The Oscars are over. It's time to pick up the red carpet and move on to the Sammies.

Nominations for the 2007 Service to America Medals, presented annually to honor government employees for their achievements and commitment to federal service, are being accepted at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

The deadline for submitting nominations, at, is March 8. The medals, which are presented at a gala dinner, are accompanied by cash prizes -- from $3,000 to $10,000.

Unlike the stars of the silver screen, most federal employees work behind the scenes and rarely on camera. Previous medal winners include the Federal Trade Commission team that created the National Do Not Call Registry, a federal scientist leading the effort to prepare for a catastrophic flu pandemic, and an Internal Revenue Service employee responsible for the e-file system that speeds tax refunds.

Nicole Nelson-Jeanof the Energy Department won the award in 2004, when she was 28, for leading a U.S. delegation to negotiate an agreement with Russian officials to help secure Russian nuclear weapons. She went on to serve as director of the Energy Department's Asia office in Tokyo and currently heads the department's North and South American threat-reduction office.

Winning the award, she said, renewed her appreciation for government service and has brought her opportunities to speak up for public service. "It is an unfortunate image of federal workers, or the civil service, that you get stuck in a job that is bureaucratic, and not fun, and that you don't meet interesting people," Nelson-Jean said. "That is so untrue. It is so not that."

The partnership was founded by businessman Samuel J. Heymanin 2001 to call attention to the importance of federal service and to help improve the way the government works. Max Stierserves as the partnership's president and chief executive.

The group recently received a $4 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation to finance two projects over the next four years.

Stier said the partnership will launch the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Federal Leadership Institute, and the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Public Service Speakers Bureau this year. The late Walter H. Annenberg was an ambassador to London, and Leonore Annenberg was the U.S. chief of protocol during the Reagan administration.

The leadership institute will focus on mid-level federal supervisors and help build their management skills, while the speakers bureau will send federal employees to college campuses to talk up government careers.

The 2007 winners of the Service to America Medals will be honored at a Washington gala in September. Campbell Brown, a NBC News anchor and correspondent, will be the master of ceremonies, the partnership said.

Tempting TargetFederal retiree health benefits just keep showing up on budget-cutting tables.

A "Budget Options" report from the Congressional Budget Office, released over the weekend, includes a recommendation that would reduce the government's subsidy for retiree health-care costs. President Bushproposed a similar policy change in his fiscal 2008 budget, sent to Congress early this month.

The CBO and Bush administration proposals would reduce subsidies for premiums for retirees who had relatively short government careers. Federal retirees can now continue in the federal employee health program if they carried insurance during their last five years of service and are eligible to start collecting retirement benefits.

The CBO, in its report, said that basing retiree health benefits on length of service would "help bring federal benefits closer to those of private companies.

"Federal retirees' health benefits are significantly better than those offered by most large private firms, which have been aggressively paring or eliminating retirement benefits for newly hired workers," the report said.

For new retirees, the CBO proposed that the government's share of premium costs be cut by 2 percentage points for every year of service fewer than 20. The CBO said that about 14 percent of the nearly 85,000 retirees who continue in the federal health-care program each year have careers shorter than 20 years.

The proposal would create savings of about $770 million over 10 years, the CBO said.

The government currently picks up about 70 percent of the federal retiree premium, and the Bush proposal would require employees to have 10 years of government service to keep the subsidy. Under the Bush plan, the government would pay half of the subsidy for those with five years of service and would phase in higher contributions for those with service of more than five years but fewer than 10.

Although Congress is looking for ways to reduce federal spending, it seems unlikely that House and Senate Democrats and moderate Republicans would take up politically sensitive budget cuts that roll back promised benefits. A similar proposal in 2005 by a group of House conservatives, the Republican Study Committee, to help pay for Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery, went nowhere.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is