It’s not every night I get to be in the same room as my favorite TV White House chief of staff and the real White House Chief of Staff. However, last night brought together House of Card’s Doug Stamper (okay, Michael Kelly), Denis McDonough, and a ballroom full of other public servants to celebrate the best of the best in the federal workforce.
I don’t usually spend my Tuesdays surrounded by such inspiring individuals. But Tuesday, I was invited to attend the annual Service to America Medals, or the SAMMIES, gala, hosted by the Partnership for Public Service.
Often referred to as the Oscars for government employees, the SAMMIES represent the best that the federal government has to offer. Each finalist has made a tangible impact in their respective field. Whether it was saving nearly 87,000 lives in hospitals, bringing justice to cyber criminals, promoting small business development in low income areas, each of these govies has made our country, and ultimately the world, a better place to live in.
With the presidential transition looming over the federal government’s head, it can be challenging for federal employees to stay focused and excel. However, as I sat in a room of over 600 public servants, the dedication to mission was overwhelming. At my table alone, I got to chat with the Chief of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program who is saving lives and reducing economic losses by strengthening volcano readiness and warning systems.
In a video address to the crowd, Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged the unparalleled accomplishments of these public servants. “This may be the Oscars of public service, but the difference between the Hollywood award winners and you is that you actually affect peoples’ lives, you are the best by the American people and most of them don’t even know it,” he said. The unwavering dedication of the individuals that surrounded me in the ballroom was clear—they all want to serve their country to the best of their abilities no matter who is watching or what party is in office.
As each winner went up to accept their award, I was struck by the humbleness of the recipients. Every single winner that took the stage highlighted that while they were the one winning the award, there is absolutely no way they could have accomplished as much as they did if it weren’t for their team and all of the support around them. Additionally, many of the winners expressed that while the recognition of the award is satisfying, being able to serve their country on a daily basis was the biggest honor of all.
Sarah Himmelhoch, one of the lead attorneys in the BP oil spill settlement and winner in the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement category, may have put it best when she said, “every day I went to work and felt a little bit like Mr. Smith goes to Washington feeling as every day I had the honor to stand up in court and say Sarah Himmelhoch on behalf of the United States Department of Justice.”
Despite the negative sentiment that often surrounds government, our country would not be a fraction of what it is had the govies that fill the halls of Washington not answered the call to service. They may not want or need the recognition, but it’s our duty to seek them out and thank them for all of the great work they do.
While the SAMMIES offer an excellent opportunity to show our gratitude to our federal employees, it can’t hurt to let them know how grateful we are throughout the rest of the year. So the next time you find yourself interacting with a public servant, give them a few words of thanks, you never know how they might change your life one day.
Not ready to stop celebrating your favorite government employees quite yet? Neither are we. Be sure to check out all nine winners and the rest of this year’s finalists so you don’t miss out on any of the amazing stories of public service.
*Photo Credit: Aaron Clamage