Recognition for outstanding federal workers should be the norm
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Recognition for outstanding federal workers should be the norm

March 8, 2019 | Updated on May 17, 2022
Jim Seymour

It’s easy to find stories about public service heroes in times of crisis, whether they’re rescuing families and restoring infrastructure following a natural disaster, caring for patients and stopping the spread of disease, or providing essential public safety even while their paychecks are withheld due to a lapse in government funding.

But what about when our communities and government are operating as usual?

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration announced the 2019 Gears of Government Hall of Winners. It’s a new feature on that honors more than 150 individuals and teams, from more than 20 federal agencies, who have improved the lives of others or made our government better. These success stories don’t often make headlines, but they display the tremendous impact public servants are making across government and throughout our country.

“Federal employees work every day to deliver mission, service and stewardship for the American people,” said Margaret Weichert, deputy director for OMB and acting director at the Office of Personnel Management. “The Gears of Government Awards celebrate the profound impacts that feds are having across the United States, whether it’s combating identity theft, improving life for veterans or making medications more affordable.”

One of the best ways to help our government continue to improve is to highlight the many ways it’s performing well. Recognition is more than just making people feel good—it encourages high performers to get even better, take on bigger challenges and learn best practices from one another. When those lessons and best practices spread throughout the federal workforce, performance as a whole will improve.

At the Partnership, we know excellence in public service is the norm, not the exception. Our goal is to make recognition of government’s success stories the norm, not the exception. Through our annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, we’ve highlighted more than 500 individuals and teams for their outstanding accomplishments. The Sammies have generated local and national news coverage, including stories in TIME, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Fox News, NPR and more. 

Recognition is more than media attention. It’s often as simple as noticing and saying thank you to airport security officers, park rangers or any other federal workers you interact with. Let them know their work is valued and appreciated, even when no crisis is involved. If you happen to work with high-performing federal employees, celebrate their achievements and nominate them for the Service to America Medals program, government-wide programs such as the Gears of Government Awards, and your agency’s tailored recognition programs.

Finally, help us share these stories. Encourage your friends and family members to check out the Gears of Government and Sammies honorees. Give the finalists and award winners a shoutout on social media. Help make recognition in government the norm.

Jim Seymour is the former director of programs and events at the Partnership for Public Service.