When you’re around Rep. Don Beyer, it doesn’t take long to learn his family tree is full of federal employees.

He talks about his grandmother, 50 years a fed; his grandfather’s three decades with the Interior Department; his other grandfather, a government staffer during World War II. His wife is a federal employee. Beyer (D-Va.) got his start as a lower-level National Park Service worker before becoming an ambassador, then a member of Congress.

Beyer brags that his Northern Virginia district has more feds, 77,000, than any other congressional district and more than 36 states.

With someone so proud of the federal workforce, he was a good pick to keynote a breakfast program Tuesday honoring finalists for the annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, also known as the Sammies. The event featured egg-white frittatas and was sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, a good-government group focusing on Uncle Sam’s workforce.

Beyer’s pride stands in sharp contrast to the heartbreak he said he feels during House committee meetings, when he is “forced to listen to know-nothing, petty, interrupting, rude and mean cross-examinations by elected leaders who fail to recognize or appreciate the excellence and professionalism you bring to our nation.”

President Obama hit a similar theme in a presidential proclamation issued in honor of Public Service Recognition Week, which runs through Saturday. “Even in the toughest of circumstances,” he said, “including a politics that does not always fully recognize the value of their work, our public servants — often at great personal sacrifice — continue striving to build a better country and to bring lasting change to the lives of ordinary people across America.”

The award winners will be announced in September.

“We must foster a climate where more talented people will want to serve in government and make a difference for our country,” said Max Stier, the partnership’s president and chief executive.

There were plenty of talented people in the Dirksen Senate Office Building committee room, which was crammed with 20 round, banquet-style tables for the Sammies breakfast. While the awards celebrate individuals, they also directly point to the broad range of services the government provides the public, often in little-known ways. My colleague Lisa Rein previously listed the three dozen named finalists, many representing teams of feds, in seven categories.

To get a better idea of who they are, I picked three for a closer look.

Joseph J. Mueller is a senior geo-technical engineer with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He was cited for his work in saving the 175-foot-high Cannonsville dam, which supplies water for New York City. He was called in when local officials discovered a turbid flow below the dam in July. Left uncorrected, the flow could have undermined the structure to the point that “the dam could have failed,” Mueller said. That would have led to the evacuation of thousands in the area.

Stier said Mueller “led a strategy to reduce the looming danger, convening stakeholders and working through the engineering issues. The unique consensus plan that saved the dam was implemented in less than four weeks.”

Anne Barker Dunn and her Department of Veterans Affairs colleagues work with veterans caught in the criminal-justice system — helping some to avoid incarceration, assisting others after incarceration.

Among the things she finds satisfying about her job are the “privilege to serve the veterans and the quality and caliber of the staff at the VA,” she said. “They really are a phenomenal team.”

Hongwei Hsiao is chief of the protective technology branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection in Morgantown, W.Va. Hsiao, 25 years a fed, has improved safety for workers, Stier said, by “researching body size and shape, and designing a new generation of protective equipment and vehicle interiors.”

Hsiao helped design harnesses to prevent falls by construction workers in high places, better truck cabs to eliminate blind spots for drivers and longer seat belts for firefighters wearing heavy clothing and equipment.

Asked what he likes about his job, Hsiao was succinct: “We save people’s lives.”

That applies to a lot of federal employees.

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