The Partnership for Public Service’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals were awarded virtually this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the annual gala awarding outstanding federal employees for their work on behalf of the American people to an online forum.
“These outstanding honorees represent the outstanding public servants who serve across administrations and are the lifeblood of a government of, by and for the people,” former President Barack Obama said during the Oct. 5 awards.
“They don’t do it for the paycheck, but day after day, year after year, they commit their lives to making this country a little bit better.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, was awarded the highest honor of the night, the Federal Employee of the Year, for not only his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also his infectious disease response efforts across six administrations.
“Dr. Fauci and the 2020 Service to America Medal honorees represent the many exceptional federal employees who have proudly and passionately dedicated their lives to making a difference for our country and our world,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “They have broken down barriers, pioneered new frontiers of medicine, protected our nation from cybersecurity threats and helped our nation during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. We honor and thank them tonight for their service.”
In addition to Fauci, six current and former federal employees were recognized for their contributions to the nation and federal workplace.
Dr. Ira Pastan, distinguished investigator at the National Institute’s of Health’s National Cancer Institute, was awarded the 2020 Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal, for his work on a rare form of cancer, called hairy cell leukemia.
“Our drug is like a magic bullet or a guided missile. It has a little piece of an antibody that binds to the cancer cell, and a little piece of a toxin that goes in and kills the cell,” said Pastan at the awards.
Pastan’s decades of work on bacterial toxins enabled the development of a class of drugs that kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact, providing treatment for those patients who have become resistant to other cancer therapies.
“Dr. Pastan is now building on the success of this new class of drugs he developed called Recombinant Immunotoxins that could also be effective against solid tumors such as pancreatic and lung cancer, and mesothelioma, in addition to leukemia,” said Thomas Misteli, director of cancer research at the National Institutes of Health, in a news release.
Dr. Vikram Krishnasamy, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, received the Emerging Leaders Medal for his work setting up a response infrastructure for patients displaced due to their doctors being arrested for illegal opioid prescriptions.
“Vikram served as the gateway between law enforcement and the state public health officials,” said Gary Cantrell, the deputy inspector general for investigations at the Department of Health and Human Services, in a news release.
“We had hotline numbers established, mobile health units deployed and public health officials on site at the clinics where patients were arriving. None of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for Vikram’s efforts.”
Krishnasamy not only coordinated efforts between medical professionals and law enforcement to ensure that patients were redirected to legitimate health-care providers, but he also prepared training materials for CDC rapid response teams.
Dr. Neil C. Evans, Kathleen L. Frisbee and Dr. Kevin Galpin, officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, were awarded the Management Excellence Medal for the development of telehealth services at the agency.
“They’ve really set the vision for the future,” said Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VHA, in a press release. “The VA, in so many ways, has led this not only in the number of people served, but also in the breadth of services offered.”
The tools they developed have been used by VA patients to schedule appointments, connect to clinicians, fill prescriptions and consult with specialists.
Donna F. Dodson, formerly the chief cybersecurity adviser for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, was awarded the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal for her “significant role” in developing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which has been the basis for many federal and private sector cybersecurity initiatives.
“Donna sits at the crossroads between government’s needs in cybersecurity, between government and business, and between the research community and those on the frontlines,” said Patrick Gallagher, the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and former director of NIST, in a press release.
He added that Dodson is “an unmatched interagency, business, government broker able to help solve complicated, multiparty security challenges.”
Dr. Beth Ripley, national director of the Veterans Health Administration’s 3D Printing Network, was awarded the Science and Environment Award for creating an interconnected 3D printing network that allowed doctors to examine models of patient organs and tissues prior to treatment.
“Our patients at the VA have seen so much and gone through so much that we really want to be able to give back to them,” Ripley said at the awards. “By being part of the public service we can do big, important, messy things that would be so hard to do on our own.”
That network has also been able to produce personal protective equipment and personalized medical tools, and everything the VHA has done in the world of 3D printing, “has Beth’s fingerprints on it,” said Dr. Ryan Vega, executive director of the VHA Innovation Ecosystem, in a press release. “She’s the heart and soul of the movement.”
Lorraine Cole and Corvelli A. McDaniel, officials at the Department of Treasury, received the Service to America People’s Choice Award for their leadership in the Treasury’s Bank Mentor-Protégé Program, which pairs large commercial banks with smaller, minority-owned banks to address the needs of underserved communities.
“This landmark program was created to increase the capacity of small and minority-owned banks to better serve their customers and, potentially, the Treasury Department, as well as strengthen their ability to withstand the rigors of the rapidly changing banking industry and economic environment,” said Kim Saunders, president and CEO of the National Bankers Association, in a news release.
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.