The recognition of outstanding federal employees will go on

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Here’s a disclosure. My single favorite banquet each year is the gala for the Service to America Medals recipients. In this bizarre year, of course, it’s virtual so I won’t get to shake the hands of the gifted federal employees I’ve been interviewing for the past few months. But there will be an event this evening. With more, the president of the Partnership for Public Service, Max Stier joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Max, I guess nobody thought that when the pandemic came out in March, that here we are in October, still having to have events virtual, but sounds like you’ve been able to pivot pretty nicely.

Max Stier: Well, first of all, thank you for your extraordinary efforts to celebrate these amazing people. And you’re right, and no one could have predicted this. I will say there’s obviously been a lot of pain and suffering associated with pandemic. And we’ve made a lot of lemonade as well. And I would say that the virtual Service to America Medals gala that will be on this evening is a great example that it’s fantastic. We will, I don’t know, reach 1000x or 10,000x numbers of people who will be able to see and to be in awe of these stories because we’re doing it virtually. And all they have to do is go to a website and sign in at 8pm. So it’s really easy to do, it’s an hour long, and it’s amazing.

Tom Temin: And looking at the homepage for signing up for the event. I see some faces that are pretty interesting, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Who else am I seeing there and how are they involved?

Max Stier: It is an amazing group of people. And obviously you chose the top of the line there. It helps that our Federal Employee of the Year this year is Dr. Anthony Fauci who clearly is a household name and is doing extraordinary work on behalf of the American people. But we do have an amazing lineup, a truly amazing lineup. And it begins with the two presidents, former presidents you mentioned — but we’ve got Hollywood represented, comedians, sports figures, you name it, they’re all really engaged and it’s a entertaining and meaningful program.One of my favorite parts of this is Kumail Nanjiani is our emcee for the evening, he’s an amazing comedian. And we have comedians or actors, actresses, who are really telling the story of each of the six amazing honorees. We also have a private sector awardee that we’ve been doing now for three years, and it’s Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Ford Foundation President Dan Walker. It really is packed in one hour, an amazing group of people and some great stories.

Tom Temin: Tell me do I see Bryan Cranston, the actor, as part of the program also?

Max Stier: Yes, you do.

Tom Temin: Don’t tell me he’s going to do the Drug Enforcement Administration?

Max Stier: You have to watch. I’m not gonna ruin it all for you. These are all people who have stepped up who recognize that public servants matter. And I think we’re in a unique moment right now, we’ve had many a decade where people, in some sense, ignored their government, or at least ignore the importance of our government and of civil servants. And we have a moment where I think that has changed. We see every day that our health, welfare and our lives really depend upon effective service from civil servants. And my hope is that we will be able to use this moment, we will get through it, but use this moment to help the public better understand why great people in government really matter and why we won’t get them if we don’t celebrate them. And we have a lot of changes that I think are going to be on the horizon for the way our government operates. It has to be, the world is changing. And we need to do it in a constructive way and supportive of the civil servants who really are our government.

Tom Temin: I think it’s fair to say that this year, with so much of the federal government on display as it were, people can perhaps more clearly distinguish than they could in other years, the differences between what happens at the political and chattering class and what happens down on the ground where people meet the government face to face.

Max Stier: It’s such a powerful point you make, you are spot on. And I think one of the places when I think about change that we need in our government bluntly, I think we need fewer political appointees. And we need more people like Dr. Fauci who are actually in charge. We live in a complicated, dangerous world. And we need leaders in our government who are best in class and really motivated by public stewardship to make sure that we’re getting the services that we need as a people. We have 4,000 political appointees. That’s way too many. We need a government that’s accountable to the people. So you have a president and you could have many fewer political appointees to make sure that the president’s policy choices were fulfilled, but the operations of government and the leadership of those operations really should be career professionals in our view.

Tom Temin: And one of the things I like about the gala is, of course, meeting the people, as I mentioned that I have interviewed, but there’s another quality to it. And that is, I would say all of Sammies winners did their work, not for public recognition, not in anticipation of getting any kind of award, not for the next book they would be able to write and get peddled all around Washington, but simply because they’re passionate about their work. And so seeing them tickled by being recognized and getting a chance to dress up and be in the public spotlight is one of the more charming parts of the whole gala.

Max Stier: Look, I can only foot stomp on everything you said so far. It is one of the most amazing aspects of the culture of the federal civil service, you have people who are truly mission oriented. That’s why they’re there. They recognize their responsibility is to public. And they’re the most humble, modest group of people you could ever meet. And all of them, and you’ve seen this when we do our finalist, awards, effort, all of them look around the room and say, oh my gosh, that’s amazing, that’s amazing. And they never look in the mirror and say I’m amazing. They all expect somebody else to win. And Dr. Fauci is the same way. And so it is an amazing quality — although I will say that, to some degree, we need a little less modesty, at least for the people around them, because we need these stories told within government and outside of government. And so I really do hope your listeners will not only tune in themselves to watch the program, but share it, ship it around, there are no walls as we would in our physical program. This is available to everybody. And we need everybody to see it. We need everybody to understand our government better, and they need to understand our public servants better. So getting the word out is critical here and really easy to do and fun.

Tom Temin: And of course, the Sammies program is a rolling program. And I think Tuesday morning, you’re going to begin accepting nominations for next year’s nominees. Correct?

Max Stier: You are correct. And we desperately want all the great stories and great people nominated. And I will add that sometimes people look at how unbelievable the winners are and say, oh I can’t nominate that person because they won’t win. I would offer this advice, which is don’t use that as your standard. nominate people because you think they did something great. Not because you think they’re gonna win. It’s a sign of respect and of appreciation just to nominate somebody. So I hope people will, as you just said, look around them, find great things that their colleagues are doing or they’re seeing someplace in government and nominate. Very easy to do, is our Sammies website. It’s fast, and it’s just a really nice thank you.

Tom Temin: Max Stier is president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. As always, thanks so much.

Max Stier: Thank you so much for all you’re doing and I hope you’re safe and well.

Tom Temin: Thank you.

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