There are few employers with the breadth of work of the federal government.

Under one “boss” — Uncle Sam — two million federal employees do work that takes place under the sea, in outer space, and everywhere in between.

And each year, this diverse portfolio of work is put on display at the Service to America Medals ceremony, a recognition of federal employees who have made a difference through their career. Sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, these winners routinely make the lives of their colleagues, their citizens and the world a better, more efficient and more equitable place.

“This year’s Sammies honorees once again demonstrate the importance of having a competent, merit-based, nonpartisan career federal workforce striving to make our nation safer, healthier and more prosperous,” said Partnership President and CEO Max Stier in a statement. “The creativity, ingenuity, tenacity and determination demonstrated by these honorees and the hundreds more nominated for consideration serve as a powerful reminder of the remarkable work our career federal employees do every day on behalf of all of us.”

The announcement of the award finalists coincides with the beginning of Public Service Recognition Week, which began in 1985 to recognize the work of public sector employees at all levels of government. Named after Samuel J. Heyman, the founding chairman for the Partnership and a former Justice Department lawyer, the program has honored more than 750 federal employees since 2002. Heyman died in 2009, though his legacy lives on.

At a time when attacks on the federal workforce are heightened thanks to the political intensity of an election year, the Sammies remind workers, and the public, that for all the federal government gets wrong, it gets a lot right. And the federal government isn’t always good at telling the latter, Stier said in a recent interview with Federal Times. But with the current administration putting a fine point on improving the way taxpayers interact with government agencies, whether online or in person, there’s an opportunity to do just that. And the government has a vested interest in public opinion; it’s trying to hire more early career professionals and graduates to take up this work.

Under this administration, the share of the federal workforce under the age of 30 has increased by 13%, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

So as an example of what one can do in government, look no further than the 25 finalists of the 2024 Sammie Awards, according to the Partnership:

Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Category

Recognizing a federal employee for leading “significant and sustained accomplishments throughout a federal career” of 20 or more years.

Janet Woodcock

Principal deputy commissioner (retired) of the Food and Drug Administration

Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.

“Transformed the Food and Drug Administration’s drug review process to expand access to generic medicines and promising medications to treat severe, life-threatening diseases.”

Thaddeus A. Ryba, Jr.

General engineer for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center

Hill Air Force Base, Utah

“Played a critical diplomatic and scientific role in international negotiations that led to the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria and Libya, contributed to the final destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile and enabled the banning of deadly nerve agents.”

Matthew Borman

Principal deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for strategic trade and technology security

Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

“Led pivotal efforts to impose export controls on U.S. adversaries to deny them access to critical U.S. technology that could be used for military purposes.”

Robert McGaughey

Research forester for the U.S. Forest Service

Department of Agriculture, Martinsville, Indiana

“Developed open-source software that converts voluminous aerial data into detailed information that enables better management of forestlands.”

Christopher Mark

Principal strata control specialist for the Mine Safety and Health Administration

Department of Labor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Devoted a lengthy federal career to preventing fatalities from roof falls and other underground mining disasters, saving countless lives.”

Francine Alkisswani

Telecommunications policy analyst for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

“Advocated for and implemented a federal program to promote historically Black colleges and universities as innovation hubs that bridge the digital divide for underserved communities.”

Emerging Leaders Category

Recognizing young federal employees, under the age of 35, who have made a significant contribution in their professional career.

Andrea Fletcher

Chief digital strategy officer Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.

“Led teams at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to create online services that help patients dispute unexpected medical bills and hospitals make their prices transparent to the public.”

Kyle Gardiner

Senior policy analyst for the Office of Management and Budget

Washington, D.C.

“Played a leading role in streamlining burdensome government forms, shifting how federal agencies collect information and ensuring deserving recipients receive public benefits.”

Sammie Tafoya

Economic and commercial officer for the Department of State

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

“Spearheaded the drafting of a visa revocation policy for Haitians involved in criminal activity and human rights abuses while contributing to sanctions packages and a U.N. resolution imposing penalties against those undermining peace and stability in the Caribbean nation.”

Jerry Ma

Director of emerging technology and chief AI officer for the Patent and Trademark Office

Department of Commerce, Alexandria, Virginia

“Developed new technology tools for Patent and Trademark Office personnel and the public, and led efforts to establish the agency’s approach toward the use of artificial intelligence for inventions seeking patents.”

Management Excellence Category

Recognizing a federal employee or team for an important achievement marking efficient, effective and results-oriented governance.

Elizabeth (Biza) Repko

Director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office

Washington, D.C.

“Led critical research projects that exposed gaps in vehicle safety features, and uncovered shortcomings in the reliability of the U.S. rail and highway systems.”

