With a government led by a self-centered embarrassment in the White House, this year’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals could not be more welcome.
The Sammies, as they are known, honor the selfless service and major accomplishments of particular federal employees, who will be celebrated with a gala on Wednesday. But more than that, the awards reveal the incredible work of federal workers generally, protecting people at home and abroad, inventing and innovating major technological breakthroughs and improving life for millions.
“The federal government is a unique instrument for our country. The 2017 Service to America Medal recipients, in seven categories, represent the best in government, the unsung heroes who quietly work behind-the-scenes to serve their country and the public good,” said Max Stier, Partnership for Public Service president and CEO. “It is important, especially in these uncertain times, to celebrate and recognize the Sammies honorees and their colleagues throughout the government who are making a positive difference in people’s lives.”
The awards, which began in 2002, are presented by the Partnership, a federal workforce and management research organization, and named for its founder. They represent the best in federal service, which is not to say the honorees are unique. Special, yes. But they are not alone among those doing amazing work. Winners were selected from 440 nominees.
The 26 finalists are eligible for the Service to America Medals People’s Choice award, which will be announced at the program. “This is the third time the public was able to vote for the federal employee they think has made the most admirable contribution to the American people,” according to the Partnership.
The Partnership listed the categories, the winners and their accomplishments.
Federal Employees of the Year — Phillip A. Brooks, Byron Bunker and Joshua H. Van Eaton. This Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department team “halted a scheme by Volkswagen to rig more than a half million vehicles to circumvent U.S. auto emission standards. Their work led to a record $17.4 billion in legal settlements — including large sums of money that have been dedicated to reducing pollution and compensating car owners.”
Career Achievement Medal — Tedd V. Ellerbrock, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “played a vital role in building, expanding and improving the U.S.-led program that provides medicine and assistance to 11 million people worldwide living with HIV and AIDS.”
Science and Environment Medal: Rory A. Cooper, of the Department of Veterans Affairs, “led innovations that include a wheelchair with robotic arms and hands that can grasp, personal vehicles enabling people to access terrain their wheelchairs couldn’t traverse.”
Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal: Timothy P. Camus and the IRS Impersonation Scam team ran an investigation and public awareness campaign “to stop a massive fraud that involved more than 1.8 million threatening phone calls and resulted in some 10,000 Americans paying $54 million in bogus tax bills.” Sixty-one people were indicted last year and reports of the intimidating calls dropped by more than 90 percent.
National Security and International Affairs Medal: Alex Mahoney and the Middle East Crisis Humanitarian Response team in the Agency for International Development delivered “food, medicine, drinking water and other aid to 7 million people” in Syria and Iraq.
Promising Innovations Medal: Flora “Mackie” Jordan, of the Marine Corps Systems Command, developed body armor that is 45 percent lighter yet just as effective as the 150 pounds of protective gear that hindered troops for years.
Management Excellence Medal: Courtney Lias, Stayce Beck and the Food and Drug Administration’s artificial pancreas team worked to expedite approval of a device “that for the first time automates some of the complicated steps needed to keep blood sugar under control,” potentially transforming “the lives of the 1.2 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, who must constantly monitor their body’s blood sugar level and correctly dose insulin for their very survival.”
President Trump should attend the award’s gala. It’s not likely, but perhaps he would be humbled in the company of true — and very impressive — public servants.
He certainly could learn.