You think federal workers don’t do anything important or cool?
Well, how about a guy who keeps tabs on major crises for President Obama? Or the guy who built a computer database with information on missing people? Or a woman who delivers the bad news to the families of airplane crash victims? Or a doctor who investigates mystery illnesses?
Despite a growing chorus against the public sector, roughly three dozen of them were honored last night at an awards dinner here in Washington.
The Service to America Medals — considered one of the most prestigious honors a civilian federal employees can receive — honored workers nominated by their peers for their work in the worlds of science, the military, national intelligence, justice, the environment and other government services.
The awards are distributed by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan think tank focused on promoting the public sector. (The Washington Post maintains a content deal with the Partnership.)
The “Sammies,” as the awards are known, are called by some the Oscars of the federal workforce, and Thursday night’s festivities included the actual awards being carried across the stage to presenters by a woman in an evening gown.
Paul A. Hsieh, a research hydrologist, won the top prize of employee of the year for his work in helping to end last year’s oil spill along the Gulf Coast. (Read about Hsieh and the other eight winners in Joe Davidson’s Federal Diary column.)
Over the summer, The Washington Post profiled 10 of the award’s finalists. Click on their names below, and take a few minutes today or over the weekend to read through their stories. Some were winners Thursday and their names are marked with an asterisk. But you’ll be impressed with every story here.
— Katherine Antos, an EPA officials and the ”mastermind” behind efforts to cut Chesapeake Bay pollution
— Diane Braunstein*, director of the Social Security Administration’s Compassionate Allowances program that has cut the waiting time for the approval of disability benefits for people with rare or terminal diseases.
— Sharon Bryson, a National Transportation Safety Board employee who serves as a government liaison to the families of airplane crash victims.
— C. Norman Coleman*, with the National Cancer Institute, who helped develop the government’s plans for how the United States would handle the health consequences of a radiological or nuclear event.
— Lawrence Deyton, who heads the Food and Drug Administration’s campaign against smoking. (Cool anecdote: In the 1970s, he grew a ponytail. His mom hated it, so he made a deal with her: He would cut if she quit smoking. She quit, so he cut if off.)
— Fenella France, a Library of Congress heritage preservation scientist who once deciphered Thomas Jefferson’s handwriting.
— William A. Gahl*, clinical director of the Undiagnosed Diseases Program at the National Institutes of Health, who investigates the origins of mystery illnesses.
— Charles Heurich*, who developed the National Institute of Justice’s computer database for missing and unidentified persons’ records.
— Ann Marie Oliva, director of the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who’s helped secure more federal funding for organizations helping the homeless.
— Richard Reed, special assistant to the president for homeland security and senior director for resilience policy who tracks the developments of disasters, including the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, the Haiti earthquake, the influenza pandemic and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost