‘Sammies’ finalists are announced

Mark DeMaria, a supervisory meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is credited with helping to pioneer computer models to better forecast hurricanes, work that helped predict the path of Hurricane Sandy and other storms that have ravaged the United States in recent years

On Tuesday, he is being honored as a finalist for a prestigious career achievement medal honoring federal employees.

This summer, he faces furlough.

DeMaria is among 31 federal workers who have been nominated in eight categories for the 2013 Samuel J. Heymann Service to America medals. This year’s competition comes as the federal government tries to cope with automatic budget cuts mandated by sequestration.

Some agencies, including NOAA, expect to resort to furloughs to make the cuts. DeMaria faces up to four days of furlough, along with most other employees of the agency.

“It’s going to slow things down,” said DeMaria, who works at NOAA’s Center for Satellite Applications and Research in Fort Collins, Colo. “It certainly wouldn’t be my first way to do business. But we’ll continue to do our work.”

Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, the nonprofit group sponsoring the awards, said the furloughs and across-the-board cuts run counter to the group’s mission of promoting good government.

“Even if [federal workers] don’t get furloughed, they’re operating in a world where the threat of furloughs is an ever recurring threat,” Stier said. “That can only be a distraction, and a very bad one. It’s no way to run a railroad.”

This year’s nominees also include an FBI agent who led the team that rescued a 5-year-old boy held hostage in a standoff in Alabama and two doctors at the National Institutes of Health who helped stop the spread of a deadly hospital superbug.

NIH medal nominees Julie Segre, a senior investigator, and Tara Palmore, a deputy hospital epidemiologist, say the effect of sequestration at the elite research hospital will be indirect. Their work combatting the superbug that killed seven people will not be affected.

“We really can’t cut corners in this area,” Segre said. “The hospital has to find other ways to cut funds.”

The nominations are being released as part of Public Service Recognition Week.

“It’s nice to have this week to step back and shine the light on the work that’s being done by civil servants,” said Orice Williams Brown, managing director for financial markets and community investment at the Government Accountability Office. Brown has been named a finalist for the career achievement medal for her work examining the nation’s financial regulatory system, including the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

She said the GAO is doing its best despite low staffing because of budget cuts.

“People are continuing to work, putting their heads down and working through it,” she said.

Medal recipients will be announced in October. Medal categories include Science and Environment; Homeland Security and Law Enforcement; National Security and International Affairs; Citizen Services; and Management Excellence.

Stier pointed to the medal nomination of Michelle Colby, branch chief of Agricultural Defense at the Department of Homeland Security, who led a team that developed a vaccine to protect livestock from foot-and-mouth disease, as an example of the type of work that could be threatened by sequestration cuts.

“Maybe we won’t have longer lines at the airport, but what if we don’t have the resources to develop the next vaccine?” Stier asked.

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