By Steve Kelman

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Vote for your favorite fed

steve kelman

The Partnership for Public Service is a good government organization with a great backstory.

It was founded by Sam Heyman, a wealthy real estate developer and industrialist whose first job out of Harvard Law School was as an attorney at the Justice Department. Heyman came to describe his stint in government as the best job he had ever had.

His primary purpose in founding the partnership was to encourage a new generation of young people to enter public service. He also sought to reform public-sector management so government jobs would attract more bright and devoted people.

Only a year after the partnership was established in 2001, the organization introduced an annual prize called the Service to America Medal, quickly dubbed the "Sammies," a play on the Oscars that substituted Heyman's first name. Over the years, the Sammies have become (along with the Presidential Rank Award) one of the two highest-visibility awards honoring career federal civil servants.

The Presidential Rank Award is limited to members of the Senior Executive Service (it was established by Congress in 1978 when it created the SES) and is a sort of lifetime achievement award given by the government.

In contrast, the Sammies are not restricted to senior managers, are chosen by a committee of judges outside the government and tend to be awarded for specific achievements. They are also divided into several categories, such as Homeland Security and Law Enforcement, Citizen Services, Science and Environment, and -- my favorite -- Call to Service for people under 35, with a preference for those with fewer than five years of federal experience.

The Sammies have often gotten higher-profile media coverage than the Presidential Rank Awards, including on CNN, perhaps because the government is not issuing awards to itself. Emcees for past awards ceremony have included Cokie Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and Gwen Ifill.

Last year, the partnership initiated the People's Choice Award. It is for a Sammie winner chosen not by the judges but by the public. Individuals vote for their top choice from among the finalists. The winner is announced at the awards ceremony, and the partnership also sponsors a reception at the agency whose employee has won the award. Last year, about 10,000 ballots were cast.

I recently received an email message from the partnership with the subject line "32 feds go for the gold" announcing that voting was opening for this year's People's Choice Award. I had not heard about the new award last year, so this was my first exposure.

Here were some of my highlights from among the 32 finalists:

  • Few blog readers will be surprised that my sentimental favorite is Jenn Gustetic of NASA, who is only 33 years old and hence in the Call to Service category. She has been nominated for her work on promoting prize competitions as a detailee in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she spearheaded efforts to crowdsource ideas for fighting Ebola.
  • Given my interest in using performance measurement to improve government performance, readers will also not be surprised by my other sentimental favorite -- Kimya Lee of the Office of Personnel Management, who runs the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. She has transformed it from a high-level survey unable to provide much information beyond "NASA does well and DHS does poorly" into a source of information about where problems lie at a granular level inside government agencies, where the effect of management interventions on employee engagement can be measured over time.
  • Joseph Mueller of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission led an emergency effort to save a dam northwest of New York City that was in danger of collapse by developing and implementing a strategy to save it.
  • Richard May of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network helped develop new ways to identify money laundering, such as all-cash residential real estate transactions.
  • James McFadden of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is an unsung hero who during his career has flown planes 575 times into hurricanes to gather data on the development and progress of such storms and provide early warnings to affected communities. At 82, he still works for NOAA managing the operations center in charge of hurricane hunting.

I have now voted. What about you, blog readers? Want to participate? Visit the Service to America Medals People's Choice page to learn more about the nominees and to cast your vote. You'll need a Facebook account to participate. The polls close at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 9, and the awards ceremony is Sept. 20.

I would urge all blog readers to participate. You will have a voice in who wins the award and learn more about some amazing public servants.

Clarification: In my blog last week on prize challenges, I stated that the number of challenges has increased so far in this fiscal year to 265 from 116 for all of the previous fiscal year. I used that number to support the idea that agencies' use of prize challenges was dramatically increasing. I learned after the blog came out that this 265 number includes about 150 apps challenges sponsored by members of Congress and organized by the Congressional Internet Foundation. Although those numbers should certainly be included in a discussion of the use of prize challenges in the government as a whole (and the General Services Administration will include them in their reporting for this fiscal year), those challenges do not signify a rapid increase in the number of prize challenges organized by agencies, as my blog suggested. All the other observations in the blog are correct. I regret any way my blog text gave a misleading impression.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 22, 2016 at 11:27 AM


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