SAMMIE Awards Honor Team That Cracked Volkswagen Emissions Cheating

Award winners will be feted at a black-tie event in Washington on Sept. 27.

A team at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department that exposed and ended a scheme by German carmaker Volkswagen “to rig more than a half million vehicles to circumvent U.S. auto emission standards,” won top honors in the 2017 Service to America Awards (“the SAMMIES”), the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service announced on Friday.

The multi-agency team's exposure of the scheme resulted in a record $17.4 billion in legal settlements with affected consumers. Team leaders Phillip Brooks, Byron Bunker and Joshua Van Eaton were named Federal Employees of the Year and will join six other teams or individual agency winners at an Oscar-style black-tie banquet Sept. 27 hosted by CBS newsman John Dickerson. VIP guests will include Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, author Michael Lewis and inventor Dean Kamen.

“The 2017 Service to America Medal recipients represent the best in government, the unsung heroes who quietly work behind the scenes to serve their country and the public good,” said Max Stier, the Partnership’s president and CEO. “It is important, especially in these uncertain times, to celebrate and recognize the SAMMIES honorees and their colleagues throughout the government who are making a positive difference in people’s lives.”

This year’s selection introduced a new innovations award.

The six other SAMMIE winners honored in this 16th year of the awards were:

  • The Career Achievement Medal went to Dr. Tedd Ellerbrock of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for his role in building, expanding and improving the U.S.-led program that provides medicine and assistance to 11 million people living with HIV and AIDS in two dozen developing countries.
  • The Science and Environment Medal went to Rory Cooper of the Veterans Affairs Department for his design of new wheelchairs with robotics and other innovations that increase mobility for people with disabilities.
  • The Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal was awarded to Timothy Camus and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration team. They led a multiagency investigation and public awareness campaign to stop a massive fraud that involved more than 1.8 million threatening phone calls and resulted in some 10,000 Americans paying $54 million in bogus tax bills. Some 61 perpetrators were indicted last year as a result of their efforts, and scam calls have now declined by 90 percent.
  • The National Security and International Affairs Medal went to Alex Mahoney and the Middle East Crisis Humanitarian Response team at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Their relief efforts with the United Nations in civil war-torn Syria and parts of Iraq have delivered food, medicine, drinking water and other aid to 7 million people thus far.
  • The inaugural Promising Innovations Medal for technology breakthroughs went to Flora "Mackie" Jordan of the Marine Corps Systems Command. She led design of new combat body armor that is 45 percent lighter than the previously demanding 150 pounds of standard protective gear. The new armor is also more easily adjusted to fit men and women.  
  • The Management Excellence Medal went to Courtney Lias, Stayce Beck and the Food and Drug Administration’s Artificial Pancreas team, which created the first artificial pancreas and brought it to market three years faster than is routine. “Their work could help transform the lives of the 1.2 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, who must constantly monitor their body’s blood sugar level and correctly dose insulin for their very survival,” the Partnership wrote.

Still to be announced at the dinner is which of the 26 finalists will take home the People’s Choice award, which for the third time was chosen by popular vote. It honors the finalist who has made “the most admirable contribution to the American people.”

The 26 finalists for the award named for businessman and philanthropist Samuel J. Heyman were assembled at a May Public Service Week luncheon on Capitol Hill attended by several Cabinet members. They were picked by the Partnership from more than 440 suggested candidates.

The seven winners were chosen by a selection committee that included leaders from government, business, the foundation and nonprofit community, academia, entertainment and the media. Chief sponsors include Mrs. Ronnie F. Heyman and family, Booz Allen Hamilton and Chevron.

Since their launch in 2002, the SAMMIES have recognized more than 480 outstanding federal employees.