The 2013 Service to America Medals revealed the devastating effects of a government shutdown
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The 2013 Service to America Medals revealed the devastating effects of a government shutdown

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

As the current partial government shutdown continues for a third week, 800,000 federal employees are living in financial uncertainty and Americans are being denied critical services because dedicated public servants are being told not to report to work.

If there’s a silver lining to be found during times of government shutdown, it’s that the American public gains a better understanding of the valuable services lost during a hiatus of so-called “nonessential” government operations. 

Three days into the October 2013 shutdown, the Partnership for Public Service celebrated the 2013 Service to America Medals recipients and finalists—more than 30 outstanding federal employees and teams that made remarkable achievements in government service. When we scheduled the annual Sammies gala more than a year earlier, we could not have predicted it would occur during a government shutdown. 

During his opening remarks that night, Max Stier, the Partnership’s president and CEO, reflected on the circumstances. “It is especially meaningful that we’re here tonight to recognize and honor all that is right with our government at a time when our country is being deprived of its services.”

The Sammies gala became an unexpected illustration of the extraordinary disservice to the American people of a government shutdown. Nearly half of our nine 2013 Sammies winners were furloughed. For one special evening, we celebrated the positive impact of their work, but for more than two weeks that fall, their employers told them to stay home and not do their jobs. These are the four winners who were prevented from working: 

Kevin Geiss with the Department of the Air Force, recipient of the Management Excellence Medal, found ways to save our government billions of dollars—more than $1 billion in 2012 alone—through energy efficiency programs and the use of alternative fuels. During the government closure, Geiss continued his volunteer service as a squadron commander for the Civil Air Patrol.

David Lavery and the Mars Science Laboratory Team from NASA, recipients of the Science and Environment Medal, shepherded the development and launch of the Curiosity rover that explored the geology and climate of Mars to help NASA assess the potential for a future human mission. The rover was parked and not allowed to explore during the shutdown.

Daniel Madrzykowski from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, recipient of the Citizen Services Medal, dramatically improved firefighting practices by conducting and sharing sophisticated research. During the furlough, he missed a meeting of the International Association of Fire Chiefs where he was set to share new research on saving firefighters’ lives and protecting property.

Orice Williams Brown with Government Accountability Office, recipient of the Career Achievement Medal, had spent more than 20 years providing Congress with impartial analysis and oversight on the nation’s financial regulatory system and suggesting ways to improve the implementation of new laws and economic recovery programs—including the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program and initiatives to prevent foreclosures after the 2008 economic crisis.

The stories of these Sammies honorees—and those of the more than 500 finalists and winners we’ve recognized over the years—are concrete examples of the benefits public servants provide to our country and demonstrate why our government needs to reopen and remain open. 

The president and Congress should never tell our talented and passionate civil servants they’re not allowed to work on the public’s behalf, when that is exactly what federal employees have dedicated their lives to doing. 

Return to the We the Partnership blog later this week for more stories of government service and the impact of the partial shutdown. Also, please submit nominations for the 2019 Service to America Medals. Anyone may nominate a federal employee or team, and furloughed employees may submit nominations in their private capacity. Every nomination is a great opportunity to show appreciation to a federal colleague or employee.

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