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Editorial: Lessons in public service for Congress

Oct. 6, 2013 - 03:31PM   |  
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Last week reminded us, in the midst of political chaos, what real public service is all about.

The Partnership for Public Service announced Oct. 3 this year’s winners of the Service to America Medals, or Sammies, which are awarded to federal employees of notable achievement.

Just a few of those honored include:

■ Drs. Julie Segre, David Henderson, Tara Palmore and Evan Snitkin at the National Institutes of Health, who teamed up to sequence the DNA of a particular antibiotic-resistant bacteria that was killing hospital patients, and thus stopped its spread. Their work may help fight other deadly hospital infections.

■ John MacKinnon and the Operation Holitna Team at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Boston, who rescued more than 160 victims of child pornography and developed advanced forensic investigatory techniques to track down predators.

■ Daniel Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, whose research into firefighting tactics has helped save innumerable lives.

■ Hamid Jafari, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who directed an international project that eradicated polio in India and who is now working to wipe it out in the three remaining countries where it persists.

■ And Antonio Mendez, the CIA agent (now retired) who, at great risk to himself, orchestrated an elaborate scheme to free U.S. diplomats trapped in Tehran in 1980 after the Iranian revolution, a story dramatized in the movie “Argo.”

Some of those Sammies winners, it turns out, are being furloughed due to the partial government shutdown that began on Oct. 1.

Also last week, we witnessed many law enforcement personnel, many from the U.S. Capitol Police, put their lives in harm’s way — including one who was injured — when they responded to a security threat at the Capitol building, which resulted in the killing of a Connecticut woman.

Those police are working, but not being paid, because of the government shutdown.

With these examples, we are reminded that true public service is the product of intense dedication to purpose, self-sacrifice, commitment in the face of adversity, and the core belief that one’s work is important to the greater good.

Unfortunately, the shutdown has showed us another brand of public servant last week: congressional politicians who have chosen to grandstand, play politics and advance their own career goals, and in the end, partially shut down the government, rather than do their jobs for the greater good of the country.

The plain fact is this: A straight continuing resolution to keep the government open would easily pass the House if Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, chose to put it up for a vote. But he has not allowed such a bill to get a vote for political reasons that appear to concern saving his own job as speaker of the House.

What we are witnessing in the House of Representatives is not an example of true public service or leadership. Politics has its place, but not when it needlessly leads to a partial shutdown of the government and wreaks economic harm on millions of people. This hurts real people with real lives.

The politicians who are preventing a CR from being passed have no business harming federal employees, American citizens and the economy. To them, this message: Take a look at what real public servants do and get out of their way.

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