I find not only the title, but the tone of this article to be misleading at best. Your title and tone imply the president was somehow knocking federal workers in general as less capable or dedicated than private sector workers. But by your own pulled quotes, that’s clearly not what he said. I absolutely agree that like any large sector or industry, government has some employees who do not pull their weight. But how about highlighting his other comment putting federal workers against any private sector workers?

  10. Dave Says:
    April 16th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Come on 2012…Go Donald!

  11. ks Says:
    April 16th, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Good one, Edward:


  12. JMJ Says:
    April 17th, 2011 at 12:35 am

    I have worked for the IRS over 30 years a and brought in over a billion dollars in revenue. I do not appreciate this comment calling government employees slugs. All the people I work with are highly dedicated President Obama.

  13. JMJ Says:
    April 17th, 2011 at 12:37 am

    I have worked for the IRS over 30 years and brought in much revenue. I do not appreciate this comment calling government employees slugs. All the people I work with are highly dedicated President Obama.

  14. cut wasteful spending Says:
    April 17th, 2011 at 12:56 am

    That’s simply true. There are lots of LIBERAL slugs.

    To be over lenient is to breed evil.

    American people must limit the Federal Government.

    And first of all, LIMIT the President and Democrats in Washington DC!

  15. BK Says:
    April 17th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    your reporting here is what is worthless.

    the main things obama said here was not that federal workers were slugs … which in fact he did not really say and was a deliberately spun misquote.

    when he was talking about federal slugs though … maybe he meant Republicans?

  16. what? Says:
    April 17th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Mr. Obama is 100% on the money. 15% should be booted.

  17. FedHRXpert Says:
    April 18th, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Unfortunately most if not all of the current Administration’s appointees to head federal agencies are – slugs. I can’t think of any one of these appointees demonstrating agency leadership for any of the programs they administer. Look at the DOL, OMB, OPM and DOT and their lack of proactive, dynamic and robust programs. These are low risk, low visibility, status quo i.e. “maintain” types of appointees. DOT’s Secretary has been caught off guard involving a series of sleeping ATCs and he has been on the job for TWO YEARS! Just what has he been doing for TWO YEARS? Quarterly rants by OMB’s political appointees on performance management have done nothing to clarify for SESrs how to administer performance management. OPM’s politically-appointed Director has done nothing to re-instill that agency’s leadership capacities to oversee, guide and assess federal personnel management practices government wide. DOL has failed to diagnose and prescribe 21st Century training needs opting instead to continue the old training approaches and job development initiatives and programs, etc. We need leadership at these agencies who have ALL THE NECESSARY RESOURCES but lack the proper leadership. In short, we have the wrong people in the right positions. Mr. President, you have 2 years to make a difference – fire these slugs and appoint forward-thinking persons with zeal and determination to get ahead of the curve at these agencies instead of the slugs we have there now.

  18. FedUpFed Says:
    April 18th, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Just like any institution…like Congress. Obama sent us a letter? One of the slugs on his staff forgot to send me one.

  19. Laurie K Says:
    April 18th, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    The President’s statements were nothing we didn’t already know. I appeciate that he has faith in the majority of his Federal workforce. Of course there are “slugs” within the Federal gov’t. You’ll find that in every walk of life.


  20. Wanda Says:
    April 18th, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I guess Stephen is not an Obama supported by the way he tried to slant the story. The President is not against the Federal workforce as you would have us believe.

  21. Tanya Chandler Says:
    April 19th, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Edward and KS are “hard” on PRESIDENT Obama merely because of his skin color. Edward, did you also have an issue with George and George W. going on vacation. The mishaps of the economy was jump started by Bush. PRESIDENT Obama inherited this mess and he is not GOD and is doing his best, with or without supporters, to lighten the load.

    When we ever see past color?

  22. James Pygid Says:
    April 19th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Employees can be slugs only if their supervisors allow it to happen. Every time you see a fed goofing or otherwise misbehaving, ask yourself “where is his supervisor?”

  23. larry Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    “Tanya Chandler Says: : Edward and KS are “hard” on PRESIDENT Obama merely because of his skin color.”

    I missed the part in either of their comments relating to skin color. Can you point it out?

  24. BOB Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I fully agree with the slug remark. I was a Manager for the Post Office, I had 3 delivery zips and a parcel post office.
    I had about 200 people working with me.

    I had so many letter carriers who were disciplined but were always protected by the union.

    I never lost an arbitration case. I made a mistake by disciplining a couple of a Directors friends.

    The Directer harassed me so much, with surprise audits and everything he could throw at me. Over two slugs he was friends with.

    I ended up trying to commit suicide because I was a loyal Employees and honest.

    The bottom line is there is so much I could tell about all these slugs and their high position protectors. I am still taking medication and seeing a psych over all that I was harassed for doing my job.

    Best part about it the Director who tried to make me kill my self lost his job a year later, after he was investigated about me and he was only 45. You want to know about slugs I could write a book on the Post Office.

  25. Heather Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 6:52 am

    I do not think anyone has questioned the ability of goverment workers, I think they have questioned that salaries of goverment workers!

    They may work just as hard as members of the private sector, but most cases they get paid a lot more then the private sector.

    I am a perfect example. I know a women who has worked for the state of Massachussetts in a job identical to my private sector job and we have both worked about 10 years in our positions.

    I started at $19,000 and she started at $32,000. I know make $26,000 and she now makes $55,000! And I do not get anywhere near the benefits she gets!

  26. JMS Says:
    April 22nd, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Heather, what you said is generally true for non-technical jobs, but the same cannot be said for technical jobs.

    A technician or engineer can make more in the civilian sector than in the government. Depending on where they are working, the amount of pay that they receive for the amount of responsibility they have to take on is nowhere near what their civilian counterparts get for the same level of responsibility.

    As to the orginal article mischaracterzing the actual comments, I agree. I’m no fan of Obama, but the twiswting words game seems to be getting played more (on both sides) and it’s annoying.

  27. ColorBlind Says:
    April 27th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Tanya Chandler, I don’t care if the man is granny smith apple green – he’s hell bent on destroying this country and doing a FINE job of it. When will YOU get your eyes off his color and see what’s happening around you?!?! You wanted “change” God in Heaven knows you got what you asked for…. When you lose ALL your religious freedoms, maybe you’ll see the truth!! God Help Us All!!!

  28. IRS agent Says:
    September 20th, 2011 at 12:34 am

    My managers at IRS were slugs, and worse. They terrorized the trainees and put them on multiple probationary periods while bringing in their own families who did no probations whatsoever (whether they called it one or not). They were the most unethical people I’ve ever encountered. IRS management was once highly respected, but the nepotism and corruption is rampant now. The manager I had couldn’t even keep his employees straight – mixed them up, even in their evaluations and files – not only was he a slug, he must have been on drugs