The Partnership for Public Service presented nine Service to America Medals to outstanding civil servants for their high-impact contributions critical to the safety, health and well-being of Americans – at a Washington, D.C. gala held in their honor, September 19.
The Service to America Medals have earned a reputation as one of the most prestigious awards dedicated to celebrating America’s civil servants.
The top medal - Federal Employee of the Year - went to Dr. Douglas Lowy and Dr. John Schiller, renowned NIH scientists whose discoveries led to new cervical cancer vaccines. Cervical cancer is the number two cause of death among women, worldwide.
Additional Service to America Medals were awarded to public servants who boast achievements in fighting nuclear terrorism; cancer research; weapons technology; nuclear waste cleanup; foreign affairs; public housing – and helping wounded soldiers use technology to re-enter the workforce, through the world’s largest electronics accommodations program.
Medalists come from the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, Energy, HUD, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and the Navy. They work and live in Washington D.C., Annapolis, Cincinnati, Denver, and Tampa.
“The Service to America Medals are important because they tell the true stories of the remarkable work that our federal employees do each and every day. There is not a day that passes where government does not touch our lives in some way – whether it is securing our homeland, or conducting cutting edge research to cure disease,” said Max Stier, Partnership for Public Service President.
Papillomavirus, polypeptide and virion aren’t exactly terms that most folks bandy about during conversations at the office water cooler. Thankfully there are those who do — people like Drs. Douglas Lowy and John Schiller, two scientists who discovered a way to generate infection fighting antibodies and made a vaccine against the virus that causes cervical cancer possible.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide, killing roughly 230,000 women each year. In the United States, about 10,000 women are diagnosed annually and 40 percent of them die from the disease. It is not typically associated with genetic predisposition, as with many other forms of cancer, but rather linked to human papillomaviruses (HPV), a group of viruses that include more than 100 different strains or types.
More than 30 of these types are sexually transmitted, and HPV infection is the most common STD in the nation. While most HPV infections exhibit no symptoms and clear up without treatment, some infections can persist and lead to cancer. With the help of population studies, scientists discovered that virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by infections from one of about 15 strains of HPV, most often HPV16.
Once the scientific community established the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, Lowy and Schiller, who had been studying the molecular biology of HPV, began searching for ways to boost the human body’s immune response to this cancer-causing infection.
Lowy and Schiller discovered that a particular papillomavirus protein, L1, could self-assemble into non-infectious virus-like particles (VLPs) that closely resembled the outer surface of the actual virus and were highly capable of producing an antibody response that inactivated the corresponding virus. Moreover, they found that the L1 of the main HPV16 isolated in labs at the time could not form VLPs because of a mutation. Once they were able to track down non-mutated forms of the virus, they found that the L1 could readily form VLPs that trigger the immune system to produce protective antibodies.
Lowy and Schiller are the first and second inventors on government-owned patents covering these discoveries, which are now licensed to Merck & Co., Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline for commercial development of HPV VLP vaccines. Subsequent human trials of multi-type-VLP vaccines by the two companies demonstrated nearly 100 percent protection against the abnormal growth of cells on the surface of the cervix caused by HPV16 and HPV18, the two types that cause 70% of cervical cancer. In addition, the Merck vaccine prevented most genital warts, which are caused by two other strains of HPV.
Merck’s vaccine, called Gardasil, earned FDA approval in 2006 for treatment of females ranging from ages nine to 26. GlaxoSmithKline applied for FDA approval in 2007. These vaccines are expected to decrease the risk of cervical pre-cancer or cancer by at least 70 percent, thereby substantially affecting women’s health.
While the introduction of Pap tests to detect cancers at an early stage has prevented an epidemic of cervical cancer in the United States and other wealthy countries, effective screening and treatment is not widely available throughout most of the world. In fact, 80% of cervical cancer cases occur in developing countries. At the heart of Lowy and Schiller’s efforts is their steadfast commitment to promoting public health on a global scale. In addition to their service to the World Health Organization, they are helping manufacturers in India to produce the current generation vaccine and to bring to clinical trials two distinct second-generation prophylactic HPV vaccines that are potentially cheaper to produce and deliver.
Lowy and Schiller’s 20-year partnership has been a boon to the nation’s health and for the advancement of scientific discovery.
