Honoring the Call to Service

Awards honor heroes behind the scenes in order to inspire a new generation of service.

Federal workers get no respect. They do the nation's work hidden from the very people they serve. That's why the Partnership for Public Service joined with Government Executive, National Journal and The Atlantic Monthly to create the Service to America Medals, a new national awards program that honors excellence in federal careers.

Last year's awards opened many eyes-especially in the news media and in government-to the work accomplished every day by federal employees.

The nine men and women selected last year from more than 400 nominations have proved that public service is about advancing the cause of justice, making the nation stronger and safer, bettering the lives of the American people and building the nation's trust. As Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said at the November gala awards ceremony. "There are enormous rewards associated with being in the business of providing service to your fellow citizens, no matter what that service may be." The Service to America Medals make sure that one reward is recognition for a job well done.

The Partnership for Public Service was created in 2001 by Connecticut businessman Samuel J. Heyman, who went to work for Attorney General Robert Kennedy after graduating from law school in 1963. He recalls how eager he was to serve his country. He was not alone. Unfortunately, the interest in public service has declined in the years since. When Heyman graduated from Harvard Law School, 30 percent of its graduates went to work for the federal government. Today, the number has dwindled to 3 percent. There are more federal employees in their 60s than in their 20s. Heyman and the Partnership recognized that action must be taken to inspire a new generation of public service and to help federal agencies attract, hire and keep the talent needed to do the nation's business.

Our nation's success in calling its most talented citizens to service is inextricably linked to fostering positive public attitudes about the value of government work. The Service to America Medals are an integral part of that effort. Who better to learn about the contributions and commitment of federal employees than from federal employees?

We need the best and the brightest to accomplish all that we demand of our government, especially in these challenging times. Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Board chairman and now chairman of the National Commission on Public Service, has said, "Somebody has to defend the country and explore space. Somebody has to keep the air clean and the environment safe for the next generation. Somebody has to respond to the more mundane, but nonetheless sometimes challenging, assignments of keeping government working effectively and efficiently if self-government is to work at all."

The work of the federal government continues, as do our efforts to recognize the accomplishments of its best civil servants. If you know a career federal worker who is doing remarkable things that deserve recognition, visit www.govexec.com/pps to submit a nomination.

The Service to America Medals shine a light on men and women of courage, integrity, dedication, innovation and leadership. We hope their accomplishments will serve as a reminder of their contributions to our lives and the life of the nation-and inspire a new generation of service.

Max Stier is president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service (www.ourpublicservice.org).

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