The real American idols

Those who join public service have a special calling. They are generally paid less than their private-sector counterparts, they face more scrutiny and oversight, and they generally get less respect. Even government contractors are derided as Beltway bandits. Yet most people work in government technology because they get a thrill out of the government’s mission: protecting and serving.

That is why we were excited when the Young AFCEANs from the Bethesda, Md., chapter of AFCEA International approached us last year about starting a program that recognizes young professionals in the federal information technology marketplace who work for the government or for companies that are partners with government.

The government needs — almost desperately — to find and encourage the next generation of leaders. And we know the Rising Star Awards program has tapped into that need because at every stage, it has exceeded our expectations. We received more nominations than we expected — more than 180. And we have more winners than we expected — 53.

The Young AFCEANs came to us because they wanted to recognize the work of younger people. After several discussions, we decided to use Federal Computer Week’s Federal 100 awards program as a model.

The Rising Stars program is unique for several reasons. First, we developed it from the ground up by starting with young people. They understand how important it is to publicly recognize good work in a way that highlights the opportunities in federal, state and local government and with government contractors.

Second, the program recognizes people who have not received accolades. Most members of the government IT community are aware of the impending workforce crisis. In the next five years, half of all federal government employees will be eligible to retire.

The Rising Star judges faced a daunting and somewhat complex task. It was often difficult to compare one candidate to another.

Take, for example, Lee Kair, a member of the Senior Executive Service who leads the Transportation Security Administration’s efforts at Orlando, Fla., International Airport. How does one compare his accomplishments with the work of Corey Nickens? A project manager at the General Services Administration, Nickens started as an intern at the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center and, within four months, was writing acquisition packages for complex IT systems integration projects.

And then there is Airman 1st Class Bradford Curry, an application systems technician who implemented spyware technologies that the Air Force has adopted as a best practice.

The judges also considered the importance of young leaders in industry, whom people too often discount or ignore because, after all, they are well paid for their work. But many companies in the government IT market value partnerships with the government. For example, an industry group sowed the seeds for this awards program.

As you read the winners’ profiles on the following pages, you may be surprised by the accomplishments of these people — even though they are not agency chief information officers or company chief executive officers.

We honor and respect the good work of the 53 winners. If just one Rising Star remains in public service because we recognized him or her or if just one young person considers a government career because of the Rising Stars, the program will have been a success.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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