Collaborating with Communities to Improve Health Equity
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Collaborating with Communities to Improve Health Equity

Today’s “Profiles in Public Service” guests have provided care to communities across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Service to America Medals® finalist Suma Nair launched a major federal initiative to ensure that community-based health centers could access lifesaving resources to adequately respond to COVID-19. Ian Munar from International Community Health Services in Seattle, Washington, and Noah Nesin, the chief medical officer at Penobscot Community Health Care in Penobscot, Maine, witnessed the tremendous impact that Nair’s program at the Health Resources and Services Administration had on the individuals and families they serve, many of whom are from populations experiencing economic, geographic, cultural, linguistic or other barriers to accessing high-personalized health care services. These three public servants discuss their experiences working in community health care, and why collaboration between federal and local leaders is critical to improving health equity in America.  

This episode is the first of four highlighting some of our incredible 2022 Service to America Medals® finalists. Nominate an outstanding public servant for a 2023 Sammies Medal today through our nomination form

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Transcript

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous.  

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists and more to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all of our lives.  

I’m Loren DeJonge Schulman,  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher. To honor the 21st anniversary of September 11th, we will be hearing today from Rupa Bhattacharyya, the former special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and a 2022 Service to America Medals finalist.   

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, or VCF, is a government program that pays claims to victims of 9/11, including the families of those who were on site or responded that day, as well as people who lived, worked or went to school near the attack sites. 

The fund was initially set up after 9/11 and closed in 2004, but Congress reopened the fund again in 2011 when it was clear that people were still getting sick from toxins released around the three plane crash areas. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: When Rupa Bhattacharyya started as the fund’s special master in 2016, she faced enormous challenges and public skepticism about the fund’s ability to meet its obligations to those harmed by the 2001 terrorist attacks.  

But under her leadership, Rupa and her team were able to turn the VCF around from a constantly under-resourced, limited and short-term fund into a unique long-standing program with an unlimited pool of funding to compensate those whose health may be affected for decades as a result of the attacks. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  Rupa’s contributions and leadership as special master of the 9/11 VCF include  

  • Tripling the fund’s output of awarded claims and paying more than $8 billion in compensation to more than 35,000 individuals.  
  • Reducing the wait time for individuals to receive their claim to less than 12 months from the time it is filed.  
  • And designing better outreach and education strategies to expand public understanding of who is eligible for filing a claim and how to do so. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: After 20-plus years of distinguished service in the federal government, you can now find Rupa in a new role as special litigation counsel at Georgetown Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. We are honored to highlight her incredible public service leadership on today’s episode and to showcase both her commitment and pride to serving the 9/11 community.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  Without further ado, welcome Rupa! 

Transition Music 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Rupa reading about you has been such a joy. There are so many things that people want to share and not just about one accomplishment that you’ve done, but really your whole career and they highlight all the different skills that you bring a blend of people, management, organizational skills, and I love how much it’s emphasized that you fight for what’s needed. So, what motivated you to bring this amazing skillset to a career in public service? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: You know, I never really wanted to do anything else. I think partly it’s because. I I’m a first generation American. My, my parents immigrated here from India in the sixties, and I was born in this country and I’m very, I’ve always been aware, that I have opportunities here that I might not have had otherwise. 

And so, I’ve always been very grateful for that and wanted to give back in that way. I also got the justice department bug very early on. I was an intern at the justice department following my first year of law school. I never really looked anywhere else. That was where I wanted to start my career and where I spent the vast majority of it. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love it. We hear so many stories of folks who aren’t really sure what they want to do and they fall into different things. And for you, this sounds like it was a very clear purpose that you had. And, and what was it about the law in particular that, that drew you? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: So, you know, I grew up in a household where it was expected that I was going to be some sort of a science major. If it wasn’t a science or an engineering degree, it wasn’t a real education.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Hmm. 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: But neither of those were for me. Math was not my forte and neither was science. And so, I really was interested in writing. I was interested in learning things. I was interested in reading. I liked putting together puzzles and doing logic games and the law was right up my alley. And from that, I started in law school wanting to be a litigator, because I really didn’t know that there was any other kind of lawyer. 

