There are countless unsung civil servants working behind the scenes to ensure our government effectively provides critical services that meet the many needs of the American people.
On October 3, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service will present the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for Citizen Services to one of the five finalists profiled below. These individuals improved customer service at the Social Security Administration, developed new firefighting techniques to save lives, employed technology to speed tax refunds, headed a rapid response to a multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis, and used technology to help agencies provide better service and information.
The members of this group are among 31 finalists honored in seven categories ranging from justice and law enforcement to science and environment. Here are the stories of the Service to America Medal finalists for Citizen Services.
Dave Broomell: Improving customer service and internal operations at the Social Security Administration
Every year, more than 40 million people nationwide visit Social Security offices to apply for benefits or resolve a problem, and many millions more have interactions with the agency through the telephone, mail and the Internet.
David Broomell, a longtime Social Security programmer and project manager, has been instrumental in creating new ways to make visits to Social Security offices more customer-friendly through innovative information technology solutions. At the same time, he has developed new computer tools for employees, allowing them to offer more timely and efficient assistance to beneficiaries.
“Dave is a unique individual who can see a problem from the side of the beneficiary and the employees,” said Andrew Philipson, the director of systems and automation at the Social Security Administration in Chicago. “He is Social Security’s version of Steve Jobs. Year after year, he comes up with something new to help the agency and the public.”
Going back more than a decade, Broomell helped transform an inefficient manual system used to check in and process visitors at Social Security offices nationwide. Broomell is currently collaborating with IT colleagues on a nationwide rollout of a new centralized web-based customer-intake process.
Daniel Madrzykowski: Improving firefighting practices and saving lives
Dan Madrzykowski has spent a good portion of his 28 years in government burning down buildings to study how fire behaves, resulting in radical changes in firefighting practices around the country that are saving lives and protecting property.
“I burn things for a living,” said Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “We burn a building, change one variable and do it again.”
Working with fire departments across the country, Madrzykowski finds buildings that are scheduled for demolition and recreates previous fires in which firefighters were injured or lost their lives. He uses sophisticated research tools and fire-modeling software that help him analyze the blazes and then spreads the word to firefighters on what he has learned.
“Dan has been able to use science to show that the traditional practices don’t always provide the best outcomes and, in some cases, they’re putting firefighters in harm’s way,” said Willie May, NIST’s associate director for laboratory programs.
Madrzykowski and his team have improved everything from ventilation and fire-suppression tactics to the protective equipment firefighters wear. He has had a major impact on understanding, documenting and mitigating the dangerous problem of fire driven by wind, which occurs frequently on the upper floors of tall buildings.
Terence V. Milholland: Employing IT at the IRS to speed tax refunds
During the past five years, Terence Milholland has helped revamp the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) aging information technology systems, resulting in faster tax refunds and notices going to taxpayers, more timely account updates, reduced fraud and improved internal management processes.
Milholland, the chief information officer and chief technology officer at IRS, handles all aspects of the IT systems that operate the nation’s tax structure and process 200 million tax returns a year. He manages a 6,800-person organization.
“He inherited an organization that was in a survival mode and took it to world-class mode by implementing new processes that achieve extraordinary efficiencies,” said Julie Rushin, deputy chief information officer for operations. “He’s turned the IT organization from being reactive to proactive.”
Milholland’s technology transformation included the introduction of a sophisticated and updated IT system that now delivers daily instead of weekly tax return processing, as well as an upgraded database that has become a central source of trusted data to improve service to taxpayers and enhance IRS tax administration. Milholland also updated the decade-old eFile tax return filing technology with a modernized, Internet-based filing platform.
J. Todd Weber: Led the CDC’s rapid response to multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis
In September 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began receiving reports from health officials in Tennessee about patients diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis. This worrisome information set off alarm bells at the CDC, which quickly launched an emergency response team led by Dr. Jonathan Todd Weber, chief of CDC’s Prevention and Response Branch.
Weber and his team ultimately linked the outbreak to injections of a steroid, which had been produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts and distributed to 76 facilities in 23 states.
The CDC team worked with state and local health departments and clinical facilities to notify, in record time, approximately 14,000 potentially exposed patients. They helped identify the pathogen and developed tests to detect it; put an epidemiology team to work tracking the course of the outbreak; alerted doctors and health care facilities across the country to stop using supplies of the dangerous drug; provided guidance to physicians on the limited treatment options; and offered a steady stream of information to the public.
“This was the most successful outbreak response we have ever conducted,” said Dr. Ileana Arias, the CDC’s principal deputy. “More quickly than ever before, the CDC team identified what the problem was and where the problem came from, and assured rapid, direct notification of thousands of people who were potentially affected.”
Martha Dorris: Using technology to better serve the public
Martha Dorris has been a driving force behind the use of technology to help citizens more easily and quickly obtain government services and information, whether the contact comes through a website, email, telephone call or social media.
As deputy associate administrator for citizen services at the General Services Administration (GSA), Dorris created a brand and a following for USA.gov and the Spanish-language version, GobiernoUSA.gov, the most comprehensive federal web portals for government information and service. These sites received 50 million visits in fiscal 2012.
Dorris has overseen the creation of Challenge.gov, a crowdsourcing platform that helps agencies solve problems, and launched USASearch, a powerful, commercial-grade Internet search engine used on agency websites. USASearch enables users to search an agency’s information in one place, including documents, images and social media sites. USASearch answers 8 million questions a month, displaying government-centric results.
“The way people are going to expect government to deliver services is changing and we have to change with it,” said Dan Tangherlini, the administrator of GSA. “Martha is helping citizens connect directly with the services they need. When they write the history of that change, she will be one of the founding people.”
Lara Shane is Vice President of Research and Communications at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. This article is the fourth in a series on the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) finalists. For information about the awards and how to nominate a federal employee for a medal, go to servicetoamericamedals.org. The 2013 Sammies program is supported by national sponsors Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Chevron, ConantLeadership and United Technologies Corporation.