1. When Time magazine named “The Time 100: The People Who Shape our World,” the list was predictably dominated by household names: George W. Bush, Bill Gates, Pope Benedict, Oprah Winfrey. Listed among these globally recognized figures is Dr. Nancy Cox. Including a 31-year veteran of the federal civil service among the world’s most prominent figures might seem like a bit of a stretch—until you realize what she does. Dr. Cox is leading the U.S. and global effort to prepare for the possible outbreak of an avian flu pandemic. In other words, the lives of literally millions of people could be riding on her work. Not so much of a stretch any more, is it?

    In 2003, a deadly strain of an avian flu was found in Southeast Asia. This virus subsequently moved into Russia, then Eastern Europe, and most recently, into parts of Africa and Western Europe. Roughly 200 people have been infected, the majority of whom have died. Currently, the virus has only been transmitted by extremely close contact with sick birds, but it is constantly mutating, and should it change in a way that would enable it to be transmitted easily from human to human, it could trigger a global pandemic. To understand the serious nature of this threat, consider that the Spanish flu of 1918, the most severe pandemic of the 20th century, killed up to 40 million people worldwide and more than 500,000 people in the United States.

    When the stakes are this high, nothing less than the best will suffice when it comes to the team leading the response. By any reasonable measure, Dr. Cox and her team are the best.

    Dr. Cox is Chief of the Influenza Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is also the Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Influenza. She is a world renowned leader in her field and has made countless contributions to global influenza knowledge, prevention and control. Her colleagues describe her as a “visionary” and a “unique contributor to science and public health.”

    Dr. Cox and her team at CDC have already made important strides toward reducing the impact of any pandemic influenza. First, they have dramatically improved influenza surveillance. Cox’s team has developed the gold-standard algorithm for determining if a human is infected with a novel avian strain. Dr. Cox has participated in a number of outbreak investigations to better understand risk factors for avian influenza.

    The team has improved research and vaccine development. Dr. Cox’s group has developed pandemic vaccine candidates for multiple avian influenza strains. Her team has reconstructed the 1918 influenza virus to understand the lethality of this virus and how to best control it. Their write-up of this research recently won Paper of the Year from one of the world’s leading medical journals.

    Dr. Cox and her team have enhanced vaccination and infection control efforts. They have provided technical assistance and training to state and international partners for the identification of avian viruses. They have developed strategic plans about who should receive vaccines first.

    Her accomplishments are hardly limited to her work on the avian flu. Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization says that her work on vaccines has already saved thousands of lives. In addition, her group recently determined that seasonal influenza viruses had become resistant to one class of antiviral drugs used to treat and prevent influenza infections. Within two weeks, her team had published a paper revising the policy for the use of anti-virals and notified all relevant local, state and international health professionals.

    Hopefully, an influenza pandemic will never strike the United States, prompting an occasion for Dr. Nancy Cox to become a household name. But if such a crisis were to occur, the American people can feel better knowing that Dr. Cox and her team are on the case.

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  2. Too often, the recipients of scholarships that promote public service enter the private sector as soon as they have met the minimum service requirements. A recipient of the prestigious Root-Tilden-Scholarship at the New York University School of Law, Christina Sanford has gone far beyond simply meeting her scholarship’s basic obligations. In fact, she has amassed a list of accomplishments in four years that would be worthy of an entire career, and she’s only 31.

    An attorney at the State Department, Christina Sanford volunteered to go to Baghdad in 2004 to act as the chief of the U.S. Embassy Baghdad Legal office. Although a position of this level of responsibility would normally be filled by an officer far her senior, Christina was a key contributor to the standup of the transitional Iraqi government and, later, Iraq’s first democratic government. Her courage, legal acumen and negotiating skills were vital to the process of nursing a new, sovereign government into compliance with both Iraq’s temporary constitution and host of international laws.