 Because those were the only ones I’d ever seen on TV, but it truly was the correct career path for me. I am not one of those people who doesn’t like being a lawyer. I actually enjoy it quite a lot. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love it. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, Rupa, one of the major things we invited you on the podcast today to talk about is the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which you’ve been a part of since I think the end of 2016. So, before we get started, telling some of the stories and issue areas with that, can you just remind everyone, what is the 9/11 VCF? Who is it intended to serve? What does it do? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: So, the, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund has a long history. It was originally created in 2001. Congress set it up immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, just a few weeks, in fact, after the attacks occurred, the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was created. 

And that was the fund that was run by Special Master Ken Feinberg, it compensated over 5,000 people that were directly involved in the attacks: those who were in the buildings; were in the airplanes; who responded in the immediate aftermath of those attacks and were caught when the buildings collapsed. But it closed in 2004 because it thought its work was done. By 2010/2011 it had become clear that the tragedy of 9/11 was not over. People continuing to get sick as a result of exposure to the toxins at all three sites at the Pentagon, at Shanksville, and of course in New York City where the Twin Towers stood. And so, Congress passed what’s known as the Zadroga Act it’s named after James Zadroga, who was a New York City police officer who succumbed to a respiratory illness as a result of his 9/11 related injuries. And it was intended to help those who suffer from what we call latent injuries, as a result of 9/0 diseases that are occurring now, years after the fact, as a result of that toxic exposure to that stew of chemicals that came into being as a result of very large airplanes crashing into buildings or in the case of Shanksville into the ground. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, this terminology you’re using the latent impact, or the victims who are non-immediately impacted there. In thinking about that, that strikes me as something that would probably introduce some complications or just challenges to administering the fund. Can you tell us a little bit about that? When you started, what were some of the obstacles or the challenges that you had to overcome when you first joined the Victim Compensation Fund? 

Did you feel like it was able to meet the needs of the populations it was set up for, or was it struggling to be able to work towards that purpose? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: One of the fundamental challenges of what we call VCF 2.0, which was the fund that started in 2011 following VCF 1.0, which is the fund that closed in 2004, one of the fundamental challenges of VCF 2.0 is that no one has ever known– we still do not know– ultimately how many victims there will be. 

There’s not a very good count of how many people might have been exposed to toxins at all three of the sites. We have better information at the Pentagon and Shanksville simply because those were controlled areas. Whereas in New York, It’s a very large area of Manhattan that we don’t have good information about in terms of who was there. 

And even if we did have a count of who was exposed, there’s no way of knowing how many people might get sick in the end. So, as a result of that, uncertainty, the fund has always been challenged because it’s very difficult to set up an administrative program where you don’t know how many people might ultimately apply. And you don’t know over what period of time they might ultimately get sick. And so originally the fund was set up when it was created in 2011 to last for five years, it was supposed to close in 2016. It was provided a very limited amount of funding. In 2015, it became clear that that wasn’t going to be enough. 

And so, Congress renewed the fund for another five years, this time to close in 2020 and gave it a little bit more funding. And that’s sort of where I came in. I came in in 2016 just after what we call the first reauthorization when the fund had been extended to 2020 and we had been given a little bit more funding, and our challenge was to figure out if it was going to be enough. 

The statute contained very clear language that said if the special master determines that the funds are going to be insufficient to pay the claims, policy decisions had to be taken to ensure that we did not exceed the available funding. And so, a good part of my sort of early years at the fund, in addition to all of the other administrative challenges of sort of running the operation, we were trying to figure out whether or not there was going to be enough money. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: What an incredible thing, it’s not a dilemma, it’s more, as you say, like there’s this, this day to day need of running the fund and responding to real victims who need this, may not even, may not have been aware of it years ago. And trying to understand the future impact of the future need of this is there, I’m sure there’s many, but is there a specific story or a case that sticks out to you from your time as a special master? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: So, the story that I always find the most compelling is probably the story that everyone has heard. When we went up before Congress in 2019, for what we call the permanent reauthorization, that’s what was under consideration then, Detective Luis Alvarez testified before Congress. 

