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Civil Servants Honored

Peak-performing Civil Servants Honored

Government service is rarely glamorous or heralded. More often than not, the media highlights problems, not successes, in public sector programs. But in the sprawling federal government, there are many people whose work, performed to high standards of excellence, is essential to the health, welfare and security of American society.

The Service to America Medals program celebrates their achievements, by selecting a handful of individuals whose efforts have been especially notable. In this, the fifth year of the program, winners are chosen in eight categories, and one person, Nancy Cox of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was designated Federal Employee of the Year. They were honored on Wednesday night at a gala event in Washington. The Service to America Medals program is supported by the three magazines of Atlantic Media Co. -- Government Executive, National Journal and The Atlantic -- and is produced in association with the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing the federal workforce.

This year's winners:

  • Federal Employee of the Year 
    Nancy Cox, Ph.D., a CDC virologist who has studied the influenza virus and worked to eliminate the threat of a global pandemic. 
  • Career Achievement 
    William D. Phillips, Ph.D., whose research in using lasers to cool atoms and improve the accuracy of clocks led to a Nobel Prize. 
  • Call to Service
    Christina Sanford, who took a leading role in Iraq's transition from an appointed government to an elected one. 
  • Homeland Security 
    Ambassador Nancy Powell, who led a U.S. initiative to establish a worldwide protocol for response to avian influenza. 
  • International Affairs 
    Mark S. Ward, whose plans for allocating millions in federal aid following the Asian tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan ensured funding got to the right places. 
  • Justice and Law Enforcement 
    Martin Harrell, a leading expert with the EPA on environmental criminal prosecution, closed the doors on a chemical company for illegal storage and international shipping.
  • National Security 
    Ron McNeal, whose personnel recovery plans guide the safe return of American service members and civilians taken hostage or missing in action.
  • Science and Environment 
    Norden E. Huang, Ph.D., who, while correcting a mathematical error, unearthed a new way to analyze data across a multitude of scientific disciplines.
  • Citizen Services
    Thomas Casadevall, Ph.D., and U.S. Geological Survey scientists, who immediately applied technology as well as boats to enable rescue efforts in New Orleans in the hours following Hurricane Katrina.


USGS Hurricane Response Team led by Dr. Thomas Casadevall

Finalist: 2006 Citizen Services Medal

Position: Director, Central Region Agency:
U.S. Geological Survey

Location: Lakewood, CO

Residence: Lakewood, CO

Achievement: Used technology to help locate and rescue thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims and personally conducted rescue missions that saved 600 people.

There’s an old cliché that in the most trying times, you should follow your heart, not your head. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team that responded to Hurricane Katrina followed both. As a result, they played an indispensable part in the rescue of thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Soon after it became apparent that the levees had broken and the flooding was severe, the Louisiana government put a call out to all government agencies to assist with the rescue of people stranded on rooftops. The employees at two USGS science centers in Louisiana, the National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) and Louisiana Water Science Center (LWSC), who received this call may not have had any formal training with Search and Rescue work, but they had a lot of heart, as well as boats, and they put in a request to their Regional Director, Dr. Thomas Casadevall, to go out into the field and do what they could to help. This was not typical work for USGS scientists, but Dr. Casadevall also realized that this was no typical disaster, and he authorized the use of USGS equipment and personnel for this effort.

Boat rescues took place from August 31st to September 5th. Twenty-five USGS scientists left each morning before dawn to navigate the murky waters of New Orleans. They worked with a multi-agency group of state and federal volunteers, rescuing a total of 600 people directly from rooftops and porches, in addition to providing food, water and other assistance to 2,000 others.

Having done their part to address the immediate humanitarian needs, the USGS team began placing more emphasis on putting its technical expertise to use.

One of the biggest problems with the recovery efforts was that stranded individuals making “911” calls were providing authorities with street addresses for their location, but flooded street signs and responders unfamiliar with New Orleans made locating victims virtually impossible. The USGS team was able to re-map the area, converting street maps to latitude and longitude reference points. These mapping techniques allowed them to provide “geo-addresses” for the origination point of 8,000 emergency calls. USGS gave coordinates to boat and helicopter rescuers with GPS equipment which made it simple to locate distressed callers. For responders without GPS, the scientists provided the maps with geographic coordinates overlaid upon the street grids.

The USGS worked with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Federal Emergency Management Agency literally around the clock, producing hundreds of maps and bits of digital data every day. The team supplied the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with maps of the city’s levee system and pumping stations. At the Army Corps’ request, they installed temporary real-time gauges in Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish, in addition to Lake Pontchatrain, to learn how quickly the area was dewatering.


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