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Webb Telescope Leader Named Federal Employee of the Year

·3 min read

Since sending its first images back to Earth last summer, the James Webb Space Telescope has been thrilling astronomers and the general public alike with some of the most detailed photographs ever taken of stars, planets and distant galaxies, and on Tuesday, Gregory Robinson, the former program director for the wildly successful scientific instrument, was named the 2022 Federal Employee of the Year.

The award is one of several Service to America Medals awarded each year by the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 2001 to support the idea of careers in government. The organization will award the medals, known as the “Sammies,” at a ceremony on Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

The largest optical telescope in space, the Webb telescope is in orbit about 1 million miles from Earth, and its dazzling, full-color images of Stephan's Quintet and the “Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula have revealed a new level of detail about the nature of the universe. But the telescope faced serious delays getting off the ground, with its planned launch date of 2014 being pushed back repeatedly and its $4.9 billion budget ballooning to twice that amount.

Federal Employee of the Year Gregory Robinson became the director of the program in 2018, in charge of a team of roughly 10,000 workers in 14 countries, and under his leadership, the telescope finally made it to space last December, with the first image coming in July, just in time for Robinson’s retirement.

It “takes true leadership and vision and focus in order to be able to do that,” Karen Flynn, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for management, told The Washington Post. “And so that’s what I would principally say Greg brought to the team.”

Other Sammie winners: The Partnership for Public Service hands out multiple awards to outstanding public employees each year as part of its effort to support federal workers and the broader idea of public service. “The work of our government is often invisible to the public, but the 2022 Service to America Medal winners place the spotlight on a wide range of remarkable success stories and defy the stereotypes of those who are dedicated to serving the nation and our collective interests,” said Max Stier, the Partnership’s president.

“During these turbulent times when federal employees have been threatened and demonized, the accomplishments of the Sammies winners demonstrate the important role that dedicated civil servants and our government play in meeting the critical needs of the nation,” Stier added.

Other honorees include:

* H. Clifford Lane of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who received the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal for his work on combatting infectious diseases including Ebola, HIV/AIDS and Covid-19.

* Amanda Cohn, Anita Patel and David Fitter of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who received the Covid-19 Response Medal for their work on distributing vaccines during the pandemic.

* Krista Kinnard of the Labor Department, who received the Emerging Leaders Medal for her work deploying technology to reduce time spent on administrative tasks.

* Barbara Morton of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who received the Management Excellence Medal for her work on improving customer service and trust at the VA.

* Hilary Ingraham, Holly Herrera and Kiera Berdinner of the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, who received the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal for their work in helping to settle more than 76,000 Afghan refugees in the U.S.

* Cindy Newberg of the Environmental Protection Agency, who received the Science, Technology and Environment Medal for her work in reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are linked to climate change.

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