2023 Arthur S. Flemming Awards Recognize Outstanding Federal Employees

May 3, 2024

WASHINGTON (May 3, 2024) – Twelve public servants from a number of federal agencies will be honored at the 75th annual Arthur S. Flemming Awards. The winners are recognized for performing outstanding service in the fields of applied science and engineering, basic science, leadership and management, and social science, clinical trials, and translational research.

Exceptional employees with three to 15 years of federal service are nominated by their agencies and selected through a competitive judging process. The awards are presented by the Arthur S. Flemming Awards Commission, in partnership with the George Washington University Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration (TSPPPA) and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

"Flemming Award winners serve as outstanding role models for our public administration and public policy and all aspiring public servants – they are dedicated and impactful federal government leaders who work in the American public’s interest,” Kathryn Newcomer, president of the Arthur S. Flemming Awards Commission and a professor of public policy and public administration at GW, said. “It is an honor and privilege to meet these real heroes.”

Established in 1948, the award is named after Arthur Sherwood Flemming, a distinguished government official who served seven presidential administrations of both parties, most notably as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Dwight Eisenhower. He was a two-time recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, first from President Eisenhower in 1957 and then from President Bill Clinton in 1994, two years before his death. 

“The National Academy of Public Administration is honored to co-sponsor these awards with George Washington University,” Terry Gerton, President and CEO of NAPA, said. “It is so important to share these amazing stories with the public and to encourage these incredible people to continue their work.  Many Flemming awardees go on to be elected Fellows of the Academy later in their careers, and we are delighted to recognize their already outstanding accomplishments.”

The Flemming induction ceremony will take place on Nov. 13, 2024, at the NAPA Fall Conference.

The 2023 Arthur S. Flemming Award recipients are:

Applied Science and Engineering

Dr. Aspen M. Workman – Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), a contagious and virulent disease with an annual impact of more than $2 billion in the United States, is one of the biggest challenges confronting the nation’s $86.1 billion cattle industry. While a BVDV vaccine exists, it is not fully effective in controlling the virus. In a breakthrough discovery, ARS research microbiologist Dr. Aspen Workman led a team that produced the first gene-edited calf with resistance to BVDV. Making a targeted change to the virus receptor, Dr. Workman’s team produced a healthy calf that withstood a BVDV challenge, demonstrating for the first time that gene editing can reduce or potentially eliminate BVDV disease in cattle. This milestone in livestock breeding technology shows the potential for using gene editing to create and introduce other edited traits to enhance animal welfare, increase the long-term sustainability of livestock production, and reduce antibiotic use in beef and dairy cattle. Dr. Workman’s research represents a key advance in safeguarding livestock from endemic diseases and ensuring healthy and economically viable food systems and food security.

Dr. Kenneth S. Obenberger – Air Force Research Laboratory, U.S. Department of Defense

Dr. Kenneth S. Obenberger serves as a Senior Research Physicist at the Space Vehicles Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Materiel Command, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.  Dr. Obenberger’s groundbreaking research into radio wave propagation and plasma physics has significantly enhanced the understanding and mitigation of space plasma disturbances that impact four billion dollars in military investments in communication, navigation, and surveillance systems. To bridge the gap between theory and real world applications, Dr. Obenberger led a multi-pronged approach to overcome the technical challenges with creative solutions. Through collaborations with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sandia National Laboratories, multiple universities, and industry, his work has yielded nine ground demonstrations and three space experiments, laying the groundwork for significant advancements in this field of research. His extraordinary accomplishments have directly improved the operational effectiveness of the Department of Defense by providing innovative space environment sensing and characterization capabilities for the warfighter. His tremendous leadership, engineering, and program management skills have distinguished him as a top performer amongst his peers. 

Dr. Douglas Morton – National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Dr. Douglas Morton is internationally recognized for his research on remote sensing of fire activity and forest dynamics, including his development and launch of the Amazon Dashboard in 2023. The Amazon Dashboard tracks fire activity to provide real-time information about deforestation fires and forest fires to regional fire managers, firefighters, scientists, and the general public. This effort is the culmination of a decade of Dr. Morton’s efforts to improve transparency and accountability on the dynamics of tropical deforestation and forest degradation using NASA satellite data. His application of remote sensing to characterize global fire activity contributes to synthesis reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and his research underpins the development of methodologies for national reporting of emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These advances directly support NASA’s mission to understand our changing planet, including fires in a warmer, more flammable world.

