Intelligence staffers left off awards for ‘distinguished’ employees

Joe Davidson
Columnist April 30, 2013

During this period when many federal employees face furlough days, reduced or frozen pay and continued uncertainty, there was a brief respite last week when high-ranking staffers were honored with a State Department banquet.

The big checks they get aren’t bad either.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Unfortunately, some federal workers key to our national security were ignored.

Forty-six workers honored with the Presidential Ranks of Distinguished Executive and Distinguished Professional awards are a rare group. Those eligible for the award make up just 1 percent of Senior Executive Service members and other senior-level civil servants. The honor includes a monetary prize equal to 35 percent of each individual’s pay, an amount set by statute. The prize for Meritorious Award winners is 20 percent of their pay.

That’s a good chunk of change, particularly during a time of budget cuts. But it’s small change compared with the amount of money Uncle Sam saved because of these civil servants, many of whom could make much bigger salaries in the private sector.

“Their accomplishments are inevitably awe-inspiring, and you will be stunned to learn not only what they have accomplished, but that the savings and cost avoidance documented in their nominations total over $94 billion,” Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association (SEA), said in remarks prepared for the banquet. SEA’s Professional Development League sponsors the annual event honoring the winners.

The banquet provides “not only the recognition so richly deserved — and so seldom received — by the Distinguished Executives, but also an occasion in which we all renew our pride in Federal service,” Bonosaro said.

James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, was the banquet’s keynote speaker. Ironically, intelligence community employees and Senior Foreign Service officers were not honored as they have been previously.

Last year, for example, staffers from the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI shared the spotlight.

Not this year.

“It was disappointing for us not to be able to welcome as we always have distinguished executives from the intelligence community,” Bonosaro said by phone. “It’s inexplicable to me why their nominations have not been acted on” by the White House.

The intelligence community didn’t have an explanation either.

“That package is still under review,” said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper’s office. “We had hoped it would have moved forward by the time the banquet occurred, but that did not happen.”

Intelligence and Senior Foreign Service officers sometimes risk their lives for Sam. Why can’t the White House do what it needs to do to recognize them? The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment.

Those who were recognized, according to information supplied by SEA, are an impressive lot. Here are a few:

●David G. Huizenga, an acting assistant secretary in the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, worked to move tons of nuclear material from the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, allowing the accelerated closure of that facility. That saved $30 billion, almost one-third of the total.

●Pamela K. Haze, a deputy assistant secretary, professionalized the Interior Department’s acquisition workforce, required strong justification for using particular vendors and purchasing certain products, saving $719 million.

●Robin N. Henderson, a NASA associate director, “guided institutional investments, improved efficiencies and consolidated resources,” saving $200 million.

●Michael E. Moreland, a Department of Veterans Affairs network director, established an independent liver- and kidney-transplant program in Pittsburgh, saving $4 million a year.

The names and accomplishments of all those honored are available on the SEA’s Web site.

“The thing that makes me the proudest to be associated with all of you, is that you are motivated by public service,” Clapper told the honorees. “What has helped you excel, what openly thrills each and every one of you, has been to work for your nation. You answered a call several years ago — and stayed with it — not to benefit yourself, but to improve the welfare of the American people.”

Direct and frank, Clapper gives a good inspirational speech. Too bad the White House couldn’t get its act together in time for nominees from intelligence agencies to hear their director’s remarks.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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