    Following the historic Iraqi elections in January 2005, the Iraqi authorities had to agree on a transition formula that would reflect a step-by-step replacement of the interim government under Prime Minister Allawi with the new transitional government. The issues were complicated, politically volatile, and the “legislative” guidelines were, at best, vague. Essentially, no one knew exactly how to make this transition happen. Yet, if it were not done right, much of the achievement of the elections would be undermined.

    Fortunately, Sanford was there and brought to these negotiations not only an unsurpassed mastery of the relevant laws and documents, but also the negotiating skills of someone with many more years of experience. She worked closely with the Deputy Prime Minister and Iraqi Chief Justice to craft a compromise process that made sense legally, and was acceptable to all politically.

    While she could have stayed in the background, Sanford took the lead on the negotiations with the top Iraqi officials and did not leave until a compromise was met. The Iraqi Chief Justice, in particular, holds extraordinary respect for the accomplishments she has made.

    Sanford’s leadership and courage in this instance is indicative of all of her work as a public servant. She was in charge of a legal office with several American attorneys and Iraqis, as well as the liaison to the Coalition military lawyers. She became a leader in the ‘rule of law’ apparatus, involving dozens of people from multiple agencies in Baghdad. Others depended on her to triangulate the various positions and personalities involved in the negotiations and arrive at a path forward that would meet America’s needs while supporting legal and regulatory requirements. She negotiated with the Iraqi government for property and other facilitations for a new embassy project in Baghdad, an achievement valuable to both governments.

    A significant amount of the work she did took place in the “Red Zone,” and during her tenure, the Embassy compound was struck with mortar and rocket fire many times, including three direct hits on her building. Sanford did not hesitate to do her job despite the risks.

    Christina Sanford’s career with the federal government actually began on September 10, 2001. On that day, she never could have imagined what lay ahead for her in the following four years. In that same vein, no one really knows which challenges Sanford will face in the future. However, one thing is certain. No matter what issue Christina Sanford is tackling, she will always go above and beyond what is simply required of her.

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  3. If you’ve won the Nobel Prize for Physics, where do you go from there? If you’re Dr. William Phillips, you go to a local meeting of the Girl Scouts. High school science fairs are also popular venues, as are churches and senior centers. And Monday through Friday, you still go to your job in the federal government. That’s not the typical answer one might expect, but Dr. William Phillips is not your typical Nobel Laureate.

    The head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Laser Cooling and Trapping Group, Dr. Phillips was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, making him the first federal employee to ever win the Physics Prize for work done as part of his official duties. Phillips is internationally known for advancing basic knowledge and new techniques to chill atoms to extremely low temperatures. The cooling and trapping of atoms, a discipline that emerged in the mid-1970s with the advent of laboratory lasers, has allowed scientists to observe and measure quantum phenomena in atoms that seem to defy the physical principles governing our tangible room-temperature realm.

    Phillips’ work is considered critical to pushing the limits of measurement science and laying the foundations for the basic measurement technology required by U.S. science and industry. His research has already led to dramatically improved measurements of time, likely to be needed by U.S. industry in the development of economically beneficial advanced technologies in the next century.

    Phillips and his team are continuing to study ultra-cold trapped atoms with spin-off applications for improved accuracy in atomic clocks and in the pursuit of quantum information processing, which has important implications for national security.

    While Dr. Phillips certainly has earned the respect of his peers for his scientific achievements, his colleagues seem to be more impressed by the quality of his character.

    When he won his Nobel Prize, he made a personal commitment to use his newfound notoriety to promote the thrill of science and public service. Over the past four years alone, he has given more than 140 official talks across the country and throughout Europe. On his own time he frequently speaks to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, churches, schools and science fairs. Some might think this would be beneath a scientist of his stature, but Phillips’ view is, “How could I tell anyone that his or her organization wasn’t worth my time?”

