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Partnership for Public Service announces 2023 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal winners and star-studded gala to celebrate outstanding civil servants

October 16, 2023

Laura Cooper will be awarded the Federal Employee of the Year medal for coordinating the international effort to provide military supplies to Ukraine  

WASHINGTON – The nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service will host the 22nd annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals®, or Sammies, awards ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to honor a group of extraordinary public servants who have helped our nation innovate, engage globally and deliver vital services to the public. 

Considered the “Oscars” of government service, the Sammies have earned a reputation as the premier awards program recognizing excellence and leadership in the federal government.  

The 2023 Federal Employee of the Year award will be presented to Laura Cooper, who heads the Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Policy team that has coordinated the international effort to provide military supplies to Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression. Under Cooper’s leadership, her team convened more than 50 nations to secure anti-aircraft systems, armored personnel carriers and other war supplies as well as ambulances, medical kits, winter clothing and more, for both the Ukrainian military and civilians. 

The achievements of the 2023 winners span many critical areas of our government’s work that include successfully handling international hostage negotiations and fighting organized crime and the opioid epidemic. This year’s honorees have also advanced planetary defense, implemented infrastructure investments and improved access to education and student loan forgiveness programs. 

“At a moment when career federal employees face increased and harmful rhetoric and questions about the future of their nonpartisan expertise, these public servants demonstrate the best our nation has to offer,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “This year’s Sammies winners, like many of the more than 2 million career civil servants around the country, work every day to confront our nation’s biggest challenges. The stories of these honorees are a window into the extraordinary work happening throughout government that often goes unnoticed.” 

In addition to the six medalists, the Partnership will present its sixth annual Spirit of Service Award. This year’s Spirit of Service award recipient is Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent at PBS and the former anchor and managing editor of PBS’ “NewsHour.” During a more than five-decade journalistic career, Woodruff has illuminated the often inspiring and remarkable efforts of public servants to improve our lives and has held government to account when it has failed to live up to its promises. 

Woodruff will be interviewed about her contributions to public service, live at the Sammies gala, by Sally Buzbee, executive editor of The Washington Post.  

CNN’s Kate Bolduan will serve as the ceremony’s emcee. Special gala speakers include White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro. 

Video tributes to the winners to be shown during the ceremony will feature actors D’Arcy Carden, Dulé Hill, Ego Nwodim, Sam Richardson, Amy Schumer and William Shatner

The 2023 Sammies finalists are a diverse group of 27 individuals and teams selected from more than 350 nominations. The winners were chosen by a prestigious selection committee that included leaders from government, business, charitable organizations, academia, entertainment and media.  

The 2023 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals recipients:  

Laura Cooper of the Department of Defense (Washington, D.C.) is the recipient of the Federal Employee of the Year Medal, the top honor of the Sammies program. Cooper and her Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Policy team led a nimble, meaningful response by the U.S. and its allies to support Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s unprovoked aggression by delivering critical military supplies and other aid at an unprecedented pace. 

Melissa Emrey-Arras from the Government Accountability Office’s Workforce and Income Security Team (Boston, Mass.) is the recipient of the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Award. During her 21-year career at the GAO, Emry-Arras led investigations and proposed recommendations that have helped millions access federal student aid and have their student loans forgiven, while rooting out fraudulent student loan schemes.  

The Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal is named after the extraordinary public servant who made a profound difference for our country and was the leading voice on the value of government service. In 2019, the Partnership renamed the Sammies career achievement medal in his honor. The Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal is supported by Ray and Barbara Dalio. 

Fletcher Schoen and Jennifer Harkins of the Department of State (Washington, D.C.) are the recipients of the Emerging Leaders Medal. Schoen and Harkins played integral roles in the release of 11 American prisoners wrongfully detained in Russia and Venezuela, contributing to creative diplomatic strategies and delicate negotiations while showing compassion to the families and keeping them informed. 

Paul Nissenbaum, Gloria Shepherd and Maria Lefevre of the Department of Transportation’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation team (Washington, D.C.) are the recipients of the Management Excellence Medal. The team helped craft and implement the $1 trillion infrastructure law that is modernizing the nation’s highways, bridges, shipping ports, railroads and airports. 

Joshua Mellor of the Department of Justice, Nicholas I. Cheviron and Stephanie Stevens of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Operation Trojan Shield Team (San Diego, Calif.) are the recipients of the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal. The Operation Trojan Shield team conceived and led a unique worldwide investigation using information from a government-controlled encrypted messaging service that resulted in the arrest of more than a thousand drug traffickers and members of organized crime syndicates. 

Brian Key and Scott Bellamy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Huntsville, Ala.) are the recipients of the Science, Technology and Environment Medal. Key and Bellamy managed the NASA team that successfully altered the orbit of an asteroid, providing the first-ever planetary defense test that could protect Earth from celestial threats. 

In addition to the six winners, Megan Meacham, Allison Hutchings, Sarah O’Donnell and the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program Team from the Department of Health and Human Services (Rockville, Md.) are the recipients of the ninth annual Service to America Medals People’s Choice award, which was presented in July. The team created a major initiative that provides grants for prevention, treatment and recovery services to help millions of people suffering from opioid use in rural communities across the country.  

The 2023 Service to America Medals program is made possible by the generous support of our sponsors. The premier sponsor for the 2023 Sammies is Mrs. Ronnie F. Heyman and family. National sponsors are Bloomberg Philanthropies, Charina Endowment Fund, Sharon Marcil and Tom Monahan, Jennifer and David Millstone, Rockefeller Foundation, Standard Industries and Patricia A. and George W. Wellde Jr. Capital sponsors are Tom and Andi Bernstein, Chevron, ConantLeadership, Google, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft at Capital and SAIC.  

Renamed the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals in 2010 to commemorate the organization’s founder, the program has honored more than 750 outstanding federal employees since its inception in 2002. For profiles and videos of current and past honorees, and to nominate a federal employee for a 2024 Service to America Medal, visit  

During the past 22 years, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service has been dedicated to building a better government and a stronger democracy. We work across administrations to help transform the way government works by providing agencies with the data insights they need to succeed, developing effective leaders, inspiring the next generation to public service, facilitating smooth presidential transitions and recognizing exceptional federal employees. Visit, follow us @PublicService and subscribe today to get the latest federal news, information on upcoming Partnership programs and events, and more.