Celebrating Public Service Recognition Week with Our Agency Partners

From our first partnership with the United States Department of Health and Human Services building Healthcare.gov to long-standing collaborations with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to emerging work with other agencies, our work at the U.S. Digital Service is dependent on hard-working, career public servants.

This Public Service Recognition Week (May 1 — May 8, 2022), we’re excited to get to know just a few of the great public service partners we’re working with currently.

Public Service Recognition Week began the first week in May 1985 to “honor the people who serve our nation as federal, state, county, local, and tribal government employees,” according to the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a better government and a stronger democracy.

Scroll down to meet five public servants partnering with USDS and working within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the United States Department of the Treasury.

Sarah Esty, Senior Advisor, Administration for Children and Families, United States Department of Health and Human Services

Why did you become a public servant?

As far back as I can remember, my parents raised me to believe in the importance of dedicating my life to serving others, particularly the most vulnerable. My first job after college was advocating for low-income children and families in my home state of Connecticut. That experience solidified my belief in the power of government to help give every kid a solid foundation in life, but also highlighted the huge challenges we face in making that commitment a reality. Since then, I’ve tried to pick jobs based on where I can have the greatest opportunity for impact at any given moment, which has brought me from nonprofits, to consulting to governments, to serving in state and federal government.

What work has been most impactful to you?

I was at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services at the start of the pandemic, so I ended up at the forefront of the state’s COVID-19 response, doing everything from helping set up a public hotline, email box, and chatbot that answered over 200,000 questions from residents, to managing distribution of 10 million face masks, and coordinating public health guidance and emergency orders. Every week we faced new, unexpected challenges, and had to create new strategies, teams, and processes (often without a playbook). It was amazing to see how the team came together and figured it out, day after day, ultimately saving thousands of lives.

More recently, I helped the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) manage the large number of unaccompanied children arriving at the southwest border and through the Afghan evacuation last fall. Because so many children arrived in such a short period of time, HHS had to open multiple emergency intake sites to safely house the children while we located their families or other vetted sponsors in the U.S. We faced many challenges in responding to the historic influx and need, but the dedicated team did truly Herculean work to make it happen, and I am so grateful to have been able to serve alongside them and support their work.

Vanessa Megaw, Director of Outreach, Emergency Housing Programs, United States Department of the Treasury

Why did you become a public servant?

I have always wanted the work I do to be meaningful and engaging. Federal service is particularly exciting because the work can have such a large impact on many different people across the country. The interplay of how policy affects various stakeholders and ultimately real-life people is a tremendous puzzle that I find endlessly fascinating and important.

I have also been extremely lucky to have always been surrounded by highly competent and dedicated colleagues, most recently including my colleagues at Treasury and the team from the U.S. Digital Service and Presidential Innovation Fellows, who are dedicated to teamwork and able to work together to greatly amplify the impact of various initiatives.

What work has been most impactful to you?

Throughout my career in public service, I have had opportunities to lean into questions about how to best support the financial lives of the public — many times especially affecting those who are particularly vulnerable to falling through the cracks.

At Treasury, I work with Emergency Rental Assistance and Homeowner Assistance Fund program administrators across the country to identify practices that enhance programs’ abilities to serve households at risk of housing instability. Before Treasury, I monitored debt relief and student loan markets at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and helped to identify how business practices may create financial risks for consumers — resulting in greater transparency about how these markets function and more informed policy decisions.

So, the best moments of my career have been when my work results in meaningful outcomes that help to improve lives. At Treasury, this has been particularly true as I’ve been able to see how elevating practices from effective emergency housing programs resulted in broader adoption across the country and more families being able to stay in their homes. It’s also exciting to be able to have a front row seat to a lot of the innovative and collaborative program development work happening across the country at all levels of government as participants build out an emergency housing infrastructure that has never existed before on this scale.

Some of these efforts, like bringing together networks of non-profits to support more collaborative braiding of solutions and the development of eviction diversion programs, promise to have long-lasting impacts in many communities. Though it has been a challenging year, it has also been a great honor to know that the work has a direct impact on people’s lives.

Jessica Owen Day, Program Analyst, WIC EBT Branch, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Why did you become a public servant?

