As another year comes to an end, it’s time to celebrate the top successes achieved by U.S. government agencies in 2016.
To say that 2016 was rough going is an understatement. For many people it was stressful, tumultuous, tragic, or surreal. We could all use a reminder about the good news that happened this year thanks to U.S. government agencies large and small.
Rather than dwell on downers or let politics foul the mood, let’s look back at the top 10 most impressive government successes of the year.
10. Declared that coffee is good for you
Hallelujah! The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture announced that moderate coffee
addiction consumption can be part of healthy eating patterns.
This doesn’t give you permission to chug multiple oversized whipped cream-topped mocha frappuwhatevers. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate daily coffee consumption as no more than three to five 8-oz cups or up to 400 milligrams caffeine. The caffeine in just one venti Starbucks coffee will zoom you over the recommended daily limit.
9. Cracked down on harmful chemicals
Antibacterial soaps are out. Plain soap and water is in. So said the FDA in an important public health decision in September 2016. It turns out that chemical additives companies claimed prevented the spread of germs were doing no such thing. In fact, the chemicals do more harm than good, interfering with important hormone functions and helping to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria (truly, the stuff of nightmares).
The FDA rule, which goes into effect in 2017, bans 19 chemicals, but only in hand soaps and body washes. To avoid these chemicals entirely, consumer protection groups suggest people avoid products labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial,” which can include hand sanitizers, toothpaste, cosmetics, cutting boards, linens, and children’s toys.
8. Created more opportunity for those with less
An under-the-radar government program reached two financial milestones. Since inception, the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) has awarded $2 billion in grants and loans, with $186 million of that in 2016, and guaranteed over $1 billion in bonds, with over one-quarter of that ($265 million) in 2016.
The CDFI Fund support empowers the nation’s economically distressed communities create and preserve jobs, finance businesses, build affordable homes, and give thousands of people access to services they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
7. Got smarter with tech
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge galvanized communities across the country to develop transportation plans that can harness new technologies in order to improve mobility and expand access to opportunity.
The whopping number of city applicants—78 in total, one from nearly every mid-sized city in America—demonstrates government’s intense interest in technology solutions and digital service. Columbus, Ohio took first place in the Smart City Challenge, winning $40 million to create an innovative, inclusive transportation network.
6. Came out for LGBTQ historic preservation
As if the National Parks Service didn’t have enough going on with its centennial celebration. The agency also released a first-of-its kind study on how the nation’s LGBTQ history can be recognized, preserved, and interpreted for future generations. With 1,200 pages and 30 subject matter experts, the LGBTQ Heritage Theme Study is an important step toward fixing what Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell called the “underrepresentation of stories and places associated with LGBT communities.”
Demonstrating the sincerity of the government’s commitment to LGBTQ historic preservation, the National Parks Service added the area around The Stonewall Inn as the first national monument to celebrate LGBTQ history. It also added the first lesbian site, the Furies Collective, and the first Latino LGBTQ site, the Edificio Comunidad de Orgullo Gay, to the National Register of Historic Places.
5. Enlisted bug bounty hunters
Lately, the U.S. government has been plagued by hacking. The Department of Defense (DoD) decided it was time to try a new tactic and engaged vetted security researchers, or “white hackers,” to improve the security of its public webpages. Hack the Pentagon, launched in April 2016, became the first first bug bounty program by the U.S. federal government.
The Hack the Pentagon pilot exceed expectations. Over 1,400 hackers found 138 legitimate weaknesses, earning the sleuths $75,000 in awards. Because the pilot was such a technical and cost-effective success, the DoD will run more bug bounties in the future, starting with Hack the Army. The DoD also created a new policy to encourage white hackers to find and report vulnerabilities anytime on all DoD websites.
4. Fought for transgender service members and military families
The U.S. military stood strong for the civil rights of transgender people. In June, the Pentagon ended the ban on transgender Americans serving openly in the military. Then, in October, the Department of Defense (DoD) began to provide medically necessary treatment to active duty transgender service members, and issued a guide to in-service transition.
The department also affirmed that transgender students are allowed to use all DoD facility accommodations, including bathrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender identity. The decision came after military families and organizations protested after a DoD Education Activity (DoDEA) elementary school discriminated against a transgender child. The DoDEA runs 191 schools worldwide for the children of active duty service members and DoD civilian families.
3. Created a home for black history
It took over a century, but on September 24, 2016, the Smithsonian Institution opened the long-awaited National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC). It is the first national museum dedicated to helping people understand American history through the lens of the African American experience.
Hailed as “more than a museum,” the 400,000-square foot NMAAHC was immediately popular with locals and tourists alike. Visitor passes are already sold out through March 2017. Many federal and local agencies helped the Smithsonian make NMAAHC a reality, including the National Capital Planning Commission, the United States Commission of Fine Arts, the D.C. Historic Preservation Commission, public utilities, transportation agencies, and law enforcement.
2. Pulled species back from the brink
This was a record-setting year for endangered species. More species were removed from the endangered species list, or “delisted,” in 2016 than in any year since the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973.A species is delisted when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines that it has recovered to the point it can survive without federal protection (win) or when it has gone extinct (fail).
Like most government progress, the uptick in delistings isn’t without controversy. Yet, every species saved from extinction is a step toward a more economically prosperous and livable planet. The delisted species include Kentucky’s white-haired goldenrod plant, three types of foxes, the Louisiana black bear, Johnston’s frankenia shrub, and the unpoetically named modoc sucker. And—as Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise would be thrilled to discover—9 of the 14 distinct populations of humpback whale.
1. Knocked down teen pregnancy rates
Teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates are at their lowest levels in almost forty years, according to findings and analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics, the CDC, Pew Research Center, and Guttmacher Institute. Countless federal, state, and local government agencies worked toward this success, and share the stage with thousands of dedicated medical practitioners, nonprofits, and community clinics.
Government researchers and other experts credit efforts such as comprehensive sex education, pregnancy prevention programs, and government support of improved access to highly-effective contraceptive methods like IUDs.
Join the celebration!
What’s the biggest success at your agency in 2016? Share it in a comment.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.