WASHINGTON -- On Thursday evening, nine outstanding public servants will receive a prestigious award for improving the lives of the American public. Four of them, however, are considered "nonessential" and are currently furloughed due to the government shutdown.
The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service will be presenting Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals -- better known as "Sammies" -- to these nine individuals, who were nominated by their colleagues.
"Smart, dedicated and driven public servants are making contributions that change the world for the better and the Service to America Medals are a powerful reminder of the good that government does every day," said Max Stier, president and CEO of PPS. "We will never get what we want out of our government if its successes aren't identified, celebrated and replicated."
Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Kevin Geiss will be receiving the Management Excellence Medal on Thursday. He found ways to save energy by using alternative fuels for fighter jets and instituting conservation programs that reduced utility costs at military bases. In all, these measures saved the Air Force more than $1 billion last year.
Geiss was eager to spread the credit for these innovations in an interview with The Huffington Post, repeatedly stating that they were the work of many hardworking individuals.
"This award, that I'm honored to receive, really reflects the innovation and dedication of men and women across the Air Force, whether it's active-duty, guard, reserve, civilians," he said. "I'm just blessed to have the opportunity to be one of the key leaders in this area."
But Geiss, with about 800,000 other public servants, has been furloughed while the federal government remains shut down. Though Congress authorized back pay for these workers in the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, there is no guarantee that they will do so this time.
Geiss said he's been keeping busy this week as a volunteer squadron commander for the Civil Air Patrol. He also coaches ice hockey.
"I'm mainly just frustrated that I'm prohibited from serving my country," he said. "I became a civilian federal employee back in 2002; I left the private sector because I wanted to serve. I wanted to do something that was meaningful. I think that's why I come to work every day -- because of what we do to enable the Air Force mission."
Another furloughed worker receiving a Sammie is Daniel Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. His research led to innovative ways to fight fires, ranging from improved ventilation and fire-suppression tactics to the protective equipment worn by firefighters.
There's also Orice Williams Brown, managing director of financial markets and community investment at the Government Accountability Office. For two decades, Brown has been an expert for members of Congress on financial regulatory matters, including offering recommendations in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis.
David Lavery, program executive for solar system exploration at NASA, is also furloughed. He shepherded the development and launch of NASA's Curiosity rover.
Not only is Geiss currently furloughed, but like many other Defense Department employees, he also had already been furloughed for six days earlier this year, due to sequestration.
Stier told The Huffington Post he is worried about the effect all these furloughs are having on the federal workforce.
"There's no question that this has been damaging to the long-term health of our government," he said. "The government is only as good as the people in it, and we have really talented people who are looking for a way out, and that's certainly going to impact the interests of other talented people who came in behind them. This is a very, very big problem."