He was there after multiple rounds of chemotherapy. He was a police detective who responded on 9/11. Incredibly ill from cancer. He in fact passed away just a few weeks following his testimony, but he received an award from the VCF. And I can say that because he testified that he did. And what he said to Congress was even after everything he had gone through it, what he said to Congress was how can I be so lucky, that my family will be taken care of, but the people who come after me, unless you do something, won’t? 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Oh.

Rupa Bhattacharyya: And that really stood out to me as a, just an exemplar of the kind of people that this fund is really trying to help.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: You said something a few minutes ago that is really sticking with me about this fund. You don’t know the size or even necessarily the makeup of the possible population that could be eligible for this. And there’s no real way to define that. One of the things that federal services always struggle with is being able to connect with those who may be eligible. 

But generally, there’s like a clear set of guidelines around like, all right. Here’s who would qualify, we know what this looks like, we generally know how to reach these people. Or if we don’t, then we have a strategy to do so. And yet, with this, as you talk about this VCF, this, this later iteration, what a tremendous challenge to think through how do you engage the possible eligible recipients? How do you reduce the burden so that they can actually qualify for this or know how to qualify and apply? And it’s just an amazing challenge that, how did you approach that? Like what lessons do you think your, your approach of trying to reach victims who may not know they’re a victim yet or may not know they’re eligible yet for this fund. Um, and are there lessons, you see that for other federal leaders who are trying to engage with their communities? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: First of all, I was very lucky because I was following in the footsteps of three really tremendous leaders who took the initiative in the first instance, the first of course, was Ken Feinberg who initiated the fund in its initial incarnation and started the practice of town halls and of actually reaching out and talking to the people who the fund was intended to benefit. 

That was something that my predecessor of special master Sheila Birnbaum continued to do when she took over the fund when it reopened in 2011. And it also is something that Dr. John Howard, who is the administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program, which is our sister program over at HHS has sort of taken to heart and does as well. 

And so, we had a community of people, including a bunch of private organizations and groups who were willing to help. And then of course we had all of the employer associations and unions and political officials and others who could reach out to this community of people and really bring them in. 

And so, when we came in, one of the goals of the fund was always to be transparent, but it was always also to make sure that we knew that we were reaching the people who we thought could be eligible. I know when I started, I took one look at the sort of data that we had about who was applying and I sort of scratched my head and said, where are all the federal employees? There were tons of federal employees at those sites, and yet we were very underrepresented in the number of federal employees that we had as applicants to the fund. And so, we reached out to federal employees to federal agencies. 

We reached out to DHS. We did a large event with FBI director, Christopher Ray, and we tried to make inroads to try to get people to become aware of what was available to them. We did events with the borough presidents throughout Manhattan. We did events with alumni associations. We did events with the unions. 

Whenever we could get the word out there, we took the opportunity to do that, understanding that we were working with a limited budget at that time and with, you know, other priorities, obviously. And we heard some concerns, you know, we did hear from people who said, look, you’re not deciding the claims you have why are you trying to get more? And so, our outreach efforts always had to be tempered with all of the improvements that we also tried to make to try to make the process more streamlined, to get decisions out the door faster, and to make sure that the claimants that we did have were well treated and we’re getting the benefits that they should have been getting. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Rupa, you mentioned in 2019, the congressional hearings and the very, what it sounds like, very compelling and moving testimony from detective Alvarez and, you know, Congress does unfortunately have the reputation of a place of dysfunction. So, when this is something that is top of mind for people, when dealing with Congress, you know, your work with the 9/11 fund, this is an example of moving Congress to act. So how did you do it? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: Very carefully! You know obviously there are guardrails that prevent federal agencies from directly lobbying Congress or urging others to lobby Congress and we were very careful never to exceed those guardrails. They’re there for a reason and they’re very important. But we also knew going into this when we first began to identify in the middle of 2018 that we were probably going to run out of funding before we could decide all of the pending claims. We started to make that public. We knew from the beginning, and we made a decision that that was something that we weren’t going to sit on, because we knew that the information was important and that people who did have the ability to act, including members of Congress, needed information in order to be able to do that. And so, we started talking about the fact that funding might not be sufficient. And then in October of 2018, we published what we call our notice of inquiry in the federal register. We said we were concerned about the availability of funding and we asked for options. What did the community, the advocacy groups, the victims, the lawyers who represented the victims—understanding that the statute required me to do something as special master in order to preserve the funds and to make sure that we didn’t exceed the amount of available funding—what did they think we should do? And so, we actually went out publicly and asked a whole series of questions about how they thought we should deal with the fact that we were running out of funds. And ultimately the response that we got back from the majority of people who commented was that we needed to cut awards across the board. That it wouldn’t be fair to do it any other way. 

