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Sammies bring good news to feds hit with so much bad news

Federal Diary

Recent federal employee items in the news:

The federal workplace charitable campaign is suffering because donations and participation are down.

Months after a massive cybertheft, federal workers finally are being notified and getting services.

Government staffers and taxpayers escape a shutdown for now, but face the possibility of one in two months.

It’s time for some good news.

Enter the self-proclaimed “Oscars of Government Service,” also known as the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, better known as the Sammies.

Federal employees will be honored with Sammies for outstanding service at a black-tie gala Wednesday. It’s the 14th annual awards program, presented by the nonprofit organization Partnership for Public Service, recognizing some very impressive accomplishments by the federal workforce.

“Too often, the vital work of our nation’s public servants goes unnoted and unappreciated,” said Max Stier, the Partnership for Public Service’s president and chief executive. “The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals recognize and celebrate the many exceptional federal employees who have quietly, proudly and passionately dedicated their lives to making a difference for our country — and our world.”

The partnership, recognizing the power of social media, for the first time opened voting to the public, through Facebook, for the People’s Choice award that will go to one of the 30 finalists. It’s also the first time the ceremony will be streamed live online, at, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Eastern time.

That winner is being kept quiet until the ceremony. But the names of the winners in the other eight categories are known.

The top medal, Federal Employee of the Year, goes to Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute. He is being honored not only for his accomplishments this year but also for work that has extended the lives of untold numbers of people over many years. Rosenberg “spent 40 years developing life-saving treatments that stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells,” according to the partnership. Asked about this work, Rosenberg said: “We are here not to practice today’s medicine, but to create the medicine of tomorrow.”

His work has provided many more tomorrows.

The National Security and International Affairs Medal goes to Mia Beers and the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team from the U.S. Agency for International Development. This was a cross-agency operation where federal employees put themselves at risk to help stop the spread of the disease in West Africa. “I often say that I have the best job in the world,” Beers said, “a job with a mandate to save lives, alleviate suffering and reduce the impact of disasters.”

The Call to Service Medal goes to Adam R. Schildge with the Federal Transit Administration. With only four years of federal experience, Schildge managed a $3.6 billion grant program to help state and local authorities protect infrastructure damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

Even an award-winning fed can feel frustrated at Washington’s ways.

“At times, it can be frustrating to sit in Washington and hear about innovative ideas for transportation solutions and the great need for transportation investment in communities across the country, and then realize we don’t have a budget sufficient to prepare our country for future growth, or even keep the transportation systems we have in a state of good repair,” Schildge said. “Our state and local transportation partners deserve a long-term federal transportation bill that recognizes those needs.”

The Management Excellence Medal goes to Edward C. Hugler with the Labor Department. Called “Mr. Fix-It” by colleagues, Hugler has been involved with a number of management projects that significantly improved Labor’s operations. Among them is, which helps people access more than 1,200 government benefits and programs.

“The Sammies send a clear and unambiguous message: The work of the federal government matters — to all Americans and people around the world,” Hugler said. “This is a welcome counterpoint to uninformed critics. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

The Career Achievement Medal goes to Hyun Soon Lillehoj, an Agricultural Research Service molecular biologist. She has “made pioneering scientific discoveries on treatments for commercial poultry that lessen the use of antibiotics and make it safer to eat poultry,” the partnership said. The Sammies are important, Lillehoj said, “to let the public know the work we do at the federal government research laboratories.”

The Science and Environment Medal goes to Jacob E. Moss, of the Environmental Protection Agency. While detailed to the State Department, Moss helped lead an international effort to combat indoor pollution from the cookstoves used in poor countries. “I most enjoy feeling like I’m making an impact in the world,” he said by e-mail.

The Citizen Services Medal goes to Lucile Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey. This seismologist “is literally leading groundbreaking research on earthquakes and turning it into public action that will save lives and property,” the gala’s program says. Jones told the Federal Diary: “I enjoy every bit of my job dedicated to our mission.”

“What I like least is the lack of resources,” she added, “not the least of which is my time.”

The Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal goes to Ron Ross, a fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Dubbed the “cyber defender,” Ross has been a leader in protecting government computer networks by developing cyber standards for agencies. Yet, as the partnership notes, “it still is up to individual agencies to institute those security standards, however, which is often problematic due to lack of resources and expertise.”