Basic Science

Shannon Griffin – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Shannon Griffin creatively advanced laboratory-based biomarker techniques for characterizing human exposure to microbial contaminants and environmental stressors during her tenure at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her pioneering approach is two pronged: (1) the use of saliva as a safe and non-invasive alternative to blood and (2) analysis with a multiplex system that recognizes specific human antibodies against several pathogens simultaneously. Shannon’s development of a simple method for analyzing biological samples for exposure assessment, including from vulnerable groups, such as children, is trailblazing. The salivary immunoassay significantly reduces necessary sample volume, cost, and time for analysis compared to traditional methods. Shannon has applied the method to large populations and communities at risk of infection from waterborne, soilborne and community-transmitted pathogens. Because of the innovative and customizable nature of the method, Shannon continues to expand the work to detect infection from other environmentally-transmitted pathogens important to EPA’s mission and, more broadly, to global public health. Shannon’s accomplishments extend beyond her scientific discoveries where she is inherently driven to advance social equity through collaboration, empowerment, and mentorship.

Dr. Charles Rotimi – National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Dr. Charles Rotimi’s vision for engaging the U.S. and global communities in genomic science and medicine has had a transformative impact on the democratization and development of genomic led therapeutics. He has facilitated the establishment of state-of-the-art infrastructure and databases that are enabling genomic discoveries with implications for biological mechanisms of diseases and new therapeutic targets. He is a member of the new leadership team that is developing the next African genomics “moonshot” called Genomic Centers of Excellence (GenCoE) with the goal of raising over 100 million U.S. dollars annually to establish and support 8-10 Centers across Africa. Building on the successes of Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa), the Africa CDC led Pathogen Genomic Institute and the World Bank African Centers of Excellence, GenCoE promises to empower Africa with its first unified, equitable, and collaborative network of genomic research centers that will generate knowledge and clinical applications. GenCoE will vastly expand the African capacity in genomics technologies with the aim of reducing global health inequities and empowering genomic discovery for drugs and therapeutics.

Leadership and Management

TenaVel T. Thomas – Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

TenaVel T. Thomas serves as a Senior Executive Port Director for United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), at the Port of New York / Newark.  With steadfast passion for national security and social equity, Ms. Thomas spearheaded the creation of John F. Kennedy International Airport’s first Repatriation Processing Center, a multi-million-dollar facility equipped with the capability of processing thousands of migrants seeking refuge in the United States.  Ms. Thomas also created and led a specialized human trafficking unit who under her leadership, helped to rescue over 130 indentured servants and victims of forced labor.  Ever the changemaker, Ms. Thomas established a full-time resiliency team and therapy dog program, logging over 2,500 employee interactions and responded to three untimely employee deaths.  Her exemplary and innovative leadership has led to the successful facilitation of over $250 billion dollars of import goods and 6.5 million passengers per year, and her impact has resonated nationally across the entire CBP enterprise.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Sherman – National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce

Dr. Jeffrey A. Sherman of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is recognized for technical and managerial leadership of the atomic clock ensemble that serves as the nation's source of official time. The atomic clock ensemble provides timing for U.S. civilian activities with accuracies down to the level of a few nanoseconds and is one of the most visible and widely used assets of the U.S. Government. NIST time is used billions of times each day to set consumer timepieces and computers and ensure the accurate timestamping of hundreds of billions of dollars of electronic financial transactions. The time signals realized and distributed by Dr. Sherman and his team are an invisible yet critical utility for the U.S. As new technologies continue to emerge, the need for accurate time synchronization will become increasingly important for critical infrastructure systems like the power grid, air traffic control systems, and autonomous vehicles. Dr. Sherman is leading the charge to meet these demanding synchronization requirements by providing high reliability signals with the smallest possible timing uncertainties.

Blair Pasalic – U.S. Department of Energy

Blair Pasalic’s leadership as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Director of European and Eurasian Affairs amid Russia’s war in Ukraine materially contributed to energy security for European allies and played a significant role in transforming the way the Department executes the Secretary’s policy priorities. Ms. Pasalic was pivotal in managing $30 million in emergency funds for Ukraine and helping secure the delivery of nearly 900 pieces of electrical equipment to Ukraine, which provided back-up electricity to medical facilities and allowed for the repair of critical substations. Ms. Pasalic also spearheaded the re-launch of the Secretary’s 24-country Partnership for Transatlantic Energy and Climate Cooperation (P-TECC), an energy initiative key to fostering U.S. partnership with Eastern European allies to achieve greater security and net-zero climate targets. Ms. Pasalic’s unwavering willingness to build teams and coordinate efforts beyond her immediate lines of responsibility provided a template of quality leadership, management, excellence, hard work, and innovation. The results of her efforts have been fundamental policy changes that will have long-lasting impact on the U.S. Department of Energy and the nation.

