While President Trump’s White House rolls like a small ship in a big storm, the civil service keeps the government calm, focused and delivering to the public — here and abroad.

A sampling of America’s best civil servants were honored recently during the 18th annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals gala, presented by the Partnership for Public Service. Also called the “Sammies” and the “Oscars of Government Service,” the awards will go to six federal employees who have demonstrated outstanding achievements.

“It’s easy to find sports champions and Oscar-winning celebrities on late-night TV and in popular magazines. But what about outstanding public servants who quietly serve our country?” said Max Stier, the partnership’s president and chief executive. “Americans should know as much about these heroes as they do about their favorite actors and athletes. . . . At a time when government dysfunction dominates the headlines, it is even more important to share stories of exceptional civil servants who are making a difference and remind the public how our federal workforce serves them.”

For the first time in the history of the awards, all winners are from outside the Washington area, which is indicative of the 85 percent of federal employees who do not live in the capital region, which includes counties as far away as West Virginia. Here are the accomplishments of the six winners:

Federal Employee of the Year to Victoria Brahm, 61, director of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wis. She is honored for restoring “the quality and safety of a broken health care center for veterans that had become notorious for unsafe medical practices, excessive opioid use and a toxic work environment.” Brahm, a 38-year federal employee, told the Federal Insiderthat she considers her work “a calling for an honorable mission to care for those who took care of us.”

Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal to Ann McKee, 66, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System in Boston. She “revolutionized scientific research and our understanding of the long-term effects of concussions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in veterans and athletes.” McKee said VA’s “bureaucracy can be daunting,” but she remains “fascinated by the brain. . . . My work tries to advance our understanding of the human brain in health and in disease.”

Management Excellence Medal to Robert Cabana and team. Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, was selected for transforming the center “into a globally distinguished, multiuser launch site for government and commercial space exploration, helping preserve our country’s leadership in this important field.” At “70 years young,” Cabana said “I have been serving our nation since I graduated from high school” and calls his work “pretty darn significant and very rewarding.”

National Security and International Affairs Medal to Ryan Shelby, 35, diplomatic attache and Foreign Service engineering officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Shelby “provided vital training and resources to help people in Haiti rebuild thousands of homes and roofs ripped apart by a Category 4 hurricane, making the structures safer and stronger to withstand future disasters.” Shelby said, “USAID/Haiti worked with community members to rebuild and improve the hurricane resistance of 5,000 roofs using a market-based approach, trained 6,425 people in reconstruction techniques, reconstructed seven water distribution points, and improved the sanitary blocks of 12 schools, which benefited 712 children.”

Safety and Law Enforcement Medal to Jamie Rhome, 43, storm surge specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. He “created a new forecasting model and warning system that more accurately predicts the deadly storm surge caused by hurricanes, saving lives by alerting residents sooner of the approaching danger.” When Rhome talks to private-sector colleagues who balk at joining the federal government because of the pay, he tells them about “the mission and the sense of pride” among federal workers and how that “more than compensates for any salary loss.” 

Science and Environment Medal to Daniel B. Jernigan, 55, influenza division director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Jernigan “led response efforts for dozens of disease crises, including Ebola, SARS and West Nile virus, while greatly improving our country’s ability to identify, prepare for and respond to inevitable flu pandemics.” He said he loves working where he “can have a rapid and very tangible impact on an emerging public health threat.” 

The enthusiasm of the winners for their work was clear when each told me they would recommend the federal government as a place to work. Most prefaced their comments on that point with “absolutely.” 

“We won’t have the government we want if we don’t celebrate the things we like. . . . They are incredible people,” Stier said of the winners, “and no one knows about them, and they should.” 

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