The Senate's Champion of Civil Service
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Amid the Senate's busy floor schedule today, Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) plans to divert attention briefly from health-care reform and homeland security funding to talk about John Granville.
Granville, a 33-year-old employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development, was gunned down in Sudan on New Year's Day 2008, shot by militants who targeted his car because of its diplomatic license plate. The former Peace Corps volunteer and member of the U.S. Foreign Service was in the country to distribute solar-powered radios to rural villagers so they could have access to uncensored international broadcasts.
Granville's story is one of 11 that Kaufman thus far has told from the Senate floor, and he plans to continue with similar stories until his term ends in 2011. A veteran federal employee and the self-professed caretaker of Vice President Biden's former Senate seat, Kaufman says he will keep talking about rank-and-file federal employees even if it scores him few political points.
"It's bothered me for the last almost 30 years that people just feel it's perfectly okay to denigrate federal employees," Kaufman said yesterday. "It really, really bothers me, because they do make incredible sacrifices."
As with so many other public-sector employees, Kaufman initially had no plans to pursue government service. The Duke University graduate and Wharton School MBA was working for DuPont Corp. in Delaware when he met a young Joe Biden in 1972. Kaufman signed on as a volunteer and helped run an ultimately successful Senate campaign. In 1976, he became Biden's chief of staff, serving in the job through 1995. He then served on the board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors before running Biden's vice presidential transition office and taking the Senate seat earlier this year.
"In some ways, it's every Senate staffer's dream that you'll one day be the senator, so I think there are a lot of us for who are very proud" of Kaufman's ascension to the Senate, said Ron Klain, Biden's vice presidential chief of staff, who worked with Kaufman in Biden's Senate office.
"The staff loved working for him," Klain said. "He always looked out for us, took care of us."
Speaking from the Senate desk once occupied by Biden and John F. Kennedy, Kaufman has described federal employees as "silent sentinels of our nation's well-being," saying that "no matter what programs we launch to get America back on the right path, they will be carried out by our federal workers."
Kaufman's staff compiles the stories for his consideration, often consulting with the District-based Partnership for Public Service. He is most interested in "unsung heroes" who keep their heads down and get the job done, often over several years of service. In addition to Granville, Kaufman has highlighted the work of Nicole Faison, a director in the Department of Housing and Urban Development who helped eliminate billions of dollars in fraudulent payments at the Office of Public and Indian Housing. He told of Joe Connaughton, who worked 27 years with the Army Missile Command Research Development and Engineering Division after serving in World War II. He also thanked Tracy Mustin, an Energy Department employee who led efforts to install monitoring devices to help detect nuclear or radiological substances at hundreds of airports, seaports and border crossings.
Though the recognition was flattering, Faison said, "We do what we do because it's our job to do, and we take great pride in it."
Kaufman's speeches help remind people, she said, that "there are more people here doing good than those that are actually the slackers."
Kaufman says he will not run in next year's special election to finish out Biden's term, which expires in 2014. Delaware observers expect that Rep. Michael N. Castle (R) and Biden's son, Beau, the state's attorney general currently serving in Iraq, will run. In the meantime, Kaufman will keep to his Senate duties, focusing in the coming days on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee.
"I just hope that by the end of my two years, I'll have laid out a mosaic of different employees," he said.