Darnita Trower, Wanda Brown & Gerald Johnson

Paperless processing initiative team for IRS Department of Treasury

New Carrollton, Maryland, and Kearneysville, West Virginia

“Developed a new system that will enable taxpayers to electronically submit all correspondence and non-tax forms to the IRS for the 2024 filing season, laying the groundwork for future advancements in paperless processing.”

Mike Schmidt

Director of the CHIPS program office at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

“Implemented a multibillion-dollar program to supercharge the U.S. semiconductor industry that will increase domestic production of chips that are vital to our everyday life and strengthen American manufacturing and national security.”

Amira Choueiki Boland

Federal customer experience lead for the Office of Management and Budget

Washington, D.C.

“Pioneered policies to improve government services and the customer experience in areas ranging from newborn care and disaster assistance to renewing passports online.”

Christopher Johnston, Rachel Han & Ryan Thurlwell

VA health and benefits mobile app team

Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.

“Built and launched the Department of Veterans Affairs Health and Benefits Mobile app, enabling hundreds of thousands of veterans to more easily manage appointments, view claims, message their doctor, refill prescriptions and more.”

Safety, Security and International Affairs Category

Recognizing a federal employee or team for an accomplishment in fields such as counterterrorism, civil rights, defense and military affairs, diplomacy, foreign assistance, trade, consumer protection, cybersecurity and emergency preparedness and response.

Kaitlin Sahni, Kate Naseef & Nhan Nguyen

Chemical prosecutions team for the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section

Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

“Investigated and prosecuted the first case against individuals supplying precursor chemicals to a Mexican drug cartel, disrupting methamphetamine and fentanyl production in Mexico and establishing a framework to build similar cases in the future.”

Nancy Alcantara, Shannon Rebolledo & Justin Uphold

The Packers sanitation investigation leads team for the Wage and Hour Division

Department of Labor, Chicago, Illinois

“Discovered more than 100 children ages 13 to 17 illegally working on dangerous machinery in 13 meat slaughterhouses across eight states, leading to a large civil penalty and a new approach to child labor law enforcement.”

Pete Guria, Steve Calanog & Tara Fitzgerald

2023 Maui wildfires emergency response team

Environmental Protection Agency, San Francisco, California

“Directed more than 300 Environmental Protection Agency personnel to remove tons of hazardous materials from the Maui wildfires while respecting local cultural norms and setting standards for federal response teams that followed.”

Trevor McAleenan & Michael Lane

IRS criminal investigation division

Detroit, Michigan, and San Antonio, Texas

“Spearheaded a cutting-edge investigation that led to the seizure and forfeiture of more than $3 billion worth of bitcoin, one of the largest financial seizures in the history of the U.S. government.”

Tony Mento, Camille Otto & Hari Kalla

Federal Highway Administration

Department of Transportation, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, & Washington, D.C.

“Provided critical coordination as well as technical expertise that led to the reopening of a major interstate highway outside Philadelphia less than two weeks after a fiery gasoline tanker crash destroyed a bridge over an exit ramp.”

Science, Environment and Technology Category

Recognizing a federal employee or team for accomplishments in artificial intelligence, medicine, economics, energy, information technology, space, meteorology and resource conservation.

Marc Levitan & Long Phan

Tornado wind loads team at NIST

Department of Commerce, Gaithersburg, Maryland

“Created the world’s first tornado-resistant building codes, conducting groundbreaking research that will save lives and protect critical facilities like schools, hospitals and emergency centers from extensive property damage.”

Yan Ping (Judy) Chen & Jay Evans

Agricultural Research Service

Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland

“Revolutionized bee disease diagnosis and treatment, introducing cutting-edge technologies to detect virus pathogens and developing novel medicines to enhance bee health and prevent colony collapse.”

Neil Cheatwood & Stephen Hughes

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Hampton, Virginia

“Envisioned and led the development of a new inflatable heat shield for planetary entry, descent and landing that will enable spacecraft to deliver bigger payloads to distant planets, including during a future human mission to Mars.”

Karl Simon, Christine Koester & Matt Lakin

The Clean School Bus team at the Environmental Protection Agency

Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California

“Designed and implemented a program that funds new electric and cleaner-energy school buses, reducing pollution and improving air quality for children in low-income communities.”

Tara McHugh

Pacific West Area director for the Agricultural Research Service

Department of Agriculture, Albany, California

“Partnered with innovators to develop novel healthy processed food products that have reduced food waste and created jobs in high-unemployment areas, and now leads more than 1,400 employees in eight Western states”

Voting information

Nominated finalists are in the running to be selected as Federal Employee of the Year, which will be announced in September.

The 25 finalists are also eligible for the People’s Choice Award. Beginning Monday, May 6, the public can vote online for the individual or team The People’s Choice winner will be announced in July.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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