This year's annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America awards (better known as the “Sammies”) brings special recognition to a slew of high-achieving feds, with several heroes involved in the fight against COVID honored.
Every year, the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America awards (better known as the “Sammies”) are conferred to some of the best feds—and best people—this country has to offer. It’s 2021, and here we go again, celebrating public servants who have made a difference, on the twentieth anniversary of these most coveted medals for federal service.
On Thursday, Oct. 28, the nonprofit good government group the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) hosted the 2021 Heyman awards ceremony, at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Some 300 people were in attendance, according to PPS, including members of Congress, executive branch secretaries and deputy secretaries, business and nonprofit leaders and others.
Multiple awards were bestowed upon a range of leading federal employees.
Of particular note over this last, extremely difficult pandemic year—and perhaps not surprisingly, this top award goes to those feds who massively helped curb COVID’s deadly wrath: Two feds—Dr. Barney S. Graham and Kizzmekia S. Corbett, both of the National Institutes of Health / Vaccine Research Center (VRC). Before the pandemic struck, the two already had been working with the private firm Moderna on vaccines against coronaviruses. Their work helped form the foundation for Moderna’s product as well as other vaccines now being used all over the world to fight the death and severe illness caused by the disease. Dr. Graham is the director of the NIH unit.
Although the COVID-19 vaccine’s basics were developed in less than a year, the two federal researchers had been hard at defeating the coronavirus threat for a long while.
“While creation of the specific vaccine for COVID-19 was surprisingly rapid, Drs. Graham and Corbett, along with fellow researchers in their field, had been laying the groundwork for decades,” an NIH release explained. Graham had found ways around flaws in previous vaccine attempts against similar viruses, from years past. The work of Corbett, a recent addition to VRC’s staff, meanwhile proved crucial to developing an “understanding [of] how the antibodies that bind to different forms of coronavirus spike proteins block infection,” helping lead to the tremendous success of the project.
Also recognized for the highest achievement in the battle against COVID, Drs. Gibbons and Pérez-Stable claimed the COVID-19 Response Medal. Gibbons serves as director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), while Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable holds the post of director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The two received their award for their extraordinary work developing programs to make sure underserved communities were able to participate in COVID-19 testing and vaccine clinical trials.
The Emerging Leader Medal was given to Callie Higgins, an employee of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Higgins has done extraordinary things by “creating groundbreaking technology to detect and remedy microscopic flaws that threaten the safety and reliability of 3D-printed products,” as PPS described her accomplishments.
The Management Excellence Medal was extended to three feds, Michelle Daniels, Charles D. Eldridge and Ryan E. Jones—all of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The trio fashioned a new and innovative housing voucher program. It provides assistance for rental costs and other support to 18- to 24-year-olds who are aging out of foster care.
Another award—named for Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Chairman under presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan—was passed to Evan Kwerel, of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for his longtime and pioneering work on allocating public airwaves. Kwerel’s work on the distribution of these key frequencies earned him the Volcker prize, as well as, according to a release, in excess of $200 billion to the federal government.
Max Stier, PPS’s president and CEO, spoke to the importance of recognition for great work that the Sammies bring to feds.“Letting employees know their work is valued and giving the public a chance to see them in a different light is a powerful way to make our government better,” he said.
For the full list of this year’s Sammy recipients, click here.
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