2014 Service to America Medal finalists announced

Tuesday - 5/6/2014, 5:10am EDT

By Sean McCalley
Federal News Radio

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service announced 33 finalists for this year's Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals.

The awards go to federal employees making "high-impact" contributions to the health, safety and welfare of the United States and countries around the world. The finalists are divided into eight separate categories, including "Federal Employee of the Year."

The Partnership said the medal winners will be announced on Sept. 22 at a Washington, D.C., dinner.

A tough list to choose from

The list of finalists covers a range of contributions and even distinguishes some people based on how old they are.

"We have an award for people that are on the young side," said Max Stier, Partnership President and CEO, on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

The "Call to Serve Medal" recognizes professional achievements that reflect unique perspectives from the new generation of federal employees.

Sofia Hussein is one of those next-gen finalists. She's a senior forensic accountant at the Division of Enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"[Sofia is] applying cutting-edge data analytics to identify fraud," Stier said. "Her work has really resulted in the return of literally hundreds of billions of dollars to investors."

One of those fraud cases included a $500 million Ponzi scheme in Connecticut. About half of the money was recovered in an offshore account and returned to investors.

On the other end of the age spectrum are the "Career Achievement Medal" finalists. Edwin Needler is the deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department, and his career spans 38 years.

"[He's] argued more Supreme Court cases than anyone else that is practicing today and is really the conscience and the holder of the integrity of the SG's office," Stier said

Also on the "Career Achievement" list is Scott Gerald Borg, head of the Antarctic Sciences Section for the Division of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation. Borg "directed a world-class research program in Antarctica that led to important scientific discoveries about climate change, the origins of the universe, previously unknown sea life and two new dinosaur species," the Partnership wrote in its release.

A group shot of the 2014 Sammies finalists. Click on the image to view it larger. (Photo by Sam Kittner/Kittner.com.)

Listen to our full interview with Max Stier.

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A different tone for 2014

Last year's gala occurred on Oct. 3 — two days after the government shutdown began. When President Obama met with the winners and other finalists on Oct. 23 — a week after the shutdown was over — the tone of the meeting was unique.

"Post-shutdown, at a time when federal leaders are refocusing the workforce on the mission at hand, the President sent a powerful message about his support of our nation's talented public servants," Stier said at the time.

Even though the positive recognition will feel different for civil servants this time around, its importance cannot be understated.

"Our goal is to give these folks the recognition they more than deserve… We have a whole architecture in government. We have the IGs, we have congressional oversight and, frankly, a lot of investigative journalism finding problems in government. Next to no one is looking for the good things. And I've never seen an organization get better if all you do is find what's bad," Stier said on the Federal Drive this week.

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