Unfortunately, our government is often portrayed as an uncaring, bureaucratic enterprise disconnected from the American people, or worse, as “part of the problem.” As evidence, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that found that only 20 percent of Americans describe government programs as being well run, and just 19 percent trust government “always or most of the time.”
While missteps attract headlines, and some politicians find government workers to be an easy target, our government regularly and effectively serves our collective interests, and that’s because of the talented, innovative, and dedicated federal employees who work every day seeking to make a difference for the American people.
This week has been designated by Congress as “Public Service Recognition Week,” a time set aside each year to celebrate the hard work and outstanding accomplishments of our nation’s civil servants.
There are many exceptional public servants — individuals who, if you ask them, say they are just doing their jobs, but who deserve our praise and recognition for the contributions they are making to society. All of them were named as finalists for the 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (better known as “Sammies”).
Here are a few examples:
At the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dr. Paul McGann, Jean D. Moody-Williams, and Dennis Wagner have been working for the past four years on a comprehensive national program to reduce medical errors and avoidable infections at U.S. hospitals. The initiative has so far led to 2.1 million fewer patients harmed and 87,000 lives saved.
There’s Kirk Yeager, the FBI’s premier bomb expert, who leads U.S. and foreign law enforcement to determine how terrorist-made explosives work and finds new ways to detect and stop them. He has assisted in virtually every high-profile terrorist bombing of the past several years, including aiding authorities during the recent bombing in Brussels and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
NASA scientist Dennis Reuter developed a sophisticated instrument on the New Horizons spacecraft that revealed startling new information about Pluto’s terrain and composition, altering our understanding of the solar system.
At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration James McFadden has spent decades flying airplanes into the eyes of hurricanes to gather information for more accurate weather forecasts that have helped save lives and property.
Lisa Jones of the Department of the Treasury designed a highly successful program to help low-income communities gain access to investment capital to fund health-care centers, charter schools, housing, and small business development. And Kimya Lee of the Office of Personnel Management turned a government survey into an effective tool for federal managers to use to improve employee engagement and performance.
These individuals illustrate some of the many successes of government, and the depth and breadth of what it accomplishes, and suggests a disparity between what Americans hear and what actually takes place.
Whoever wins the presidential election this November, they will need energized, dedicated public servants to effectively implement policies and programs. The good news is, as these dynamic men and women serving our country so perfectly illustrate, our federal agencies are filled with them.
As citizens, we must all work to foster a climate where talented people will want to serve in government and make a difference for our country. Part of that equation means celebrating and recognizing the successes of our civil servants not only during this one week in May but all year long.
Beth Cobert is the Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Max Stier is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service