And that, and that ultimately was the approach we adopted which we announced in February of 2019. So, it was sort of a slow run up, obviously that announcement then spurred immediate action on the hill. The bills to permanently authorize the VCF and increase its funding were introduced within weeks, um, within days, in fact. But it was that sort of transparent, keeping people advised, making sure they had the information that they needed, providing the best estimates we could of when we would run out of funding and how much funding we were going to be short, that really spurred, I think, the effort. Because people understood that this was not just fear mongering and it also wasn’t us sitting on our hands until the last possible minute. We wanted to do it in a deliberate way that gave people the information that they needed so that they could then act on it. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You, you had quite a group of non-federal collaborators I think in this, in this mission. For all of the work that you’ve done over the years, was this a unique part of this process? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: It was unique in the sense that we had some quite high-profile advocates. Jon Stewart’s testimony at that very same hearing obviously was in the view of many essential to getting Congress, to act on the bill. But I, you know, I think in any federal program, there are people who care tremendously about the directions that the program is taking. And some part of being an effective program is being able to engage with those people, with that constituency and making sure that they understand where there are opportunities for them to get involved and make a difference. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And there are so many ways in which this has made a difference. I love to know more about the kids who are in schools near ground zero. What was the impact there with your work? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: The kids were told to go back to school, and there’s been, you know, some comparison of their situation with that of kids now who are going back to school in the age of COVID. What we always said to those communities and the survivor community is, is really the, the community that is most impacted by that. These are the people who didn’t respond to the site, didn’t work at the site, but were in the zone, and mostly this is in New York. Our zone is quite large it’s the area of Manhattan, south of canal street, and the health program zone for treatment of conditions related to 9/11 is actually even larger. Those were the people who most benefit from the reauthorization in 2019. A lot of the talk at the time was about the responders and, and of course the responders are such an important part of the 9/11 community, but the survivors are the ones who are, are the ones who are least represented in the claimant pool, although their numbers are increasing dramatically as a result of outreach efforts, but they are the ones for whom the fund will remain available. The responder community is now in their fifties and sixties, but those high school students are now only in their thirties. Should they develop a condition related to their 9/11 exposures at some point in the future, the fund will be there for them. And that’s what reauthorization did for them. There are a number of advocacy groups out there that that do a tremendous amount of work with the kids, including one from a survivor who was a high school student at Stuyvesant High School, which is right there in the zone.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, this practice of using government funds or government resources to respond to past injustices through compensation, like the Victim Compensation Fund for 9/11, it’s something I’ve been familiar with for the nine 11 community. But I was not really aware, I hadn’t thought about until I read about your background, how this has applied in many prior circumstances. 

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the other funds that you have either personally worked on and managed or been exposed to as part of your work at the Department of Justice? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: Sure. So, compensation funds are pretty unique. Your question sort of underscores, there’s a real choice to be made at a policy level about when government funds are going to be used to pay victims in cases where the government is not the one who created the circumstance that gave rise to the injury. And it’s rare that it happens. I think that the 9/11 fund is in some ways very unique in that way. And, and partly that was the case, certainly in 2001, when it was originally created, because Congress was very, very concerned about litigation and the impacts that litigation would have on the airline industry, as just one example, the city of New York as another. It is hard for us to remember now, but prior to 9/11, airline security was up to the airlines. There was no federal agency responsible for airline security. The TSA was created in response to 9/11. 

So, the airlines were really on the hook potentially for really ruinous legal liability, for allowing 19 hijackers onto their airplanes. Congress was very concerned about that. And that was one of the impetuses for creating the original September 11th compensation fund. That same sort of concern about legal liability underscores one of the other funds that I’ve been involved with, which is the vaccine fund.  

