This was originally published as an exclusive to AOL News.
As attacks from makeshift roadside bombs wreaked havoc in Iraq and later in Afghanistan, Teri Glass and colleagues at Fort Detrick in Maryland worked tirelessly to develop a state-of-the-art medical evacuation system that has since helped medics quickly and safely transport wounded soldiers to battlefield hospitals.
The effort by Glass and her team, credited with saving countless lives, is just one of many examples of the work done every day by federal civil servants -- successful but often unheralded accomplishments that serve the public good.
Amid the heated anti-government rhetoric of this election season and suggestions that federal workers represent some sort of privileged class, it may be easy to overlook the important role played by public servants who on a daily basis find solutions to serious problems, assist Americans in need, keep us safe and advance our national interests.
Unfortunately, our government is often portrayed as the problem or as an uncaring, bureaucratic and wasteful entity somehow disconnected from the American people. The stereotypes about federal workers abound, and when missteps such as the lax regulation of Wall Street or the inadequate regulation of offshore oil drilling occur, the headlines are negative and the government's already fragile standing takes another hit.
But much of what the federal government does actually works quite well, from the payment of Social Security benefits to 53 million Americans and the supervising of the safe takeoff and landings of thousands of airplanes to the work of the nation's intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials who protect our security.
Behind these efforts are dedicated, hardworking Americans. They may be anonymous and the foil for some politicians and commentators, but they regularly make a difference -- a positive difference -- in the lives of Americans. They are working on issues that directly affect all of us, from shoring up the economy and the financial system to providing better health care, protecting the environment, and keeping our food and drug supplies safe.
At the FBI in Washington, D.C., for example, Intelligence Analyst Jamie Konstas helped build and now runs a groundbreaking national online database that allows federal, state and local law enforcement officials to access detailed information about pimps and child victims of sex trafficking in the United States. So far, Konstas' work has contributed to the arrest and conviction of more than 600 pimps and predators, and the rescue of more than 1,150 child victims.
In Colorado, Shane Kelley and Eva Ristow were concerned that elderly and disabled Americans living in remote and poor regions of the country often have failed to take advantage of Social Security benefits that they desperately need. The two Social Security employees helped bridge the gap by linking difficult-to-serve Indian communities in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah to claims officials hundreds of miles away through an Internet-based two-way videoconferencing system.
Another unknown but dedicated government employee is Pius Bannis, a man even the most jaundiced would find hard to describe as a faceless bureaucrat. When the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January, Bannis, a U.S. immigration officer, stepped up to help hundreds of orphans -- babies, toddlers and teens -- escape the tragedy and find safety with anxious families in the United States.
Bannis selflessly logged 20-hour days, seven days a week to identify and screen eligible cases, and ensure that the system was exploited. He set up a makeshift day care in the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 50 children could be found at any one time, and personally drove some of the children to the airport for evacuation flights to join their anxious and waiting families the United States. For Bannis, it was simply a matter of doing his job and doing it well.
And then there is Peter Wilhelm, whose long career at the Naval Research Laboratory has led to the development and deployment of more than 95 satellites critical to the nation's defense and intelligence-gathering capabilities. Wilhelm played a pivotal role in the country's first Cold War surveillance satellite, was instrumental in the first Global Positioning System satellite and the satellite used to map the surface of the moon.
As the political campaigning heats up and issues ranging from the size and role of government to the pay of public employees increasingly become part of the debate, it is important to remember that our nation faces numerous critical and complex challenges that will require hard work by skilled and competent federal employees.
Our aim should be to encourage talented, innovative and dedicated people to enter and stay in the government -- people like Wilhelm, Bannis, Kelley, Ristow, Konstas and Glass -- not to undermine federal employees and their important service to America.
Max Stier is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.
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