My family has a public service legacy. Our Great Grandmother served with both the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Internal Revenue Service and our Grandmother and I served with the Virginia Department of Health. It’s difficult to imagine a life without working to help others, and I feel personal responsibility to serve people experiencing need.

Everyone deserves good food and I’m dedicated to ensuring they can access it. I chose a career in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) because I was a WIC kid! I’ve spent more than nine years supporting WIC technology at both state and federal levels and while my work is deeply meaningful, it’s also simple — it has connected more people with food and resources.

What work has been most impactful to you?

I think this question has two answers. Some experiences stand out in my mind as significant impacts I’ve made, and some experiences stand out as significant impacts made on me.

The first significant impact I’ve made is supporting statewide and then nationwide electronic benefit transfer (EBT, a method of electronic access to program benefits) implementation in Virginia and other WIC state agencies. The second is collaborating in program outreach and innovation initiatives funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. We’re developing opportunities to improve benefit and service delivery that I can’t wait to see realized.

I naturally tend to think in public terms, but I’m always reminded of private experiences when I think about what has significantly impacted me — telling a client her concerns matter when she felt guilty reporting an issue, hearing a nutritionist tell a new parent she’s a good mom when she felt overwhelmed — it’s the unseen moments of tenderness, the deeper connection we’re privileged to share.

Courtney Paolicelli, Lead Social Science Research Analyst, Special Nutrition Research and Analysis Division, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Why did you become a public servant?

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to pursue a career where I could help others live healthy, high-quality lives; and to me, nutrition has always been the cornerstone of good health. That’s why I pursued a degree in dietetics and subsequently spent the first decade of my career working in community and clinical nutrition. I loved working directly with clients and patients. Every time I helped an individual or family make a healthier dietary choice, I felt an incredible sense of professional fulfillment and satisfaction.

Since moving into the federal government in 2014, I’ve continued to enjoy that same sense of fulfillment and satisfaction because, even though I’m no longer working directly with individuals or families, the work to which I contribute directly influences the policies, systems, and environments in which millions of Americans live. At USDA Food and Nutrition Service, our work focuses on providing children and adults with access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education, and our nutrition assistance programs serve nearly 1 in 4 Americans. As a dietitian, I’m honored to serve in an agency that promotes health through nutrition and that has an impact on such a large proportion of the American population.

What work has been most impactful to you?

In my role as a social scientist, I’ve been honored to work with a research team on a study evaluating the impacts of WIC participation on children’s diet and health outcomes.

Our WIC Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study-2 is a national, longitudinal cohort study that tracks children who participated in WIC around the time of birth, until they turn nine years old. Through this study, we’ve been able to show the incredible impact that WIC participation has on children’s dietary intake. Moreover, we’ve been able to show just how much families appreciate and benefit from the services they get through WIC (e.g., breastfeeding support, nutrition education, nutritious foods).

As a dietitian whose first job was working in WIC, I’m proud to be contributing to the evidence base showing the positive impact that WIC has on young children and their families.

Sarah Widor, Deputy Associate Administrator, Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Why did you become a public servant?

I was the first in my family to attend college and I know many smart and talented individuals who did not have the same opportunity because of circumstances way beyond their control. I chose a career in public service so I could work on setting up families for long-term success and address some of the inequality that exists in this country.

Every day I have the opportunity to work with incredible and dedicated colleagues on complex problems of great consequence to millions of people. This is an incredible responsibility but also very rewarding. When I have the opportunity to meet WIC families they always tell me how much they value WIC and what it means to their family.

What work has been most impactful to you?

The first few months of the COVID public health emergency was the most challenging and meaningful time in my nearly 20-year federal career. My colleagues and I had to help all of our WIC partners shift to an entirely new model of program delivery in a new and uncertain environment. We worked collaboratively with all of our stakeholders and ensured millions of families continued to have access to healthy food.

We’re grateful to these public servants and everyone in public service we work with daily.

If you’d like to work on these important projects, join us! We’re hiring mission-driven engineers, product managers, designers, bureaucracy hackers, procurement specialists, and operations gurus who want to make an impact on the lives of their fellow Americans. Apply here.

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United States Digital Service

United States Digital Service

The U.S. Digital Service is a group of mission-driven professionals who are passionate about delivering better government services to the public.