All those Service to America medalists will be in one room this evening

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One of the premier federal employee focused events returns to an in person format tonight. It’s the annual gala for the Service to America Medals winners and finalists. This year, there’s a new venue and quite a list of supporting dignitaries. Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier joins  Federal Drive with Tom Temin for more.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And Max it is so great to have this in person, I will be attending. What can we expect this evening?

Max Stier: We can expect unbelievable and amazing public servants, and a really wonderful occasion to give them the recognition that they deserve. As you said, this is especially meaningful because it’s a return to an in-person event. This is also our 20th anniversary of the partnership and of the Service to America Medals program. And yet again, we have amazing people who have made a real difference for Americans in all kinds of important ways.

Tom Temin: And this has been in Union Station, it’s been in the Mellon Auditorium, I think maybe another couple of venues and this year, a brand new spot.

Max Stier: Yes, as you suggest, it’s the Kennedy Center. And it’s also more than just the new venue. It’s a new approach. Last year, we obviously didn’t do the in-person, but we produced a hour long film. And one of the enormous advantages of that is that we were able to get close to 1,000x viewers because they were able to see it across social media on Bloomberg TV and many other places. And this time, we’re doing both – both the virtual film and also the in-person event and the in-person event will have elements of the film along with the live presentation to the winners. So it’s a little bit like a film premiere. The film itself will go out to everybody else on Nov. 1-2. It’s gonna be both fun, and I think powerful. Again, it starts with the honorees, the stories are extraordinary. And the stories will be told in a much more powerful medium, which is the video.

Tom Temin: Sure. And there’s certainly no shortage of red carpet in the Kennedy Center. And so the film premiere is a good apt, I think, analogy there.

Max Stier: And the Kennedy Center obviously, no other president is more affiliated with the notion of the importance of public service than JFK. So I think there’s a lot of resonance all the way around. And given the fact that we need our public service to do more than ever, we faced so many challenges as a country. I think it’s appropriate that on the 20th anniversary in response to the pandemic and so many other challenges that we have stepped up our game in recognizing people who deserve that recognition.

Tom Temin: And we should probably back up for a second because we have here on Federal News Network been interviewing a series of the finalists throughout the last several months leading up to the gala, but just review what the Sammies is all about in the first place for those that might not have heard everything.

Max Stier: Absolutely. So Samuel J. Heyman, who is our founder – Service to America Medals is a program intended to give the recognition to federal employees that they deserve. And it’s based on our theory that I think is a pretty solid one, that no organization gets better if all you do is kick it. And our proposition is that if we want to have a government that responds effectively against big challenges, we need great people willing to be in our public service. And in order to have them we need to be able to recognize them. And we hear that again and again, from our honorees. I will add there have been 660-plus, over the last 20 years, that the recognition they received is really important for them to be able to do the work that they do. It gives them profile within their agency across government and other sectors. So people pay attention and actually invest in the incredible work that they’re doing. So the theory is we need a recognition culture in our government, for our government to produce the results that we want. And the Sammies is really the premier way of doing it.

Tom Temin: In fact, the Sammies has been more consistent in honoring federal executives and practitioners than some of the government’s own programs which have had stops and starts, for whatever reason, budgetary and so forth over the years.

Max Stier: Well, I will say that there is benefit to having a third party organization do it. But truthfully, you can’t do too much of this. So we are all for all the inside government activity to identify great people. And we need more of it. I mean, I think when we started assemblies, we thought of it as a program designed to share with the public, the amazing things that their public service was doing. What we found was that we needed to promote it within government itself, and that most federal employees don’t realize all the great things that their colleagues are doing across the board.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, and that Sammies gala is this evening. And I think it’s worth noting, too, if you would maybe give us some more details that a lot of the honorees’ own colleagues and their superiors – their bosses, up to the level of cabinet secretary – take this award and this gala pretty seriously.

Max Stier: Absolutely. And it’s very important from our perspective that the leadership of the agencies actually be there. It means a lot to the federal employees and it also is an education experience for them. We’ve seen in many, many instances, new political leaders learn about some of the extraordinary things that their organizations are doing by actually showing up to the Sammies. And what we really want them to also do is share with the broader employee base, as well as the rest of government, the incredible things that are happening – we have an amazing government. And what we see though is it’s largely vertically organized and communicates vertically. So many of the problems we need to address today are really about getting different parts of government to work effectively together. And therefore, having leaders across government together in this kind of venue, sharing the amazing things that are occurring within their organizations as a way of helping break down those barriers and also share information. We’ve seen honorees take their programs from one agency to another, because of what’s learned at this event, it’s kind of neat to see the spread of information in that way.

Tom Temin: And certainly one of the cross agency and horizontal challenges has been the pandemic. This is the second year now of the pandemic. And that’s had a big effect on who gets nominated. There’s been quite a bit of award making as a result of activities related to COVID and the pandemic response.

Max Stier: Yes. And one of the things that you’re identifying there is that we have changed up our medal categories, dependent upon what’s happening in the world around us. We did that in response to 9/11. We have done it here this year with our COVID-19 response medal. And our view is that, our government is our most important tool to address our biggest problems. And it’s all about good people, great people doing amazing work that solves those problems. So we try to align the recognition against the big issues of the day. And there’s obviously no bigger than the pandemic. And that’s obviously also something that has been both a challenge for our government, but also an opportunity for it to shine. And there are many, many, many federal employees that have made incredibly important difference for not just for Americans, but people across the world.

Tom Temin: And can we expect a video greeting from the White House?

Max Stier: You can. It’s tremendous that President Biden has consistently, frankly, stated his view about the importance of public service and he is going to recognize the honorees at Sammies, and the work that they’re doing through a video statement and it’s, again, a strong sign of leadership.

Tom Temin: Max Stier is president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. As always good checking in with you.

Max Stier: Tom, look forward to seeing you and thank you so much for all that you’re doing to spread the word.

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