4 Things Feds Need to Know about Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to Congress and the American people, outlining not only priorities but also big questions that the country needs to address in the next five to 10 years. He discussed the economy, technology, science, education, Social Security, healthcare, energy, foreign policy, terrorism, and political processes. But here are four things in Obama’s 6,000-plus word speech that federal employees need to know:    

1. He highlighted three remarkable feds.

In his speech, Obama singled out three visionary federal employees whose tremendous work helped the U.S. lead the world in the fields of science and technology. 

The president said, “Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA. America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper andKatherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. That's who we are.” 

So who are these remarkable women? 

Grace Hopper was a Navy computer scientist whose work made space travel possible and revolutionized the way computers were used. After Obama mentioned her name, the Department of Energy immediately tweeted this

Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician whose technical contributions took the first Americans to space and to the moon. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, last year. 

Sally Ride was a pioneering female astronaut. She flew into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 to become the first American woman to fly in space.  

2. He announced a new initiative to cure cancer.

Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading this national initiative to cure cancer. Last year Biden, whose eldest son Beau Biden died of a brain tumor, worked with Congress to significantly increase funding for scientists at the National Institutes of Health. 

Biden said in a statement: “Fifty-five years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood before a joint session of Congress and said, “I believe we should go to the moon.” It was a call to humankind. And it inspired a generation of Americans—my generation—in pursuit of science and innovation, where they literally pushed the boundaries of what was possible. This is our moonshot. I know that we can help solidify a genuine global commitment to end cancer as we know it today—and inspire a new generation of scientists to pursue new discoveries and the bounds of human endeavor.” 

3. He mentioned “collective bargaining” for the first time.

Even though President Obama mentioned “workers” in every one of his eight State of the Union addresses since 2009 (with 2012 being the year “workers” was mentioned the most – 12 times), he uttered the words “collective bargaining” for the first time on Tuesday night. 

Collective bargaining, as you may know, is when workers come together to negotiate a contract with their employer that raises pay and benefits, defines health and safety standards, and gives people more voice on the job. 

Defending collective bargaining, the president said, “But after years of record corporate profits, working families won't get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at the expense of everyone else; or by allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.” 

4. He highlighted the challenges facing today’s workers and how the government needs to do more for them.

The president said the government needs to help its citizens, including low-income workers without kids, cope with the changing economy. 

He said, “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. What is true—and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious—is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit and haven’t let up. Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top. 

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing. It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to. And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot. 

For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works better for everybody. We’ve made progress. But we need to make more. And despite all the political arguments we’ve had these past few years, there are some areas where Americans broadly agree.”

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