Exceptional Feds Get Their Turn on the Red Carpet

This story has been updated

Two days after the television industry gave its EMMY awards, it was federal employees’ turn to collect their SAMMIES.

For the 15th year, the Service to America Medals were handed to agency stars who are making a difference in their communities and improving lives. Winners were selected from among 350 nominations by judges from government, academia, nonprofits, business and media assembled by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

Thirty-two finalists were announced this May for achievements such as finding ways to detect and halt terrorist-made explosives (the FBI’s Kirk Yeager) and shaping national standards to boost energy efficiency (the Energy Department’s Kathleen Hogan).

The eight winners for 2016 were honored Tuesday night at a banquet (streamed online beginning at 7:00 p.m.) at Washington’s Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

VIP presenters from government include White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Ret. Adm. Thad Allen, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

VIP hosts from TV Land included actor Michael Kelly of “House of Cards” and Stephanie Ruhle of NBC News.

“During this highly-charged presidential election season, we should not forget the innovative and talented federal civil servants who are delivering incredible results for the American public,” said Max Stier, the Partnership for Public Service’s president and CEO. “Whoever is elected, our next president will need dedicated government workers, like the ones we are recognizing at the Service to America Medals, to carry out his or her agenda. A workforce of high-performing career civil servants is vital to the success of the new administration and for our government as a whole.”

This year’s recipients, as described by the Partnership were:

The top award, Federal Employee of the Year, will be presented to Paul McGann, Dennis Wagner, and Jean Moody-Williams, a team at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Each year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of U.S. hospital patients die because of medical errors and avoidable infections, costing hospitals billions of dollars annually and eroding patient trust in the health care system. This team created a unique public-private initiative to increase patient safety and reduce hospital readmissions. The results were an estimated 87,000 lives saved, 2.1 million fewer medical errors and $20 billion in cost savings.

Kathleen B. Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for the Energy Department, will receive the Career Achievement Medal. In more than two decades in government, Hogan has overseen a number of pivotal national energy efficiency initiatives and new standards that will lead to 3 billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and save taxpayers a half-trillion dollars.

Thomas A. Mariani Jr., Steven O’Rourke and Sarah D. Himmelhoch of the Justice Department will be awarded the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal. This team led the government’s five-year, landmark case against BP for the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In litigating the case, the trio secured for the Justice Department and five states a record-breaking $20.8 billion settlement, the government’s largest-ever against a single defendant. It will help redress the devastating environmental and economic damage caused to the Gulf Coast region.

Kirk Yeager, chief explosives scientist for the FBI, will receive this year’s National Security and International Affairs Medal. Yeager has assisted with virtually every high-profile bomb attack in the past several years, including bombings in European cities this past spring. As the FBI’s premier bomb expert, Yeager leads U.S. and foreign law enforcement to determine how terrorist-made explosives work and finds new ways to detect and stop them.

The Science and Environment Medal will be presented to Jaques Reifman and the APPRAISE team at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. Undetected internal bleeding is the greatest risk to the lives of seriously wounded soldiers, yet taking vital signs does not supply all the information medics need to figure out if someone is in critical condition. Reifman led the team that created a first-of-its-kind, portable computer system to detect internal bleeding quickly and accurately during emergency transport. It enables medics to treat patients appropriately and alert trauma centers to get ready to provide immediate blood transfusions to save these patients’ lives.

The Call to Service Medal will be awarded to Tate A. Jarrow, special agent for the U.S. Secret Service. Jarrow played a vital role in two of the government’s biggest cybercrime cases, and helped bring to justice individuals involved in computer hacking, stock manipulation, credit card fraud, money laundering and other illicit activities.

The Citizen Services Medal will be presented to Lisa M. Jones, program manager for the Treasury Department. Jones stood up and now directs a long-term bond program that has resulted in $852 million in loans to low-income communities since 2013. The loans have financed small businesses, affordable rental housing, day care centers, senior living facilities, charter schools and health care facilities. The game-changing program is set up to function at no cost to taxpayers.

The Management Excellence Medal will be presented to William Gregory Burel, director of the division of Strategic National Stockpile at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Burel expertly manages the $7 billion repository of critical medication and supplies available to supplement state and local resources during a public health emergency. He has led 10 large-scale and more than 30 smaller emergency deployments, from an influenza pandemic to the Ebola crisis.

The one surprise announcement at the Tuesday banquet was the winner of the People’s Choice award. For the second time, members of the public were able to vote for the federal employee among the 32 finalists that they think has made the most admirable contribution to the American people.

Thousands voted, and the award went to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Edward Grace and the Operation Crash Team. Grace, the deputy chief of the agency’s Office of Law Enforcement, led a national investigation to arrest and prosecute individuals who profited from smuggling and illegally selling rhino horns and elephant tusks.

The major national sponsors for the 2016 SAMMIES were Mrs. Ronnie Heyman and the Heyman Family, and Microsoft.

The original Service to America Medals were renamed in 2010 to honor Samuel J. Heyman, the Partnership’s founder, who was a businessman and philanthropist. The program has recognized more than 450 outstanding federal employees since 2002.

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