The vaccine fund is very, very different from the 9/11 fund. It is funded by a tax on vaccines. So, every time somebody gets a dose of one of the covered vaccines under the vaccine fund, 75 cents goes into the vaccine fund. Because vaccines are in the main, tremendously safe, the program is actually quite well funded. And in those very rare cases when there are circumstances where people have bad reactions to vaccines, which, which does happen as it will with any consumer product, the vaccine fund is available to satisfy those claims and the vaccine manufacturers don’t get sued. 

That’s part of the deal. And basically, what that means is that the vaccine manufacturers continue to make flu vaccine. Or continue to make childhood vaccines, which otherwise they might have stopped doing, because it was just too expensive for them. And so that’s tort reform in its sort of basic formulation, right? 

We’re going to protect the vaccine manufacturers so they will continue to keep making vaccines, but we’re also going to create a fund to pay those who are injured by vaccine administration. And it works. It works tremendously well. And so that is actually a model that that can be used and probably should be used in other areas. 

Other programs like the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program also sort of has similarities to the VCF in some ways, because that one is a pure apology program. It actually comes with an apology. The federal government conducted nuclear testing in areas out west. Some people were harmed as a result of that nuclear testing or in the process of mining uranium and the government is going to pay them for those harms in cases where litigation can’t solve the problem. 

You can’t sue the United States for those types of claims for a whole variety of legal reasons. But the government has determined that it will provide a limited amount of compensation, as some sort of compassionate care. So, these compensation programs serve a variety of different needs and interests. 

In some cases about litigation. In some cases, it’s about fixing a wrong, in some cases, it’s about making sure that deserving people get paid, but it’s always a line drying exercise which makes it fraught politically and sort of small P as a policy matter. You know, I always, I always like to point to the example as a longtime federal employee, to the example of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. 

Many of whom were federal employees who do not qualify for any sort of compensation program from the federal government. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Rupa, it is always so fascinating for Loren and I, and our listeners to hear these details of jobs that occur within the federal government that we would not otherwise know about. And we started this conversation with you being very definite working for the federal government, being in public service was something you knew right out the gate that you wanted to do. 

So, what advice would you give to listeners who are early in their careers? And they’re thinking about working in the federal government and in public service, what would be your advice, for how to go about it? 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: I ask this question a lot and, and particularly in, in recent years, my advice is always do it. It is hard sometimes from the outside to look at the federal government and be concerned about some of the things that it does. And some of the things that it gets bad press for doing, and in many cases, rightly so. But the federal government also does a lot of really, really good things. And there are, there are places in government where you can do a lot of really, really good work and, and make a real difference in the lives of real people. It is, I think, rare, to find places where you can do that, particularly as a lawyer. I think it’s a real calling to, work for the federal government. I am so glad that it is a place where I spent the bulk of my career. I feel like I made a difference to people I can identify with. You know, we live in a country that gives us a tremendous amount of opportunity and freedom and the best way to support that is to be a part of the government that back stops that. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I hear it in your voice too when you talk about a few times throughout this whole conversation, that, that personal impact that you can make to real people. And I hear it, and we’re just so grateful to you for everything that you’ve done and that you’ve led your teams over the years to do. And just, we appreciate you also taking the time to have this conversation so that we can share it with a broader audience. So, thank you so much, Rupa. 

Rupa Bhattacharyya: I’m happy to be here. Thank you for everything that you all do to support public service and federal government service. It really is very much appreciated. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Thank you. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Rachel, I have a serious question for you, did you have any idea how much or to what degree the United States government is involved in victims compensation funds as Rupa discussed with us? 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Loren, I did not. What an example of a government job that people don’t know about.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: I think this is one of those areas where, particularly now in this environment where you see GoFundMe and other sorts of collections happening, people seem like, oh no, this sort of thing is privately handled or by donations or things like that. So, the fact that this is a policy determination by government of when they need to offer some sort of mitigation or recompense or where they want to protect the viability of those who might otherwise be required to do so is a really interesting policy question and what an incredible role for government to have to involve itself in. But what the corollary to that though is then you need to have people who are running these that are this amazing blend of empathetic, dedicated, passionate, and administratively ruthless. And that was Rupa. She’s exactly the sort of person that makes sense for these sorts of roles. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Even to the point where in the beginning— and she talked about growing up she was fascinated by puzzles—this is the quintessential puzzle where you’re looking to provide, you know, compensation and you don’t even know yet how many people fall into that bucket and over what period of time? I mean, what a mystery and how do you, how do you figure that out? And the fact that there are people working on this is pretty incredible. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: In building on that, that you don’t know how many people or even necessarily for what purpose.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Right! 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: The comment that she made at the end around how a sort of emerging groups of possible recipients of the fund are students, students of schools who are from the area who were young then maybe in their thirties now, and maybe later in life experiencing some of the deleterious effects of being exposed to the 9/11 site. The possibilities in that are both amazing that we have created a fund that allows for this, that is now able to process claims through 2090 an incredible act of policy, generosity, and purpose by government. And also, as you say, a massive puzzle and like one that requires somebody who is not just going to be in awe of the mission, but in very, very purposeful and detail oriented around the, ‘how do we actually do this?’ 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: An example of flexibility in government that you don’t expect. This was a fund that closed, and it was reopened. Like you just wouldn’t imagine that such a thing would be possible, which was pretty cool. And you could just tell, you know, as you were saying, like there’s all of these technical pieces and then how much she cared about what she was doing. 