    Throughout his 27 year career at NIST, Dr. Phillips has been recognized as an outstanding supervisor and mentor of graduate students and postdocs. His management philosophy was that “one can do physics at the frontiers, competing with the best in the world, and do it with openness, humanity and cooperation.” Scientists from all around the globe come to NIST to work in his lab, and Phillips has three other senior scientists on his team who have all earned international reputations of their own under his tutelage.

    Dr. William Phillips is famous for research that seems to defy some of the basic laws of physics. But perhaps equally impressive is this Nobel Prize winner’s humility that seems to defy the basic laws of human behavior. Dr. Phillips is the epitome of what people want in our public service, and even though he would never admit it, he is a national treasure.

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  4. 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.

    Every single member of the USGS team was a hero in his or her own right, and the two directors of the USGS centers, Charles Demas, LWSC, and Gregory Smith, NWRC, certainly deserve special recognition. But everyone credits the “can do” attitude of the unit to their regional supervisor, Tom Casadevall. He was the first Interior Department senior executive to travel to Louisiana after the storm, and his colleagues universally praise him for empowering his employees. In many ways, Katrina marked the closing of a circle in Casadevall’s career. He had just begun his career with the USGS when Mount St. Helen’s erupted in 1980. He still recalls how important it was to have the support of senior leadership in this earlier crisis. There is no question that Casadevall provided the necessary support for his staff during this historic disaster.

    Much has been made about what went wrong with Hurricane Katrina. This is one story about intelligent, courageous government workers who deftly used all the resources available to them, and got it right.

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  5. Most people correctly view the threat of an avian flu pandemic as a potential public health crisis. And it is true that scientists must take the lead in preparing for this risk. But the fact that an avian influenza pandemic would be an international crisis means that it would require an international response. Accordingly, diplomacy must play a key role in any preparation strategy. For this challenge, the United States tapped one of its most noted diplomats—Ambassador Nancy Powell.

    Ambassador Powell assumed the new position of Special Representative on Avian and Pandemic Influenza shortly after the November 2005 announcement of a National Avian Influenza Strategy. That strategy put the onus on the Department of State to coordinate international preparations and assistance related to avian flu. In meeting this goal, Ambassador Powell exceeded all expectations.

    She ensured a prominent U.S. role as the World Bank, E.U. and China joined together at a January 2006 donors conference to pledge $1.9 billion to help affected countries develop preparedness plans, improve surveillance systems and begin to build the capacity to contain and treat avian influenza.

    She worked with the World Health Organization to develop a preliminary global containment strategy, which sets out the responsibilities of the countries in which an outbreak takes place, as well as for donor countries and international organizations. This document is the key to ensuring that the international community can work in concert to combat an outbreak wherever it may occur.

    Powell supported USDA’s successful efforts in getting the agreement of the Food and Agriculture Organization on the need to develop a 24-hour “Avian Influenza Watch Center” and a rapid response capability.

    She oversaw the development of the international sections of an “implementation plan” that lays out specific timeframes and benchmarks for meeting the United States’ international obligations under the National Strategy, describing in concrete terms exactly what we must do and when in order to ensure that we are not caught unaware by an outbreak.

    Powell designed and set up a special interagency task force within the State Department dedicated exclusively to coordinating all international aspects of the U.S. preparation for and response to an avian flu pandemic. Other agencies and countries have emulated her example.

    Once you have laid the foundation for the international response to a lethal threat, what do you do for an encore? If you are Ambassador Powell, you move to the front lines in the battle against an equally deadly international threat—terrorism. In March 2006, Powell took a post as the first National Intelligence Officer for South Asia. In this new position, she will lead the National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) effort to expand its coverage in this region which is vitally important in the war on terror. She will also enhance the NIC’s focus on questions related to India’s emerging as a major power, in addition to India-Pakistan relations.

    These two prestigious posts mark the culmination of an impressive career in public service. Nancy Powell served successively as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Uganda and Ghana. Previously, she served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh, as Consul General in Calcutta, India and the State Department’s Political Counselor in New Delhi. More recently, Powell has been Acting Assistant Secretary of State of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and Acting Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs.

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