The Service to America Medals have been called the Oscars of federal service.

The Service to America Medals have been called the Oscars of federal service. By Featureflash Photo Agency /

White House and Public Service Group Recognize Two Sets of Distinguished Feds

It's important to recognize outstanding civil servants, especially after the longest-ever government shutdown, nonprofit leader says.

The day after the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service announced the finalists for its 18-year-old Service to America Medals awards, the White House on Monday came out with the first winners of its newly created “Gears of Government President’s Award.”

The Trump administration’s awards to 24 individuals were planned as recognition that “promotes, and rewards the excellence, professionalism, and outstanding achievements of federal employees, teams and programs,” as Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in a memo last June. “The awards also help recognize and identify effective practices that can be replicated within and across federal agencies.”

In a Monday statement, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert said, “Whether they are defending the homeland, inspecting our food, making scientific discoveries, or managing cyber risks, federal employees underpin all the operations of our government and touch nearly every aspect of our lives. These awards recognize not just the front-line mission employees, but also those teams and individuals that are strengthening our country to be a more modern, effective government to better serve their fellow citizens.”

Unlike the Partnership’s SAMMIES, for which 26 finalists are named before winners are named in the fall, the GEAR awards list is the final selection of 24 individuals at seven agencies. The White House awards are nonmonetary, and the winners will be honored this month at a White House ceremony. Winners range from a Food and Drug Administration scientist who used regulations to expand access to generic prescription drugs to a Transportation Department team that led the efforts to recall faulty automobile airbags.

Separately, the 26 finalists from 20 agencies for the 2019 Service to America Medals (nicknamed “SAMMIES” for founder Samuel Heyman), range from a management analyst at the National Nuclear Security Administration, to a team manager for the Federal Aviation Administration’s airport runway safety program, to the team that uncovered and prosecuted the largest bribery and corruption scandal in the history of the Navy.

“Following the longest government shutdown in history, it’s imperative that we celebrate and recognize the important and critical work of our nation’s civil servants,” said Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “The 2019 Service to America Medals showcase our remarkable federal workforce who serve the public good and address many of the country’s greatest challenges.”

The finalists for the so-called “Oscars” of government service will be honored during Public Service Recognition Week at a May 9 breakfast on Capitol Hill featuring remarks by Weichert; Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie. The final winners selected later this year by a blue-ribbon panel of judges will be honored at a banquet in October at Washington’s Mellon Auditorium.

The SAMMIE award nominations come in six categories: science and the environment, public safety and law enforcement, national security and international affairs, management excellence, and employee of the year.  A new public service category was just named for former Federal Reserve Chairman and federal reform theorist Paul Volcker.

“We are thrilled that the Sammies Career Achievement Award has been renamed to honor the Volcker Alliance’s chairman and founder, Paul Volcker,” said Thomas W. Ross, president of the nonprofit Volcker Alliance. “Mr. Volcker’s nearly thirty years of service in the federal government was defined by his belief that government should be responsive to its citizens and accountable for delivering on its promises. We hope that this award will elevate and acknowledge the significant contributions of other dedicated citizens who strive for excellence in public service.”

In addition, the Partnership at the banquet will present its second annual private-sector Spirit of Service Award to Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the 108th Mayor of New York City.