Recognizing Civil Servants

One of the things I learned working on the Reinventing Government initiative in the 1990s for Vice President Gore was that civil servants do some pretty amazing things.  And they get little recognition for it.  But now it’s time to make government cool again!

There has long been recognition for top career senior executives, called the Presidential Rank Award.  The very top level winners are often personally presented their awards by the President.  There is also a monetary award that goes with this recognition.

Vice President Gore created Hammer Awards, which were given to teams of employees whose work exemplified the principles of reinvention:  putting customers first, cutting red tape, and empowering employees to get their work done.  There was no money, just a hammer.  There hasn’t been a similar award since 2001.

While having government recognize its own is important, it is equally important if not more so when the recognition comes from outside the executive branch.  Interestingly, there has been an increase in recognition for civil servants in recent years.

Since 2002, the Partnership for Public Service has sponsored the prestigious Service to America Medal, which will be presented later this month.  Last year, eight civil servants who have made a difference in the lives of others were recognized.

While it isn’t an award, the IBM Center started a weekly radio show ten years ago to learn from, and recognize, leaders and innovators in government.  It also publishes a magazine twice a year with excerpts from these interviews that it then shares widely with their peers in government.  The radio show has interviewed over 350 public managers over the years.

The Washington Post began a new weekly feature earlier this year, “Federal Players,” where it profiles a little-known civil servant who has a big impact.

The latest – and possibly the most interesting – addition to this field comes from Senator Ted Kaufman, from Delaware.  He has committed to tell the story of “Great Feds” — individual civil servants who are making a difference.  And he is telling these stories weekly from the floor of the Senate.

Sen. Kaufman was a former civil servant and an aide to Vice President Joe Biden before being selected to complete the last two years of Biden’s Senate term.  He has announced that he will not run for a full term, so he has nothing to prove.  The Washington Post has dubbed him a “Champion of Civil Service” and quoted him as saying:   “It’s bothered me for the last almost 30 years that people just feel it’s perfectly okay to denigrate federal employees,” Kaufman said yesterday. “It really, really bothers me, because they do make incredible sacrifices.”

The IBM Center has decided to re-post on its homepage a link to the short bios of civil servants selected by Sen. Kaufman for recognition.  We hope you find a way to recognize them as well!