The Federal Employees Who Helped Get bin Laden

With apologies to James Agee, let us now praise not-so-famous federal employees.

On this day of rejoicing for the justice that U.S. military forces imposed on Osama bin Laden, the Washington Post highlighted some of the 34 federal workers who have been nominated for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal awards (the “Sammies”) from the Partnership for Public Service.

Bin Laden’s demise and the announcement of this year’s Sammies provide important reminders of the vital work that millions of federal workers perform every day – and a useful respite to the bureaucrat-bashing that has become a central theme in the debate over how to reduce deficits and debt.

The bureaucrat-bashing has been a bipartisan and a thoroughly depressing affair. After his selfdescribed “shellacking” in last year’s mid-term elections, President Obama moved to the political center with a series of measures – including one to freeze federal civilian pay for two years as a down payment on deficit cutting. When House Republicans learned last month that they had overstated the interest savings in their recent budget plan by $200 billion over 10 years, they vowed to find the money simply by freezing civilian pay and cutting the number of federal workers.

We need a little more perspective on what federal workers do every day:

I worked in government in the mid-1990s, first at the Office of Management and Budget and then for Vice President Gore. Yes, I met lazy federal employees who were biding their time until retirement; you’d find them in the private sector, too. But, I found the vast majority of federal employees to be extremely dedicated to their jobs. They put in brutally long hours – in the White House and executive branch, on Capitol Hill, and in the judiciary, particularly during highprofile debates over major issues.

As for the dramatic news about bin Laden, let’s remember that it resulted from the work of tens of thousands of federal employees over the last decade. They were not just the Navy SEALS who got bin Laden, but all of their Pentagon colleagues who trained and prepared them over many years for an operation like this as well as the many intelligence officers from the CIA, NSA, and other federal agencies who had tracked bin Laden since 9/11 and pinpointed his whereabouts to the Islamabad suburb of Abbottabad.

And they’re all federal employees.

The Sammie nominees include a National Institutes of Health pediatrician who is leading an effort to diagnose unknown diseases; a Treasury Department senior intelligence research analyst whose work convinced Mexico’s government to issue regulations that will limit illegal drug profits that enter Mexico’s banking system from the United States; and a Veterans Affairs Department psychiatrist and pharmacologist who is expanding department efforts to diagnose post-traumatic stress syndrome suffered by veterans.

And they’re all federal employees.

On this day of celebration, we should remember that – every day – millions of Americans have answered the call of public service to make this a better country.

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