When you work at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), you get to know a few things about undesirable addresses. And in Washington, D.C., the last place anyone wants to reside is on the Government Accountability Office’s “high-risk” list. This is the home of the federal government’s most troubled programs — the ones that feed the stereotypes about waste, fraud and abuse. HUD’s rental assistance program was on this dubious list for 13 years; the operative word being was. Nicole Faison helped to eliminate more than $2 billion in improper payments within the program. Thanks to this 36-year-old, the program has been removed from the high-risk list, allowing it to be recognized for the people it helps, not the money it wastes.
HUD administers two multi-billion dollar rental assistance programs: public housing in which residents live in federally operated buildings and the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, which gives recipients vouchers that can be used to pay rent at certain private housing facilities. A 2001 study showed that HUD made billions annually in improper rental assistance subsidy payments. The amount of money paid to ineligible tenants would have been enough to house approximately 55,000 additional families. A primary source of the problem was the inability of housing program administrators to accurately and consistently verify tenant-reported (or unreported) income, which allowed individuals to underreport their income and receive aid that should have gone to someone more in need.
For Nicole Faison, this problem was hardly abstract. She once worked for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. In this job, she often suspected people were misreporting their income, but she did not have a tool that would enable her to check. She was attending business school at night and was so interested in the topic that she wrote her master’s thesis on how to develop an income verification system.
In 2002, Faison took a job with HUD, and she got a rare opportunity to put many recommendations from her thesis into practice. She was charged with developing HUD’s upfront income verification tool, known as the Enterprise Income Verification (EIV) system. This system allowed housing administrators controlled access to income data in existing federal databases. This information could be used to verify amounts and sources of beneficiaries’ income, including wages and federal benefits. Most importantly, this tool enabled program administrators to identify income, and its sources, that had not been disclosed by tenants. By improving the ability to determine program eligibility and ensure that recipients receive the proper level of assistance, the EIV system has helped to dramatically reduce and deter fraud.
Faison personally developed the instructional guide for the program and provided program administrators with hands-on training sessions to understand how to incorporate this new technology in the day-to-day administration of rental assistance programs. Her workshops emphasized reducing fraud and improper payments. She also provided training to special agents in the Inspector General’s office.
In 2006, HUD successfully deployed the EIV system to more than 4,100 public housing authorities nationwide, making it available to everyone who administers HUD’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs for more than 4 million households.
The program is making a difference beyond everyone’s expectations. As a result of the EIV tool, HUD was able to reduce the total of improper payments by more than $2 billion, a decrease of more than 60 percent. Consequently, HUD became the first agency to achieve green status for “Eliminating Improper Payments” on the President’s Management Agenda scorecard, and HUD’s rental assistance programs were taken off the GAO’s high-risk list.
Nicole Faison helped transform HUD’s rental assistance programs from high-risk to high-impact. Thanks to her work, more eligible, low-income families who need housing assistance are receiving it, which is certainly the most gratifying recognition she could ever hope to receive.
Dinah Cohen knows more than a little something about overcoming adversity. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and she was diagnosed with congenital heart disease when she was a young girl. Her life experience clearly prepared her well to lead the Department of Defense’s program to help its employees with disabilities thrive in the workplace. Under her leadership, the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) has filled more than 60,000 requests — making it the world’s largest assistive technology program — enabling persons with disabilities to lead more productive, fulfilling lives.
CAP levels the playing field for people with disabilities by providing assistive technology and services free of charge to federal managers. More specifically, CAP buys, pays for and delivers the hardware, software and services people with disabilities need to function in the workplace. This assistive technology helps workers access telecommunications, computers and electronic information and ranges from Braille terminals to specialized keyboards for people who cannot use conventional ones. These resources allow individuals with disabilities to compete in the workplace by eliminating cost and nuisance factors that have been prohibitive of employment in the past. The program has proven to be wildly popular, earning 95 percent customer satisfaction ratings.
CAP is as much a resource for federal managers as it is for workers with disabilities. Cohen opened the CAP Technology Evaluation Center as an assessment and demonstration facility in the Pentagon. This facility is a resource for senior federal leaders, managers and employees to see the power of assistive technology. It has hosted demonstrations, training and assessments for more than 20,000 visitors to see the range of technology and services that are available for individuals with disabilities. It is so widely recognized as one of the most effective ways our government helps its workers with disabilities that President Bush visited the facility in June 2001.
