2023 Sammies recognize the exceptional work of federal employees

This year's Sammies winners were commended for their work in everything from nationwide infrastructure investments to improved access to student loan forgivenes...

To bring to the forefront the often behind-the-scenes work of career federal employees, the Partnership for Public Service spotlighted the winners of the 2023 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals Tuesday evening.

The “Oscars-esque” awards program, affectionately known as the Sammies, calls attention to highly accomplished public servants across a variety of categories. The Partnership hosted a gala this week to celebrate the 27 winners and finalists, selected from more than 350 nominations, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

This year, winners in six different categories were commended for their work and accomplishments in everything from nationwide infrastructure investments and improved access to student loan forgiveness programs, to deploying a successful redirection of an asteroid and conducting the largest global organized crime sting in history — and much more.

For 2023, Laura Cooper earned the Federal Employee of the Year Award for her leadership of the Defense Department’s team that coordinates the distribution of military supplies to Ukraine in the country’s fight against Russian aggression.

“With every assistance package, with every decision, we are looking at, first and foremost, what does Ukraine need right now? And can we get it to them and enable them to use it very quickly?” Cooper said in an interview on the Federal Drive. “The pace is not easy. It is brisk and sometimes I would say grueling … I think the thing to emphasize is just how motivated and dedicated and really talented this crew is.”

The annual awards program from the Partnership aims to highlight the hard work of those who are often considered the unsung heroes of the federal government.

At Tuesday evening’s event, the Partnership also emphasized its goal of building trust in government. Currently, just 35% of Americans say they trust the federal government, but deeper analysis from the Partnership has indicated that highlighting the work of career public servants is one path toward rebuilding trust.

“I think that for many Americans, when you say the federal government, they think about bickering politicians in Washington — that’s why there is a reduction in trust in our government,” Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership, said in an interview on the Federal Drive. “The reality of it is that we have 2 million civil servants, 80% outside Washington, D.C., and they’re working very hard with difficult circumstances on behalf of the public doing things that really matter.”

The ceremony Tuesday also came exactly one month ahead of a possible government shutdown, Stier noted.

“It brings really to the fore how vital it is for us to have a vibrant workforce that is represented by these honorees,” Stier said.

This year’s winners, marking the 22nd year of the Sammies, join more than 750 federal employees who have earned awards since 2002.

The ceremony featured speeches from many of the 2023 awardees. And among several political appointees, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack and DOJ Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco offered remarks about the career public servants at the event.

“Oftentimes, political appointees are focused on the policy announcement and not as much on the career people who are getting it done,” Stier said. “This is a testament to their recognition about how important supporting the workforce is. It’s encouraging and exciting.”

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