Can you imagine being on one of her teams and this is what you’re working on, and you get to see direct impact years and years from now, but also immediate impact. Being able to see the people that you’re helping and meet and talk with them is pretty powerful. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: It’s one of a rare instance and I say rare—maybe we don’t hear about it enough—instance where government is looking into the future and is willing to be uncertain about what it’s going to do because, they know that it will pay off. That it will be exactly what they need to do in some ways. 

And that just takes and requires, as you pointed out, Rachel, a really special involvement of bipartisan leadership and Congress feeling as passionately about this as many stakeholders in the community. I mean, I’ve, I struggle to think of good examples of where you’ve had a federal leader who is able to generate positive and productive relationships on both sides of the aisle on The Hill, had advocates in their community like Jon Stewart and so many others who are both pressuring them and both working for them and also are able to think longer term. And this is a really, I’m sure there are other examples of this, but as I pulled back and was thinking about all of this, like there’s so many magic ingredients in this program that I hope others are able to learn from and her answers around how you engage with the communities that you work with were just so inspiring, but also very practical.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah and also focusing on being transparent, which again ties back to all of the research that you’ve done on trust because without that transparency and gaining trust of the victims themselves, their families, the community, Congress, all the different stakeholders, like none of this works without that. And she, Rupa, knew that she really focused in on that. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: One thing I was very impressed by was her identifying some of the possible inequities in the system of awards that had already happened. That federal workers were highly underrepresented despite, you know, being very likely qualified or very likely eligible recipients. And there’s any number of other categories too, but that one stood out to me as like, all right, then we need to go and talk to people, make them aware, make it see how this is possible. Even if we are struggling already to work with the populations we are already serving. It is our duty to go engage with and try to work with those who may not be as aware. 

And that to me is an incredible lesson for government is that you don’t have to be perfect in everything. And I mean, you should be striving for that, but that does not excuse inequity or lack of attention to deserving populations. And there’s ways to be able to mitigate and work around both.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: For me, that’s such an amazing note to end on, Loren, I’m so glad you brought this up again. It was stunning when Rupa talked about the fact that it was federal employees themselves that were underrepresented could have been applying for funds and didn’t know. This sums it all up, right? Like you think of public servants, they’re doing this work because it is for the good of others and, and almost missing the boat on where they could also be helping themselves and deserving of this kind of compensation. So, that was such a stunning moment for me. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Well, it’s so exciting to be able to honor Rupa as one of the Sammies finalists this year.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah! 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: And I’m really excited for everyone in our audience to be able to learn more about her through that process. So, thanks for a great conversation as always, Rachel.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Thank you, Loren. 

Transition Music 

Maggie Moore: Hi, I’m Maggie Moore from the Partnership for Public Service. After hearing from today’s guest, you hopefully learned even more about how important the federal government is to the health, safety and security of our nation, and how incredible its employees are.  

If you know an outstanding public servant who deserves to be recognized, we want to know about them! Please nominate them for a 2023 Sammies by going to Service to America Medals dot org or check the link in our show notes. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  

You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!   

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  

“Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.   

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.   

Loren DeJonge Schulman: See you next time!