Columnist

With covid-19 defining our every move, the need for effective government has never been greater.

“At least in my lifetime, there has never been a moment in which the importance of government is more clear,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “And we won’t have the government we want if we don’t recognize the excellence that is there.”

While not all our elected leaders have demonstrated the excellence the coronavirus emergency demands, many career public servants have more than risen to the challenge, often working long hours in dangerous conditions.

It is federal public servants such as these — and not just those in the covid-19 fight — whom the Partnership’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (a.k.a. Sammies) celebrate. The candidates’ work, Stier said, “underscores how many different things the government is doing to our benefit at the same time” it fights the pandemic.

The honors are scheduled to presented during a September gala to the winners from several categories. We don’t have space to profile all 27 finalists, but we can take a quick look at six, arguably those at the top of a very impressive heap. They are candidates for the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal, which the Partnership says “recognizes a federal employee for leading significant and sustained accomplishments throughout a federal career of 20 or more years.”

The Career Achievement finalists:


Cecilia M. Coates (Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Cecilia M. Coates,?a State Department managing director, created and runs a state-of-the-art supply chain that provides $10?billion annually in goods and services to federal employees around the world. She was inspired to join the federal government by her father, a World War II veteran and Defense Department civilian. “Proud of this noble profession, he frequently reminded me of the obligation to our fellow citizens and U.S. taxpayers,” said the federal employee of “30-plus” years, who won’t reveal her age. “I continue to take this responsibility seriously and work every day knowing that it is the citizens of this country that pay my salary and deserve a high performing government.”


Anthony S. Fauci (Courtesy of NIAID)

Anthony S. Fauci, 79, has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), since 1984. As the face of the nation’s scientific attack against covid-19, his profile has never been higher. But when asked about his proudest accomplishments, Fauci, who has been called “America’s doctor,” recalls being sent by then-President George W. Bush to fight AIDS in Africa. The President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created by Bush in 2003, “is the most important public health, global, international measure that has ever been created for a single disease, in this case, HIV/AIDS,” Fauci said. “We’ve saved already tens of millions of lives.”

His pride in NIH is as infectious as the ailments he fights: There’s no place in the world better.”


Claire L. Parkinson (Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Claire L. Parkinson, 72, is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Among her accomplishments during her nearly 42-year career at NASA was leading a team in writing a 296-page book that was the first Arctic sea ice atlas developed from satellite data.

“It has been an incredible privilege for me to participate in the NASA Earth-observation program, which contributes a huge amount to society as well as to science,” she said. What she likes most about her work is the ability “to contribute to something so much larger than myself and that the work that I do, even while largely in the background, is helping people throughout America and around the world.”


Ira Pastan (Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Ira Pastan, 88, also is an NIH physician with its National Cancer Institute. He discovered a treatment for a rare form of leukemia that also could prove effective against other forms of cancer. He joined the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service to fulfill his military obligation and was assigned to NIH in 1959.

Pastan said his proudest accomplishment during his six decades with the agency is “seeing patients with life-threatening leukemia who have gone into complete remission with the drug I developed. I like my job because it allows me to do laboratory research and carry over the findings to patients.”


Jon Michael Seward (Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Jon Michael Seward, 59, a Justice Department civil rights division lawyer, has been a federal employee for 27 years. He is honored by the Partnership because of his actions “against banks to ensure that tens of thousands of people living in underserved and minority communities could gain access to credit.”

Although a proud fed, he left government “for five years to serve as a vice president in a company where my monetary compensation far exceeded my federal salary,” he said. “I returned to federal service because it became abundantly clear that making a difference in society and in people’s lives is far more satisfying to me than earning more money.”


Elizabeth J. Warner (Courtesy of Partnership for Public Service)

Elizabeth J. Warner, 59, is a two-decade Education Department economist whose research and training improves teaching in poor communities. “I think it’s really important that teachers be provided help in enacting classroom practices that are likely to make a difference for their students’ learning,” she said. “We make a substantial investment in learning about evidence-based practices in medicine and making sure they are used in the profession. Surely educators and their students deserve as much.”

She was moved when a teacher told her that “we were providing the best professional development that he had ever participated in. The comment stuck with me, in part, because it was telling how hungry teachers are for support to improve their craft.”

Only one of these nominees will get the Career Achievement Medal, but they “are all winners,” Stier said. “These are all people who are doing exceptional things for the benefit of all of us.”

Information about the Sammies and all the finalists is on the Partnership’s website.

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