The Partnership for Public Service held its annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America awards Nov. 1, honoring nine federal employees and their associated teams out of 29 nominees for making a significant impact through their public service.

“This is the 20th anniversary of the Sammies. These awards aren’t just the Oscars of public service; they’re a reminder that public service is an impactful profession,” President Joe Biden said during the awards ceremony.

Keeping with the trend from 2020, the Federal Employee of the Year award went to work on the COVID-19 pandemic, with former National Institutes of Health Research Fellow Kizzmekia Corbett and former Deputy Director of the NIH Vaccine Research Center Barney Graham receiving the honor for their research that led to the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Their names will be in the history books,” said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who won the same award in 2020. “All the [COVID-19] vaccines that are doing really well are totally dependent on their work.”

Faucci noted their work on documenting the structure of the virus serves as the basis for all of the successful COVID-19 vaccines thus far.

In addition to the Federal Employee of the Year medal, six other awards were given to feds for outstanding work in public service.

Reem Ghandour, director of the Division of Epidemiology at the Maternal Child and Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, was awarded the Science and Environment medal for her leadership of the National Survey of Children’s Health. That survey, released in 2020, provided critical information on the factors impacting children’s health in the U.S. Ghandour’s leadership turned around declining response rates and increased survey reports to an annual schedule, rather than every four years.

“There had been no consensus among countries, academics or federal agencies on how to measure this important concept, yet Reem decided to take on the task,” Michael Kogan, director of the Office of Epidemiology and Research at the Health Resources and Services Administration, said in a news release. “She arranged meetings with international and national authorities, other federal agencies and stakeholders at various levels. She helped create and test an entire section devoted to school readiness. It is a remarkable achievement to move a whole field of scientific work forward.”

According to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, the survey was “living in the dinosaur age” before Ghandour’s involvement.

Callie Higgins, materials research engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, was awarded the Emerging Leaders medal for her work inventing technology to detect microscopic flaws in 3D-printed technology.

“Say you hurt yourself and you don’t have any cartilage anymore in your knee. That’s really difficult tissue to make on your own in our own body, and I’m working towards rebuilding that whole interface with 3D printing,” said Higgins, noting her role as a federal employee has enabled the extent of her work.

“I have the support within NIST to kind of make my own path.”

“The impact of the science that Callie has discovered is immeasurable,” said Robert Keller, a supervisory materials research engineer at NIST, in a news release. “Manufacturers will have the ability to create high-quality plastic parts. In the health care industry, this technology could lead to advancements in the development of replacement body parts and organs.”

Ana Hinojosa and Eric Choy, Trade Remedy Law Enforcement Directorate executive director and deputy executive director, respectively, and their Customs and Border Protection team were awarded the Safety, Security and International Affairs medal for their efforts to combat forced labor in products imported to the U.S.

That team was also the recipient of the People’s Choice Award, which offers members of the public the chance to select their favorite from among all award nominees.

Michelle Daniels, Charles Eldridge and Ryan Jones, a housing program specialist, program analyst and deputy director at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, respectively, led their team’s receipt of the Management Excellence medal for their work to offer housing assistance to children aging out of the foster care system.

“With this program, it’s propelled my life, it’s enabled me to take the edge off,” Adaora Onuora, a recipient of the program, said at the ceremony.

The program, which offers vouchers for rent and support services to children between 18 and 24 that have left foster care, now has bipartisan backing.

“It’s an extraordinary shift in American social policy,” said Ruthie White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, in a news release. “I’ve talked to hundreds of youth who have these vouchers and the stories are poignant and, in many cases, a near miss to experiencing homelessness.”

Evan Kwerel, senior economic advisor at the Federal Communication Commission’s Office of Economics and Analysis, received the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Award for his leadership in spectrum auctions to allocate public airwaves for the transmission of sound, data and video while also garnering more than $200 billion in sales for the government.

“For decades, the FCC held what were called ‘beauty contests’ where companies applied for a band of spectrum and the FCC determined who was going to win and for what purpose,” former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a news release. “Evan, along with two Nobel Prize winners, designed the first FCC spectrum auctions. He was a pioneer.”

The Volcker award recognizes the nearly three-decade public service career of Paul A. Volcker, who worked under presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama in a variety of positions. The award is given to an employee that has led significant achievements over at least 20 years of public service.

Gary Gibbons and Eliseo Péres-Stable, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at NIH and director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH, respectively, became the first recipients of the COVID-19 Response medal for their efforts to increase testing and participation in COVID-19 trials in underserved communities.

“Gary and I came together when Dr. Collins, the NIH Director, called us in to say, ‘What are we going to do about these vaccine trials when 90 percent of the volunteers are white?’ And so we got together every Saturday morning for about three months to strategize, to mobilize, to advise,” said Péres-Stable.

“Any scientific study would potentially leave questions on the table if we didn’t have diverse participation.”

In a news release, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, said “2020 will be remembered for two big events: COVID-19 and bringing to light structural racism, which includes health care.”

“Dr. Gibbons and Dr. Pérez-Stable are addressing both of those crises with laudable, highly challenging community outreach,” he added.

Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.

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