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Editorial columns

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Cheap federal morale boost

In April, 124 federal executives received the Presidential Rank Award, a distinction that confers a salary bonus. The winners’ accomplishments saved the federal government an estimated $94 billion.

Next year the equivalent bureaucrat-heroes won’t receive the same recognition. President Barack Obama has put the program on hold, reasoning that at a time of pay freezes and furloughs, bonuses can’t be justified. But the administration’s appearance-conscious cut is pound foolish.

A report released last week found only four out of 10 federal employees believe they will be rewarded or promoted for doing good work. Obama should be looking for ways to reinforce the respect these employees are due.

Examples of dysfunction in government often get plenty of attention, justifiably. The good work thousands of employees do every day, and the extraordinary work the presidential award winners and others perform, receives far less attention.

In a sour economy, there are limits to what any president can do to maintain morale. Politicians who demean government service make the task more difficult. That makes it all the more important for Obama to do what he can.

The kind of low morale reflected in the survey will cost the government in the long run. Good people will leave or decide not to come in the first place. No one in government expects to find rolling carts of Pinkberry frozen yogurt in their workplace or to receive the six-figure starting salaries commonly found in consulting firms. But it is up to each administration to defend, reward and recognize federal employees who every day tackle our most complex problems.