You can keep clicking on this link as many times as you like and refreshing the page but it’s not going to redirect you to a story from The Onion. This is apparently a thing that actually happened. The current head of the Internal Revenue Service and the first chief of the Environmental Protection Agency were honored with prestigious public service awards this week. (Government Executive)
One is a living hero from the Watergate scandal who in 1970 became the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The other is a veteran of the 1990s Office of Management and Budget who is under constant political fire as the current commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
Both William Ruckelshaus and John Koskinen on Tuesday night were awarded the Elliot L. Richardson Prize for Excellence in Public Service by the National Academy of Public Administration, and both weighed in on the perils of public service in today’s hyperpartisan climate.
The prestigious award—named for a four-time Cabinet member who served in all three branches of government under six presidents—comes with $25,000 cash, at least half of which is earmarked to a charity of the recipient’s choice. Winners are selected by the Elliot L. Richardson Prize Fund board after nominations over a period of months by a committee including NAPA fellows.
Arguably, Ruckelshaus merits some sort of recognition. He’s been out of public service since the beginning of Reagan’s second term, served as a drill sergeant in the Army and wasn’t really embroiled in any serious scandals involving his work. But the timing of the award is certainly awkward to say the least. Between their disastrous failure at the Gold King Mine and their refusal to report the lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s water supply for months on end, the agency isn’t exactly enjoying one of their most shining moments. Again, Ruckelshaus wasn’t involved in any of these affairs, but there might have been a better time to hand out this particular award.
Koskinen is another matter entirely. I mean, there’s currently a motion on the floor of the Judiciary Committee to impeach the guy. He was at the helm for the entire Lois Lerner affair which saw the Department of Justice weighing the possibility of charges against some of his people. (They conveniently abandoned the case in October.) The agency has been highlighted by scandal, waste and abuse under Koskinen’s tenure and enjoys one of the lowest public approval ratings of the entire administration. This is the guy you choose to gift with an award and tens of thousands of dollars?
The federal government is simply a massive, running theater of the bizarre these days and this is yet one more example. Perhaps we could round up all of those disgraced VA executives we can’t seem to fire and hand out some plaques to them as well.