The Best of the Best

Rank award winners' reach ranges from the environment to health care to national security.

They do not find their names displayed in the nation's newspapers, or celebrated for innovation, business acumen or charitable giving like Carley Fiorina, Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. They're not the subject of best sellers like Bonfire of the Vanities, Barbarians at the Gate or The Smartest Guys in the Room.

But many of the men and women of the federal government's Senior Executive Service pursue careers and record accomplishments every bit as worthy of attention. They are, in fact, honored in the circle of their peers, when the president each year announces his picks to receive the Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executives and Professionals. No more than 1 percent of the 6,000 career members of the SES can receive the award-which also is conferred on a small number of senior professionals.

In the most recent round, 63 men and women are honored as distinguished, with awards meant to celebrate long-term achievements in federal careers. The awards carry a stipend equal to 35 percent of salary. President Bush designated another 234 as winners of the Meritorious Rank Award, with stipends equal to 20 percent of salary.

The range of the awards speaks to the vital roles government plays in our national life. In this round, winners are celebrated for many contributions to national security, improving the environment, extending the reach of health services to the poor, overseeing development of highly complex computer systems, improving and safeguarding Americans' diets, exploring the Earth's polar regions, improving hurricane forecasting, and much more.

I am privileged to have befriended one of the honorees, Katharine Blodgett Gebbie, whose stewardship of the physics laboratory at the National Institute for Standards and Technology has spawned three Nobel prize-winners in the past nine years. We honored her with a Service to America Medal in 2002.

This year Government Executive joins in saluting the winners of these presidential awards. They might be unsung outside government circles, but this supplement will bring word of their achievements to thousands in federal service and among the ranks of companies that supply government with vital services. We are privileged to co-sponsor with the Senior Executives Association a dinner on April 19 to honor the Presidential Rank Award winners in the State Department's elegant diplomatic reception rooms. Several public-spirited corporations also join us in celebrating their achievements. We invited SES members to the National Press Club April 20 for a luncheon discussion of leadership lessons from the awards program, moderated by Peter Zimmerman, senior associate dean at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, who has studied and written on the topic.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, is given to saying at the State Department dinner that these are the "nation's finest." Who can quarrel with that?

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