This week is Public Service Recognition Week, when we celebrate and thank the many public servants who work to make life better for all of us. Here’s more on this year’s Week from the Partnership for Public Service:
Celebrated the first week of May since 1985, Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) is time set aside to honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees and ensure that our government is the best in the world.
… Our theme for PSRW 2013 is “Why I Serve.” Throughout the week, we will invite agency leaders and elected officials to share stories about why they answered the call to serve in government and what accomplishments they are most proud of in their time as public servants.
Public servants deserve our thanks throughout the year and we invite you to continue honoring them for the work they do each and every day. Ideas range from sending messages of thanks to holding appreciation events to highlighting employee accomplishments on your website or newsletter. For additional suggestions, please download our How to Celebrate PSRW Guide.
Since last fall, a collaboration between the WashingtonPost.com and the Partnership for Public Service has showcased the important work of a range of federal employees. Here are a few of the highlighted employees whose work improves public health (descriptions are from the Post’s website):
- An expert in preventing insect-borne diseases: As director of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Center for Medical, Agricultural & Veterinary Entomology in Florida, Kenneth Linthicum developed techniques that have protected U.S. military personnel overseas from debilitating afflictions caused by sand flies.
- Assisting victims of hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters: When a disaster strikes, Mark Misczak [of FEMA] is a beacon of light for survivors, helping them receive much-needed government support and assistance.
- Tracking flu outbreaks nationwide: You may be seeing less sniffling and sneezing in your neighborhood these days, but flu season is never really over for Lynnette Brammer [of CDC].
- Fighting the growing type 2 diabetes epidemic in children: Between 2006 and 2011, Dr. Barbara Linder led two multi-year clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health which developed and tested strategies to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes in youth.
- Helping VA rehabilitate those with multiple wounds of war: Micaela Cornis-Pop oversees more than 110 rehabilitation facilities around the country, helping the VA stay at the forefront of developments in treating traumatic brain injury and other medical issues facing injured veterans.
- Training healthcare providers to reduce medical errors: Heidi King [of the DOD] and her colleagues have developed a health-care provider training system known as TeamSTEPPS that has become the gold standard for eliminating preventable medical harm.
- Working to reduce food waste and protect the environment: At just 26 years-old, Laura Moreno [of EPA] is a tireless crusader for reducing and recycling food waste.
- Tracking storm surges and flooding from hurricanes: Thanks to a new application developed by Benton McGee of the U.S. Geological Survey, officials can now make more precise measurements during major storms.
- Making vaccines available to poor and uninsured children: Dr. Lance Rodewald directed the CDC’s Immunization Services Division for 12 years, recently taking an assignment with the WHO to work on childhood immunization issues in China.
These are all federal employees, but people working in state and municipal governments are doing similar: collecting data, crunching numbers, spotting trends in diseases and disasters, finding ways to use resources more efficiently and effectively. If they do they work well, we often don’t notice; how many of us think about the vaccine-preventable diseases we haven’t caught, or the foodborne illnesses that haven’t sickened our families?
“Big government” is a common political putdown these days, but it's important to remember today’s federal workforce is neither overpaid nor abnormally large by this country’s historical standards -- and the key thing is not whether it's big or small in absolute terms, but whether it's the right size for the job. There are many public services that are best performed by the federal government, including the collection and analysis of extensive meteorological and disease data and the establishment and enforcement of rules for food and water quality and drug safety.
In addition to years of salary freezes, employees at many federal agencies are now facing furlough days – an experience that’s familiar to many state and municipal employees who’ve also seen smaller paychecks as their jurisdictions have faced budget crunches. Between these difficulties and the all-too-common demonization of government workers, it’s hardly surprising that morale has fallen at several agencies. It may be an uphill battle to get our elected officials to fund agencies appropriately, but demonstrating that we value government workers' contributions doesn't need to cost a lot of money.
Public Service Recognition Week is a chance for learn more about the less-visible ways government employees help us all live healthier lives, and to show public servants that we value their work. Visit http://publicservicerecognitionweek.org/ for more.
Since you're on the subject of public health, let's also give a big cheer for the regular working stiffs who do the unglamorous but essential jobs that, as one sanitation worker said, "are the front line of defense against the plague."
Water treatment plant workers, and city construction & maintenance crews who build and repair water mains. Think for a moment about the deep implications of the simple phrase "potable public water supply." Clean drinking water, above and beyond everything else, is the core essential for every human settlement, from the smallest village to the biggest metropolis. Give a word of thanks when you turn on the faucet and take a nice refreshing drink of cold clean water, without the slightest worry about cholera or dysentery.
Sewage treatment plant workers, and the crews who build and maintain the sewer mains, and clean out the street drains. Co-equal with water supply, safe disposal of sewage is the core essential of every human settlement. Give a word of thanks every time you use the toilet and flush, knowing that your poo isn't going to end up in the street gutter as in the bad old days, causing endemic urban disease, but instead is going to be filtered and rendered harmless, or perhaps even turned into fertilizer, without causing water pollution.
Street cleaners, whether doing daytime block patrol with hand brooms or piloting large roadsweepers in the overnight hours. This is more than a matter of urban aesthetics: street dirt clogs storm drains, allowing disease-infested mosquitos to breed and swarm; often it contains dog poo other infectious material; filthy streets provide food for files and rodents. Give a word of thanks when you walk down the street, for a clean and healthy urban landscape.
Refuse collectors. "First line of defense against the plague" is no exaggeration: weekly refuse collection disrupts the 9-day breeding cycle of the common fly, the major urban disease vector, and removes trash that would otherwise become harborage for the rats that carry the fleas that carry the plague. The average refuse collector lifts eight to fourteen tons daily, in 50- to 100-pound increments, in the blazing sun, freezing cold, and pouring rain. Give thanks to these workers for a level of sheer strength and dedication that most of us couldn't possibly keep up with, that protects us from diseases that were once considered a normal part of urban living.
Restaurant inspectors. Their constant diligence is what stands between you and the risk that your next meal in town could end up sending you to the hospital. Often resented by the restaurant owners they penalize, their work is a careful balance between the adversariality of enforcement, and the cooperation of encouraging best practices. They are trained to spot things that most of us would never even notice, or not recognize as important, that nevertheless bear upon whether or not the food we order is safe to eat. Give a word of thanks to these workers next time you eat out and enjoy your meal thoroughly without the slightest worry.
Custodians and janitors. In every public building you or your family visits, most notably schools and public hospitals, there's a workforce that's often not seen and more often not noticed, who keep the floors swept, the toilets scrubbed, the sinks sparkling, the carpets vacuumed, and every other surface clean. An indoor environment that's kept clean is less likely to accumulate allergens or become infested with insects. Regular cleaning of surfaces also reduces the direct transmission of disease, from hands to surfaces to others' hands. So give a word of thanks to these workers every time you see them vacuuming or mopping or scrubbing, and teach your kids in school to say Thanks to their custodians as well.
None of these occupations even requires a college education, with the exception of restaurant inspectors and the senior engineers at water & sewer plants. Most of the people working in these trades think of their work primarily in terms of being reliable employment at (usually in the public sector) dignified wages, a "square deal" of the kind that's becoming increasingly rare. But occasionally you'll run across one who knows where s/he fits into the larger scheme of things, making the public environment safer and healthier for everyone. That sense of purpose should be encouraged and promoted and recognized. If for no other reason, because we should give credit where credit is due, for something on which we all depend, every single day.
Thanks, G -- well said and very true!