Alison Fong – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

As an exceptional senior manager at the Environmental Protection Agency, Alison Fong leads some of the most challenging and innovative cleanups and initiatives in the Pacific Southwest achieving widespread environmental and public health protection. Ms. Fong leads her team of 33 to deliver protection against over 2800 essential and highly technical hazardous waste, PCB, and underground storage tank cleanup sites. She accomplishes early delivery, maximizes federal funding, and achieves outstanding results in hundreds of disadvantaged communities utilizing groundbreaking approaches to climate change. She seeks out opportunities to address long-standing injustices with success. At the forefront of her achievements are inclusive leadership skills and the ability to drive collaboration in contentious situations. When faced with the toughest challenge of her career, a catastrophic fuel spill and contamination of an aquifer relied upon by 93,000 people, she leapt into action and created a multi-disciplinary team to develop options for resolution, investigations, and defueling. She ran contentious public meetings and developed crucial rapport with stakeholders

CDR Nancy Tian – Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

CDR Nancy Tian serves as a senior program manager at the Office of Business Informatics, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), Food and Drug Administration. As a certified Project Management Professional, Scrum Master, and Level III COR, she has provided direct oversight on three integrated project teams including 60+ FTEs, IT developers, and analysts to implement and manage components of the CDER-wide informatic system, including the operation of data management capabilities and workflow management. The modernization of the CDER Informatics platform has streamlined the review process and enhanced regulatory data access and decision-making, significantly boosting efficiency, accuracy, and transparency in regulatory assessments. Additionally, as an U.S. Public Health Service officer, CDR Tian has demonstrated exceptional leadership and team camaraderie with 18 deployments in response to natural disasters, public health emergencies, and national security events. Notably, her pivotal roles in COVID-19 missions with the Commissioned Corps Headquarters Command Cell, White House Coronavirus Taskforce, and Cruise Quarantine Missions underscore her dedication to safeguarding public health and national security. Her unwavering commitment to public service is exemplary.

Dr. M. Khair ElZarrad – Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Dr. M. Khair ElZarrad’s federal career is devoted to leading national and global policy development in medical research in the interest of patients and the public health. A visionary, keenly aware of societal needs, he is dedicated to modernizing regulatory frameworks enhancing access and diversity to clinical trials and encouraging the responsible use of innovative technologies. As Rapporteur, Dr. ElZarrad led the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) Expert Working Group in the modernizing the ICH Good Clinical Practice Guideline, aiming to make clinical trials more efficient and flexible. ICH has a total of 57 members and observers globally. He successfully steered this collaboration to consensus, with the guideline being endorsed in May 2023. This guideline will directly inform the conduct of all global clinical trials intended to provide evidence to support regulatory submissions.  

Furthermore, Dr. ElZarrad’s pioneering leadership led to robust policy development to regulate artificial intelligence, digital technology, decentralized clinical trials, and to enhance diversity in clinical trials, and patient labeling modernization. His work continues to propel the U.S. FDA’s cutting-edge regulatory policies in emerging areas.     

Social Science, Clinical Trials, and Translational Research

Dr. Lorenzo Leggio  – National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

As a physician-scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Lorenzo Leggio has pioneered translational work and provided extraordinary leadership in addiction science. His innovative contributions range from preclinical research using both in vitro and in vivo models, to human studies, including clinical trials in patients with substance use disorders. He has also championed large population-based studies and community-based outreach, education, and clinical research. Dr. Leggio belongs to the rare breed of physician-scientists, critically important for the biomedical field, working to address clinically relevant questions, directed toward new treatment discoveries and translating these into clinical practice. He has shown entrepreneurial creativity and breakthrough thinking by studying gut-brain and other neuroendocrine pathways in the context of addiction and neuropsychopharmacology. Dr. Leggio leads a team that has introduced novel concepts in addiction science by providing translational evidence that peripheral neuroendocrine systems (e.g., ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1, aldosterone) may play a causal role in the development and maintenance of addiction. These systems serve as targets toward the development of novel pharmacotherapies for patients with alcohol and substance use disorders.