The finalists reflect the breadth of the federal government’s reach.

One leads a campaign against bullying in schools. One has played a key role in preventing mother-to-child transmission of AIDS. One has helped wounded U.S. soldiers adjust to new lives. One led an undercover investigation that resulted in the arrest and conviction of the world’s most notorious arms trafficker. And one has tracked down treasures stolen from the National Archives.

These are some of the 33 federal employees nominated for the 11th annual 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. The awards are among the highest honors in the federal world, recognizing public servants in fields ranging from human resources to aeronautics.

With recent government scandals dominating the headlines and the federal workforce under scrutiny as presidential contenders debate the size and role of government, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service hopes the annual “Sammies” will show civil servants in a more positive light.

“We have had a constant drumbeat of negative attention to government workers,” said Max Stier, the partnership’s president and chief executive. “The mistakes get our attention, but in terms of the impact on the general public, we have people here who are actually addressing the problems of the American people.”

Nine medals will be awarded in the fall, including one for federal employee of the year.

The 33 finalists were selected from more than 400 nominations by their managers and colleagues. They will be recognized Wednesday at a breakfast in Washington as part of Public Service Recognition Week, which observes the contributions of local, state and federal civil servants.

Most finalists work in the Washington area. Some are members of teams that have been nominated. Some are starting their careers, while others’ public service is drawing to a close.

The Washington Post spoke with three of the finalists.

●As special agent in charge of the Archival Recovery Team for the inspector general’s office at the National Archives, Kelly Maltagliati has a job that mixes law enforcement, history and sleuthing.

Since 2006, she’s led a small team of investigators on a mission to recover stolen treasure. A vast number of historical documents have been stolen from the Archives, including Civil War letters and artifacts in presidential libraries. Acting on tips, the team scours eBay and contacts collectors, many of whom have unwittingly bought and sold stolen property.

One of the team’s biggest cases came to a close last week with the sentencing to 18 months in prison of Leslie Waffen, the former chief of the Archives’ audiovisual holdings, who admitted stealing almost 1,000 recordings, including original radio reports on the 1937 Hindenburg zeppelin disaster.

Maltagliati, who started her law enforcement career at the U.S. Customs Service, said one nice thing about her work is the collaboration with Archives officials.

“Sometimes inspector general staff are perceived as watchdogs, and it can be adversarial,” she said. “We’ve been able to work hand in hand with the agency. It’s the feel-good side of the inspector general’s office.”

●Many have taken notice of Deborah Temkin’s anti-bullying campaign for the Education Department.

“Schools are begging for resources and begging for guidance,” said Temkin, 26. “We see ourselves as needing to provide a framework for educators. We all want to come to some agreement on how to approach this problem.”

As the agency’s bullying-prevention coordinator, Temkin has a hand in planning educational events, providing talking points for top officials, responding to correspondence, designing research projects and coordinating work on bullying prevention with nine other departments.

After several high-profile suicides linked to bullying, Temkin’s agency was charged with coordinating a government-wide response in 2010. Her supervisor told the contest judges that Temkin “galvanized the government and, by extension, the nation.”

She was bullied herself in middle school in Tucson, an experience that she said led her to her job. She acknowledged that, working at the federal level, “we do have limited ability to intervene in individual cases.” But she said she’s making a difference at the policy level and with the department’s Web site,

●As U.S. soldiers headed to Afghanistan in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Charles Scoville was working for the Army surgeon general’s office as chief physical therapist. His boss asked him whether the Army was ready to care for returning soldiers, some of whom would face amputations. Scoville said the military needed a more robust program to do right by its troops.

The Amputee Patient Care services unit was born in 2003, operating out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Scoville, now 60, was ready to retire and work in the field of sports medicine. But he stayed, and was named chief. The program has helped combat amputees lead active lives, with some returning to duty, through a novel sports medicine approach.

The internationally recognized program combines traditional medical and counseling services with a physically active regime for severely wounded service members.

Scoville’s staff is working with about 170 amputees and has helped drive research into advances in prostheses.

Some of the 1,450 injured service members who have been through the program have gone on to complete triathlons, climb Mount Everest and compete in gymnastics, skiing, rowing and other sports, he said.

No matter who the amputee is, the goalpost is now set farther back.

“We look at our wounded warriors as tactical athletes,” Scoville said. “High-end athletes.”

“A lot of things we’re doing were done in previous conflicts,” he said. “But the goal then was ambulation. Our goal now is, how do we take amputee care from basic walking around to the highest level of function possible?”

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