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30 Finalists Honored for Service

According to an old political adage, you should be aware of anyone who knocks on your door, carrying this message: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

The joke is a caricature of the well-intentioned but bumbling government employee. However, there are many public servants whose presence you need not fear should they arrive at your doorstep promising to help.

Last Thursday, the Reserve Officers Association Building played host to a breakfast honoring 30 such servants. They were announced as the 2005 finalists for the Service to America Medals, awarded annually to distinguished federal government employees since 2002 by the Partnership for Public Service, in conjunction with the Atlantic Media Company, publisher of The Atlantic Monthly and National Journal.

In his opening remarks, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, Max Stier, said the 30 finalists “represent that wonderful system we are blessed with in the United States.” He borrowed from New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who has argued that a “lean, effective, civil service is vital” for the country. Echoing this observation, Timothy Clark of Atlantic Media said he hoped the program would highlight the “important contributions people of federal agencies make to the well-being of all of us.”

Following the opening remarks was the screening of a short video, featuring the commentary of popular CNN anchors Judy Woodruff and Anderson Cooper, ABC newswoman Cokie Roberts, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. The video praised the efforts of the federal government as indispensible to the safety and welfare of the American people.

Then came the announcement of the 30 Service to America Medals finalists. Each name was called individually, at which point the finalists would stand — flanked occasionally by fellow staff members — as Stier listed the achievements for which they were being honored.

The stories were as varied as the missions of the government agencies the finalists represent. Many were particularly awe-inspiring. One finalist, Kevin McAleenan, heard duty calling one day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and foreswore a lucrative career at a private law firm to join the FBI. Today he works as the director of anti-terrorism at the Homeland Security Department.

America’s security in general, and Sept. 11, in particular, figured prominently in the profiles of many finalists. Dave Gable, for instance, spearheaded the reconstruction of the 400,000 square feet of the Pentagon damaged on Sept. 11. And Tobin Bradley of the State Department won plaudits for helping to organize 15 regional Iraqi elections in some of the war-torn country’s most dangerous hot-spots.

“9/11,” Stier said, “made government relevant for many Americans,” who began to appreciate how “security functions are a vital aspect of what government does for us.”

The Service to America Medals selection committee, staffed by, among other high-profile public figures, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), former Secretary Ridge and CNN’s Woodruff and Cooper, must now pare the 30 finalists down to nine award recipients. The awardees will be announced on Sept. 28 at a black-tie event in Washington, where they will receive prizes ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.

The committee will award medals for excellence in eight areas: Homeland Security, International Affairs, Justice and Law Enforcement, National Security, Science and Environment, Social Services, Call to Service (given to government workers younger than 35, with less than five years experience) and Career Achievement. It will also announce the coveted Federal Employee of the Year award.

The Partnership for Public Service describes itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to inspiring people to federal government service and promoting excellence.” It awards the Service to America Medals because, as Stier said, the American people “simply aren’t told enough about the successes of the people working for the federal government.”

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