America’s Dedication to Public Service: Voices from Around the Country

We asked federal employees about what inspires them to pursue a career dedicated to public service. Here’s what they had to say.

Washington, D.C., March 10, 2010 — President Barack Obama thanks rescue and aid workers who helped in Haiti after the earthquake after speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This photograph is provided by THE WHITE HOUSE as a courtesy and may be printed by the subject(s) in the photograph for personal use only. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not otherwise be reproduced, disseminated or broadcast, without the written permission of the White House Photo Office. This photograph may not be used in any commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House. Photo by Pete Souza — Mar 09, 2010
“So whatever or whoever inspired you to join public service; whether you’re a young person who just signed up because you want to make a difference, or a career employee who has dedicated your life to that pursuit — I want you to know that it has been my privilege to call you my colleagues. This precious experiment in self-government only works when we have selfless citizens like you.”
— President Barack Obama

Our federal workforce is making government work better for the American people, and bringing lasting change to the lives of ordinary people across the nation.

Many of the vital services that Americans depend on are the responsibility of our civil servants. They run our airports and embassies, take care of our troops and their families, defend our borders, make sure our roads and railways are designed and built safely, and advance the frontiers of science and innovation. They’ve worked to swiftly transport American aid workers with Ebola to the United States for life-saving treatment, and helped engineer a new spacecraft that could carry humans farther into space than we’ve ever seen before. They’re finding ways to process health benefits applications for disadvantaged tribal populations more efficiently and effectively, and making important strides in ending veteran homelessness.

Today, we’re taking a moment to shine a light on the importance of civil service, and the men and women across the country who serve our country through public service. We asked a few of the President’s Customer Service Award winners about what inspires them to pursue a career dedicated to public service. Here’s what they had to say.

Amber Rhodes — Woodbridge, Virginia

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

My parents are the people who come early to dinners to help set up and stay after to clean up. They instilled in me the value of service — and they happened to be public servants as well.

I was taught that service is always something done for the other person or organization, and not for personal satisfaction. It is about understanding how to use your resources, time, and skills in any given situation. It is about allowing each individual involved to reach their full potential and exhaust the possibilities of the entire group’s contribution. It’s about being a part of something big, something real.

I am proud of my choice to pursue a career in public service, and I am proud of the people I serve. I have been afforded the opportunity and responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others, and it’s one I take with great honor and appreciation.

Zach Jarrett — Portland, Oregon

Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior

I grew up in rural southern Oregon, where access to public lands was plentiful and outdoor opportunities were seemingly endless. I spent my childhood rafting the iconic Rogue River and riding my mountain bike across breath-taking landscapes. The natural world gave me perspective and instilled in me important values that shaped who I am and that I carry with me to this day. I’m inspired by the outdoors, by the vast network of public lands that exist across the United States and by the opportunity to help develop the next generation of public land stewards through my job as a public servant. As an outdoor recreation planner with the Bureau of Land Management, it’s my job to plan, design and manage high quality outdoor experiences for the public.

As a public servant, I’m inspired and proud to dedicate my career to public land management and getting people connected to the outdoors. Think for a minute about that feeling of hiking your favorite trail, rafting your favorite river or mountain biking your favorite park — as outdoor recreation planners, we get to ensure that the public will have the opportunity to get those experiences on public lands.

I can’t think of another career that could be more rewarding and inspiring then helping to protect our public lands for future generations while motivating the youth of our world to get connected to nature. That way, they can have (and one day their children can have) the same opportunity that I had: to experience public lands by rafting iconic rivers and riding mountain bikes across iconic landscapes, instilling in the future the same values that I received from our public lands.

Oliver Villalobos, Jr. — Riverside County, California

Department of Veterans Affairs

I am part of the third generation of my family to serve in the United States Military, so for me and my family this is the greatest honor and the proudest tradition we have. Now, I am a Veteran taking care of Veterans at Riverside National Cemetery, and one day I will also be laid to rest here. I am entrusted by sons and daughters to bury their parents, parents to bury their young, and Gold Star families to take care of their fallen Heroes. I try every day to live up to President Lincoln’s pledge: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Serving as the Grounds Foreman — a cemetery caretaker job — at the busiest National Cemetery in the country has been an exceptional experience. Here at the cemetery, we only get one chance to get the service right, so we always demand the best of our employees to provide the Veteran and their family with trusted service and a little bit of comfort in difficult times.

I am no longer enlisted in the Marines but caring for military families and personnel allows me to continue to serve my country. Like many Veterans, I realized that when I left the service it was hard to find a job that offered the comradery the military did. It is an intangible feeling that only Veterans can know. I have finally returned to that connection that I had lost a long time ago.

Ellen Johnson — Brooklyn, New York

Internal Revenue Service, Department of Treasury

I’m proud to have now served 28 years at the IRS. It’s been rewarding, and it’s been humbling. All 28 years have been dedicated to providing better service to Americans — answering their tax-related questions over the phone, letting taxpayers know what services and tools are available to them, or monitoring telephone product lines.

Tax season can be a stressful situation for many Americans. What inspires me to continue doing what I’m doing, to provide the best possible customer experience, are those moments when I’m able to put taxpayers at ease and help them understand their options.