Public Service Recognition Week

By Tom Burke

“In the face of difficult challenges, public servants give new life to the values that bind our Nation together. Civil servants are scientists and teachers, social workers and first responders – they are the leaders of today’s progress and the innovators of tomorrow’s breakthroughs.”

–President Barack Obama


The theme of this year’s Public Service Recognition Week, which kicked off this past Sunday, is “Connecting Citizens with Their Government.” Each day, I continue to be amazed by the dedication and talent of our public servants.

Whenever I want to feel inspired and have fun, I have one simple trick: come to work. Here at EPA, I am surrounded by scientists, public health experts, and a diversity of other professionals who are all dedicated to using their skills and considerable energy for problem solving and making the country a stronger, more resilient, and more prosperous place for our citizens and for future generations.

As I walk to work every day down Pennsylvania Avenue I find myself thinking about the incredibly talented people I have the opportunity to work with and how they are tackling such critically important public health and science issues. This week that feeling has been amplified knowing that I would have the opportunity to highlight my colleagues and tout some of their achievements.


EPA’s Bob Kavlock is a 2015 Service to America Medal Finalist.

One in particular, EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Dr. Robert Kavlock, exemplifies that work and has earned special recognition. The Public Employee Roundtable recently announced that he is a finalist for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal.

For more than 35 years, Dr. Kavlock has been leading advancements in toxicology science and how chemicals are tested and screened for potential harmful effects to people and the environment. He has transformed how scientists assess the safety of thousands of chemicals, cutting the time it takes to conduct chemical tests by many orders of magnitude, dramatically reducing the number of animal studies needed, and saving millions of taxpayer dollars. And thanks to Dr. Kavlock’s work, those achievements will be realized many times over as next-generation toxicity testing and technologies become common practice throughout the scientific community.

Dr. Kavlock’s ability to combine 21st Century science and innovation with his leadership in networking and collaboration are ushering in a new paradigm for collaborative, efficient, and impactful government research. In 2005 he launched the Agency’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. He then built on the success of that program to forge a partnership uniting EPA, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other science leaders across the public and private sectors to leverage resources, combine expertise, and share data. That effort is now reflected in the Tox21 program, which uses robotic technology to screen thousands of chemicals for potential toxicity and has led to more than 150 EPA research agreements with a wide range of partners, including L’Oreal, Pfizer, Merck, Health Canada, the European Chemicals Agency, Dow Chemical, Harvard University, and California EPA.

I’m fortunate to work with colleagues like Dr. Kavlock, who exemplify the dedication that public servants around EPA and across our federal, state, and local governments bring to the job every day. Their work is helping the nation meet difficult challenges and forge a path to a safer, more prosperous future for us all. Helping to honor such public servants and connect citizens with their government is something I look forward to every day.

To my EPA colleagues and public servants everywhere: thank you.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development as well as EPA’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, he served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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