Nosyrevy/Getty Images

Meet the winners of this year’s ‘Oscars’ of public service

The recipients join the over 750 awardees of the Partnership for Public Services’ recognition program since it began in 2002.

The Defense Department’s Laura Cooper has a big job. She leads the Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia team coordinating international efforts to give military supplies and aid to Ukraine in the midst of the ongoing war with Russia. Working with over 50 nations, her team has gathered anti-aircraft systems, armored personnel carriers, ambulances, medical kits and more for the Ukrainian military and civilians. 

Cooper is also the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals’ Federal Employee of the Year for 2023, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service announced today. She’s among the six government employees and teams who have worked on other high-stakes projects — such as the release of detained Americans in Russia and Venezuela and the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — being honored as winners at an award ceremony on Tuesday.

These winners join the ranks of over 750 awardees of the program — nicknamed the “Sammies” and dubbed the “Oscars” of government by the Partnership — since it was started in 2002.

“Everything from addressing the public health crisis we just went through with COVID to the national security threats we're seeing, whether it's in the Middle East or in Europe, or challenges towards food safety or clean air — again and again, our federal government is really fundamental to critical services, and that's about people,” Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier told Nextgov/FCW in an interview. 

“We're not going to get the government that we want if all we do is kick it. It's really important to create a culture of recognition” where those doing good work are rewarded, he noted. 

Melissa Emery-Arras of the Government Accountability Office is being awarded the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Award for her 21-year service at the agency doing oversight on higher education federal student aid.

Fletcher Schoen and Jennifer Harkins at the State Department received the Emerging Leaders Medal for their work releasing detainees abroad. 

Paul Nissenbaum, Gloria Shepard and Maria Lefevre from the Transportation Department were awarded the Management Excellence Medal for their work crafting and implementing the infrastructure law.

The Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal was given to the Justice Department’s Joshua Mellor, the FBI’s Nicholas I. Cheviron and Stephanie Stevens and the Operation Trojan Shield Team for their work on leading a worldwide investigation and resulting arrest of over 1,000 drug traffickers and organized crime syndicate members.

Finally, Brian Key and Scott Bellamy at NASA, who led the agency’s project that resulted in the successful redirection of a planetary object — the first planetary defense test ever — won the Science, Technology and Environment Medal.

These winners were chosen from among 27 finalists and over 350 nominations by a selection committee that included sitting members of Congress and leaders in industry, philanthropy, news, academia and government.  

Judy Woodruff of PBS will also be recognized on Tuesday with the Spirit of Service award, and a team at the Department of Health and Human Services working on the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, including Megan Meacham, Allison Hutchings and Sarah O’Donnell, won the People’s Choice Award, announced in July.