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Finalists for the Annual Government ‘Oscars’ Have Been Announced

This comes at the start of Public Service Recognition Week. 

Leaders in the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Afghanistan withdrawal and efforts to curb greenhouse gases were among the 44 finalists for the prestigious annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals announced on Sunday. 

The awards––known as the “Sammies” and the “Oscars of government service”––were renamed in 2010 for entrepreneur and nonprofit Partnership for Public Service founder Samuel J. Heyman. The program initially launched in 2002 to highlight public sector talent and has honored nearly 700 federal employees since then. 

The 44 individuals, who were finalists either on their own or part of teams, are contenders for awards in the following categories: the Paul A. Volcker career achievement medal; COVID-19 response; emerging leaders; science, technology and environment; safety, security and international affairs; management excellence; and federal employee of the year. The winners will be announced in the fall. All finalists are also eligible for the Service to America Medals People’s Choice Award, which will be announced over the summer. 

“This year’s Sammies finalists show the tremendous breadth and deep impact of federal workers—at home and abroad,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership, in a statement. “With the many challenges that face our country and the global community, we should take pride and comfort knowing that dedicated public servants—our friends and neighbors—are working tirelessly to serve the public and make our world a better place.”

Some of the achievements of the Sammies finalists include: assisting Afghan refugees after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan; managing victims compensation funds for those harmed by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; designing and implementing a plan to distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to states, localities and pharmacies across the country; leading the restoration and cleanup of the Capitol building and grounds and enhancing security there following the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021; recovering $1.2 billon in stolen federal pandemic relief money; and curbing powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. 

Another finalist, the acting director of Voice of America, was chosen for “restoring the integrity and independence of its news operations while providing strong support for the workforce” after a “tumultuous period of political upheaval” under the previous presidential administration. Another oversaw NASA’s launch of the “revolutionary” James Webb Space Telescope.

A selection committee composed of leaders from Congress, government, businesses, foundations, academia, entertainment and the media will choose the Sammie winners. 

Additionally, the Partnership’s fifth annual “Spirit of the Service” award will go to Darren Walker, president and CEO of the Ford Foundation. The Partnership said Walker is “a leading voice in American and global human rights and social justice.” 

The Partnership’s announcement of the finalists coincides with the start of Public Service Recognition Week, which honors federal, state, local and tribal government employees. President Biden issued a proclamation on Friday to honor the week. 

“My administration is committed to protecting, empowering and rebuilding the career federal workforce so they can bring more resources to bear in service of the American people,” said the proclamation. 

In order “to recruit and retain the best career civil service employees,” the president recapped that he has directed the increase of the minimum wage for federal employees to $15 per hour; established a task force on “worker organizing and empowerment;” worked to protect federal employees against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation; and started a governmentwide initiative to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce.