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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

What Serving America Is All About

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I enjoyed another awe-inspiring night at the Service to America Medals awards gala last night. As always, the Partnership for Public Service did a great job of identifying worthy federal winners of the awards, and their accomplishments are stunning.

Federal Employee of the Year Dr. Lynne Mofenson of the National Institutes of Health has made it her mission to prevent mother-to-child transmission of AIDS -- and has largely succeeded. Susan Angell of the Veterans Affairs Department and Mark Johnston of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with their colleagues on the Homeless Veterans Initiative Team, have worked together to come up with innovative ways to provide housing for vets. Charles Scoville, chief of the Amputee Patient Care Service at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, used the techniques of sports medicine not just to get wounded warriors back on their feet, but competing in triathlons, climbing Mt. Everest and jumping out of airplanes.

The undercurrent of the evening, as always, was the notion that if only Americans knew more about these kinds of stories, then trust and faith in government might not be so low. Having been to the Sammies gala for many years now, I have a growing frustration with the lack of progress on that front. Because with the greatest respect for all the work the Partnership puts into this program every year, the fact is, it's just not that hard to find these stories. After all, the Partnership has been doing it for years, and makes no claim to having identified every worthy federal employee. For each person honored, there are dozens standing behind them contributing mightily to their accomplishments -- and thousands more toiling in obscurity.

One especially inspiring moment came near the end of the event, when Dr. Neal Young, chief of the Hematology Branch at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at NIH, discussed his efforts to come up with a new treatment for aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder. Noting that several other award winners had found ways to save the government money, Young noted that he simply spends federal dollars. So he credited members of Congress with providing funding for NIH's work, and thanked the American public for supporting its efforts.

Young and the other winners, in addition to being employed by the federal government, have one thing in common: They are relentlessly outcome-driven. Each is clearly working toward lofty goals: from eliminating disease to cutting the Navy's cost of purchasing ships. In most cases, they have set specific targets toward those goals that have resulted not only in ongoing  measurable progress, but  dramatic breakthroughs.

So today, you might ask yourself: What exactly am I trying to accomplish, and more importantly, what have I done for the American people?

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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