It’s officially awards season for outstanding feds

Each passing year, U.S. politics seem to get uglier and more perverse. All the more reason then to celebrate public servants whose goal in life is to deliver on

Each passing year, U.S. politics seem to get uglier and more perverse. All the more reason then to celebrate public servants whose goal in life is to deliver on their missions. And that is what this year’s just-announced Service to America Medals finalists demonstrate: Commitment to the mission and to the finest in public service. For a preview, the Federal Drive Host Tom Temin, as he does every years, talks with the President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, Max Stier.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin Golly, you know, looking at the list of finalists, which are just out really this morning or came out last night, the breadth of areas that touch so much of American life land management and forestry, drug safety, tax administration, even the operation of the government itself, the breadth of areas that the Sammys finalists cover is really impressive.

Max Stier Absolutely. And it’s worth noting that we had over 530 nominations this year. And what you’re seeing is the impossible task of choosing extraordinary people among amazing people. And you’re right, it covers the work that there are 14 different cabinet agencies that are represented here, 25 finalists, groups that are 43 total people. And it does mean that we’ve got a government that’s working in all cylinders and helping us in a myriad of ways. Just to add on to some of the examples you gave. You know, the wonderful story of the Department of Labor inspectors saving children from being forced to work in dangerous and unhealthy environments and looking to save the bee industry, which is so fundamental to our agricultural system, to the incredible story of the amazingly quick repair of the interstate in Pennsylvania. I mean, it goes on and on and on, and it’s a plentiful set of incredible people doing very important work for the American people.

Tom Temin One of the ones of the many that stood out shows that even in places like the White House, which are just nothing but lightning rods nowadays. But Kyle Gardiner is a senior policy analyst and this is a career person. This is not somebody who’s Trump or Biden or anything. Office of Management and Budget streamlining burdensome government forms. You know, even in the digital age, there is plenty of room for reform in that manner. And there’s somebody deep in OMB. I think the public doesn’t appreciate that there are actually civil servants, even within the White House, that do things away from the politics and away from all of that, that have real benefit 100%.

Max Stier And another additional positive mark in Kyle’s favor is that this is the emerging leader category. So that means that these are people who are relatively new to the workplace and yet making an exceptional difference in the work that they are doing. And we have four emerging leader nominees, including Andrea Fletcher, who is doing incredible work at CMS to create online services that help patients dispute unexpected medical bills. You have Sammie Tafoya, who has been spearheading that work, to try to help what’s happening in Haiti. You have Jerry Ma, who was at the Patent Trademark Office who is applying AI technology to improve the innovation agency in our government and beyond. I mean, it’s really just a spirit lifting set of extraordinary people.

Tom Temin The other thing that I see from year to year is the way in which oversight, which can be a little bit contentious among government functionaries but can also lead to real results. I’m looking at Biza Repko. She’s director of physical infrastructure issues at the Gao. She’s been on this show, led critical research projects, have exposed gaps in vehicle safety features, uncovered shortcomings in the reliability of U.S. rail and highway systems. So this is where someone totally outside, say, of DoT can, yes, oversee them, but also enhance the work they do.

Max Stier Yes. And I do think the oversight function is fundamental. Some years back, we created the management excellence category as a place of recognition because there’s so much about our government that is, as you just noted, the internal functioning is less accessible for people to understand and yet is vital in terms of what is achieved. And another example of that is Mike Schmidt and the Chips team that is really at the forefront of trying to ensure that our country has a vibrant chips industry, are the brains of the modern digital environment that we live in, and they had to set this up from scratch and have done just a extraordinary job of figuring out how to provide support to the right places to make sure that we have a healthy chip industry in this country, which is a matter of vital importance to us.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Max Stier, president and CEO of the partnership for Public Service. And just one more I wanted to note to show how these winners and finalists can be ripped out of the headlines, to use a cliche. Trevor McAleenan, special IRS agent, Criminal Investigation Division, and Michael Lane, also of the IRS criminal and. Investigation Division, they led a study that led to the seizure of $3 billion of Bitcoin. Boy, that’s certainly been in the news in the last year.

Max Stier Yes. And once more, our government has to keep up with the world around it. Law enforcement is an age old responsibility of our government. But plainly things like cryptocurrencies is a new world. And it does, I think, highlight the importance of, you know, investing in our workforce and getting new talent in so that we have available to us the best in class talent or new issues that are arising every day.

Tom Temin And review for us the program that happens now. The finalists have been revealed, but there’s a whole lot of events between now and the fall.

Max Stier Absolutely. So we will be hosting a reception to honor the honorees, and they are finalists. But truth be told, there’s really no good way of distinguishing them from the ultimate winners other than we have a selection committee of prominent government, business, philanthropic leaders that will select among them, not a job that one should envy. And we’ll have a gala ultimately to recognize everybody, but especially those winners at the Kennedy Center on September 11th this year. You know, plainly an important date in terms of our country and highlighting the value of our government and what it does, because at the end of the day, keeping us safe is the most fundamental responsibility of our government. So lots to do here to celebrate them. It’s so important. This is public Service recognition week. And if we want the success as a society that we have to continue, we really need to respect, honor and support the civil servants that are day in, day out, night in and night out, making sure that we are protected and helped in so many different ways.

Tom Temin And if you look at the federal employee viewpoint survey scores and so forth, and look at the energy that goes into the work that result in Sammy Awards and so on, it’s remarkable. The degree and I see this in my daily interactions with feds is, yes, there’s all of these stories going on about, you know, unelected bureaucrats doing this or that, and this agency is all political and, you know, the headlines, but it doesn’t really penetrate to them that much to their daily lives. They really seem to almost chuckle at it and have the ability to just to go on and keep their head pointed to where it needs to be to get the job done, and let the rest of that stuff just filter out.

Max Stier Yes. I mean, I think the the challenge, though, is we should not take these people for granted. And that’s the intent here. You’re right. There are a lot of headlines of challenging our current system. The truth of the matter, though, is that we are blessed with a government made up of people who are expert, that are nonpartisan and that are in their jobs to serve the public. And that’s something that enables us to meet the challenges of the day. Most countries in the world do not have this, and most countries therefore do not have the opportunities that we have here in our country. And if we do not take care of it, if we do not invest in those people, we won’t. This is not a foregone conclusion that this is the way it has to be here. And I think that is part and parcel of public service recognition week at the Sammys, as you say, best place to work, which is really a way of looking at organizational health. We need leaders in government and outside government who are really committed to and prioritizing the people of government and keeping up with the world around us.

Tom Temin And finally, we should point out to people that might be tuning in to the Sammys idea for the first time. Sammy, there was a Sam that this is all named after. Maybe remind us of that great Samuel.

Max Stier Yes. And so it’s interesting, though, because this program started it as one of our very first program almost 23 years ago, its Service to America medals. And obviously, you played off the Uncle Sam notion, but our founder was Samuel J. Heyman. When he passed away, we chose to recognize him through this program. It’s just a coincidence that his name is Samuel. And so I didn’t get particularly well here. But again, he was a businessman who recognized that, you know, he could not be a successful businessman or a successful and safe American without the best in class going into government. And he wanted to make sure that happened. So this is our way of doffing our hat at him and his ideas and his support for the partnership for Public Service.

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