Under Dinah Cohen’s leadership, one of the organizing principles of the program has been to always keep moving forward and keep looking for ways to do more. Cohen has always lived up to this creed.
In 2000, CAP was granted the authority to provide assistive technology and services to any federal employee. Since that time, Cohen has established partnerships with 65 agencies outside of DoD. The most notable new expansion of the program was to work with wounded service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. CAP was not originally intended to serve service members who were disabled in combat, but Cohen saw this as a logical extension for the program. With a background as a rehabilitation counselor, she spent a lot of time in military hospitals where she met service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with debilitating injuries. It was obvious to her that CAP had the tools they would need to re-enter the workforce. She wanted to help these young men and women transition from deployment to employment, so she took action. As Cohen said, “There was nothing that said I couldn’t give them the assistive technology, since they are DoD employees. So I did.”
However, she did have to make one change to the rules. The law said the DoD would have to take the equipment back after these service members left the military. Clearly, this made no sense, so Cohen, with senior leadership, lobbied Congress to change the law and succeeded. As of spring 2007, CAP had filled more than 2,400 requests for assistive technology for wounded service members, bringing the total number of services from CAP since its inception to more than 57,000.
Dinah Cohen didn’t just lead a program that has had a transformative impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people, she built it. She was CAP’s first director, getting hired in 1990. As emotionally taxing as her line of work can be, the odds say she should have moved onto another challenge by now. But Dinah Cohen’s whole life has been about beating the odds, and she will continue to do so and help others to do so as long as she’s heading the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program.
Medical doctor, doctor of philosophy, professor of internal medicine, molecular pharmacology and physiology, and chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism — Dr. David Vesely’s curriculum vitae reads like the directory of an entire hospital wing.
For 25 years, Vesely has served his nation on the frontlines in the fight against some of humanity’s deadliest diseases. During that time, he has discovered three hormones made by the heart that have had tremendous beneficial effects in the treatment of congestive heart failure, kidney failure and cancer. Within a 24-hour timeframe, the hormones are capable of eliminating up to 97 percent of human pancreatic, prostate, breast, colon, and kidney adenocarcinomas.
Many of the most common forms of cancer — breast, colon and prostate cancers — are adenocarcinomas, which are cancers that begin in cells that line certain internal organs and that have gland-like properties. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is the most lethal of all cancers. Even with surgery and current cancer chemotherapy, people who have the disease are expected to live only four months after the cancer takes hold.
Vesely’s work has shown that up to 80 percent of human pancreatic adenocarcinomas growing in laboratory mice can be cured. Even in human pancreatic cancers that are not cured, the volume decreases to less than 10 percent of the volume of the untreated human cancer. In this case, the mice do not succumb to cancer, but rather continue to live a normal lifespan.
The death of Vesely’s wife, Clo, in 2002 from breast cancer spurred him to expand his cancer research. As a result, Vesely found that two of the cardiac hormones he discovered were capable of eliminating two out of every three human breast carcinomas growing in mice, with the third hormone eliminating 50 percent.
Vesely’s path of discovery can be traced back to his home state of Nebraska, where he was a member of Creighton University’s class of 1967. Next, he pursued an M.D. and Ph.D. at the University of Arizona, completing the two degrees in three years. In 1969, he received a prestigious National Institute of Health scholarship, which at the time was awarded to only two people.
Vesely now serves as chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center in Tampa, Florida. The center cares for more than 1.5 million patients each year, making it the nation’s busiest outpatient veterans’ medical center, and has earned national distinction as a Diabetes Center of Excellence, one of only two in the entire VA medical system.
In addition to his work at the center, Vesely is a professor of medicine, molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine. Throughout his career, he has been recognized as an outstanding supervisor and teacher. Vesely has been a mentor to the young endocrine faculty, endocrine fellows, residents and medical students on how to practice the highest quality, compassionate medical care. He also mentors two postdoctoral fellows, an M.D. and an M.D./Ph.D.
He has also compiled an impressive portfolio of written work, with 296 peer-reviewed scientific publications and three books to his credit. He has received the Outstanding Teacher Award three times and has frequently been the featured speaker at major national and international scientific conferences.
Vesely’s accomplishments are extremely important to the nation as congestive heart failure is becoming an epidemic and cancer, in addition to its devastating health effects, is a huge financial burden to individuals, families and the nation as a whole. If the human trials that he will conduct succeed, Vesely will have revolutionized cancer treatment.