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President Barack Obama delivers a statement and answers questions regarding the sequester budget cuts following a meeting with Congressional leadership, March 1, 2013. (Photo: White House/Chuck Kennedy)

(Credit: White House)

President Barack Obama didn’t come bearing raises or holiday bonuses Tuesday while speaking to an audience of Senior Executive Service members, but he did offer the federal government’s leaders his thanks and a trio of new initiatives to make their service more impactful.

The president, with lighthearted candor, recognized that money is still tight and the political theater is raging more than ever, and therefore trust in the government is low. The solution, Obama said, is serving the American public better.

“We have to constantly ask ourselves, how can we serve Americans better? How can we yank this government into the 21st century and make it smarter and faster and more responsive?” Obama said. “Because if all we’re doing is hunkering down and trying to push back against complaints and criticisms — many of which are unfair — but we’re not engaging in self-reflection and trying to figure out how every single day we can be doing our jobs a little bit better, then we’re failing the American people, and we’re failing an incredible tradition that helped to build this country that you are a part of.”

So the commander in chief introduced three new White House efforts — a leadership development program for future senior career executives, an advisory group on SES reform and a new award to recognize outstanding leadership — investing in and recognizing senior leaders and giving them “more support to keep attracting the new talent that we’re going to need for the future,” Obama said.

Within the White House Leadership Development Program for Future Senior Career Executives, federal employees will rotate through different agencies working on high-priority assignments and then report back to their home agencies. This will not only give them a rounded experience learning from leaders throughout government, but it will also reduce the siloed nature of federal agencies. The first cohort will begin in 2015, according to a White House blog post.

“We want great ideas to have the chance to spread,” Obama said. “We want people to get new experiences that re-energize them, re-invigorate them. We want those ideas to cross-pollinate across agencies. We want the next generation of leaders to have the experience of solving problems and building relationships across the government.”

The White House will also create an advisory group to compile the best practices in recruiting, developing and retaining federal employees. A major component of this, the president said, will be using the Office of Personnel Management’s new UnlockTalent.gov tool to make use of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results.

“We want to make sure you’re hearing from your employees,” Obama said. “One of the things we know in the private sector about continuous improvement is you’ve got to have the folks right there on the front lines able to make suggestions and know that they’re heard.”

Lastly, Obama said the White House is creating an award for senior leadership service, something he’s surprised hasn’t been done before.

Obama ended on a more serious and appreciative note than he started.

“You can make enormous differences in the lives of individual Americans every single day,” he told the audience. “We are going to honor the people who do this job best. Because ultimately, that’s what it’s about — making sure our government serves the American people. There is no greater opportunity to help more people, to make a bigger difference — in some cases to help millions, in some cases to help billions around the world — than to be in the positions that we are privileged to be in right now.”