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The team of Julie Segre, David Henderson, Tara Palmore and Evan Snitkin won the Federal Employee of the Year award. / Sam Kittner
It was the stuff of medical nightmares: Starting in mid-2011, a strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria began infecting patients at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. By the next year, seven had died at the premier research facility.
But the tragedy prompted a four-member NIH team headed by Drs. Tara Palmore and Julie Segre to sequence the bacteria’s DNA to decipher how it spread, eventually allowing them to trace the transmission path and take steps to end the outbreak. For that breakthrough, which could revolutionize defenses against hospital infections, the team is the joint winner of the Partnership for Public Service’s Federal Employee of the Year award. The team’s other members are Dr. David Henderson and Evan Snitkin.
Other recipients of this year’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) include:
■ A National Institutes of Standards and Technology engineer whose research spurred new ways of fighting fires.
■ A State Department adviser who brought together young leaders across the Middle East.
■ An Air Force official whose fuel conservation work saved the service more than $1 billion last year.
The winners were chosen from among 31 finalists. An honorary citation is going to Antonio Mendez, a retired CIA operative whose work in spiriting a half-dozen American diplomats out of Iran in 1980 inspired the Oscar-winning film, “Argo.”
All will be formally recognized at a black-tie banquet Oct. 3 in downtown Washington, despite the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1. Four of the winners are on furlough without pay.
The situation, unprecedented in the Sammies’ 12-year history, makes “recognizing government excellence even more important,” Max Stier, president of the partnership, said in an interview. “This is not the way for us to be running our government and the consequences are enormous. These stories demonstrate why.”
Here is a list of the other Sammies winners, their agencies and a summary of their accomplishments as reflected in their citations:
Career Achievement Medal
Orice Williams Brown, managing director of financial markets and community investment at the Government Accountability Office in Washington.
Brown provided Congress with impartial analysis and oversight regarding the nation’s financial regulatory system, issuing warnings about potential risks and recommended improvements in the implementation of new laws and economic recovery programs. Besides advising lawmakers, Brown has worked closely with senior executive branch officials to correct problems and improve program performance and regulatory oversight, said Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, who heads the GAO.
Citizen Services Medal
Daniel Madrzykowski, fire protection engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.
Madrzykowski dramatically improved firefighting practices by conducting and sharing sophisticated research that has saved firefighters’ lives and protected property across the nation. Working with fire departments nationwide, he finds buildings slated for demolition and re-creates previous fires in which firefighters were killed or injured with the help of fire-modeling software. He analyzes the blazes and lets firefighters know what he has learned.
Science and Environment Medal
David Lavery and the Mars Exploration Team. Lavery is program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters in Washington. Lavery led the Curiosity rover mission to Mars that is exploring the planet’s geology and climate, as well as assessing whether conditions are favorable for microbial life and human exploration.
Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal
John MacKinnon and the Operation Holitna Team. MacKinnon is a group supervisor at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Boston.
The team rescued more than 160 victims of child pornography and developed forensic investigatory techniques to track down the predators, resulting in more than 50 arrests since 2010. The team’s techniques have been picked up throughout the agency and by other law enforcement organizations in the U.S. and overseas.
National Security and International Affairs Medal
Hamid Jafari, medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Jafari directed the global initiative that eradicated polio in India and is leading the effort to eliminate the disease in the final three countries where it persists. Between 2008 and 2011, he directed a staff of more than 2,300 people and oversaw delivery of about 1 billion doses of polio vaccine annually to 172 million children.
Call to Service Medal
Andrew Rabens, special adviser for youth engagement at the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs, in Washington.
Rabens headed an initiative to engage young leaders from the Middle East and North Africa to share ideas and learn about American democracy.
After Rabens last year organized the Active Citizen Summit, bringing together 55 delegates from across the Arab world, one attendee from Qatar obtained private-sector funds to host a similar gathering in Doha and worked to expand his youth empowerment and development organization to Morocco and Algeria.
Management Excellence Medal
Kevin Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, in Washington.
As the government’s single biggest energy consumer, the Air Force spent more than $9 billion on fuel and electricity in fiscal 2012. Geiss, who has championed the safe use of alternative fuels to ensure energy independence for combat and support missions around the globe, surpassed the service’s goals by reducing fuel consumption by 12 percent last year, compared to 2006. Avoided fuel costs totaled almost $1.2 billion.
Honorary Service to America Medal
Antonio Mendez, Central Intelligence Agency (retired).
Mendez was the real-life agent who orchestrated the clandestine scheme dramatized in the movie “Argo” to free American diplomats trapped in Tehran after the Iranian revolution. That achievement was part of a long CIA career in which Mendez helped change the identity and appearance of thousands of U.S. spies during the Cold War by creating disguises, fabricating documents and inventing cover stories.