May 7, 2010 - Issue: Vol. 156, No. 68 — Daily Edition111th Congress (2009 - 2010) - 2nd Session
A TRIBUTE TO VICKI LEVIN, PUBLIC SERVANT; Congressional Record Vol. 156, No. 68
(Extensions of Remarks - May 07, 2010)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E791-E792] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] A TRIBUTE TO VICKI LEVIN, PUBLIC SERVANT ______ HON. DAVID E. PRICE of north carolina in the house of representatives Friday, May 7, 2010 Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Madam Speaker, I rise to direct the House's attention to Public Service Recognition Week, a time in which we honor the more than 20 million men and women who serve our Nation as Federal, State, county and local government employees. On May 4, 2010, I joined the Partnership for Public Service at an event they hosted to commend all of our Nation's public servants and to recognize one in particular: the late Vicki Levin, wife of our colleague from Michigan. The Partnership presented a plaque to Representative Sandy Levin with the following inscription: ``In memory of Vicki Levin with deep appreciation for three decades of dedicated service to our country.'' I was pleased to offer the following remarks to commend our Nation's public servants and to honor Vicki Levin. I also wish to enclose in the Record a column reflecting on Vicki's exemplary public service, written by the Levins' son, Andy. remarks at the partnership for public service reception honoring vicki levin Thank you for inviting me to join you at tonight's celebration of Public Service Recognition Week. It's a pleasure to be here and to help acknowledge the contributions of our nation's public servants--and of one very dedicated individual in particular. As a political scientist by training, I am often asked about how the academic perspective of government compares with the day to day reality. The question itself is as interesting as the answer, because it reveals the tendency of both academics and civilians to view government as a kind of abstract entity. But in a representational democracy, government is very much a living entity. It is intended to be an instrument of our common purpose, and like most instruments, it doesn't play itself. People make government work. People keep us safe from terrorist threats and food-borne illness; people develop new treatments for diseases; people protect our natural resources. The list goes on and on, and yet, far too often, we overlook--or simply take for granted-- these people: America's public servants. And so for all you do to make government work in pursuit of the greater good, let me say thank you. You stepped up to the plate, and we urgently need to find more people who are willing to take up the mantle of public service. In the next few years, an estimated one-third of the government's top scientists, engineers, physicians, mathematicians, economists, and other highly specialized professionals are expected to retire. Since a high-quality workforce is the key to success for any organization, we need to both inspire the next generation to enter government service--and make sure we have the tools to compete for the country's best minds. I'm pleased to have worked with the Partnership for Public Service on legislation to do just that: The Roosevelt Scholars Act (H.R. 1161). This legislation would create a much needed pipeline of talent for the federal government by awarding graduate-level scholarships to students who commit to public service. Another element of our personnel and recruitment efforts must be recognizing public servants and lauding the intrinsic rewards of a career in government service. I believe it is the personal stories of our public servants themselves that will best help us make this case. One such person is Vicki Levin, the dear wife of our friend and colleague Congressman Sandy Levin, who passed away in September 2008. The Levin family has a long record of service in our justice and judicial systems both in their home state of Michigan and here in Congress. Sandy chairs the Ways and Means Committee in the House while his brother Carl chairs Armed Services in the Senate; they are the longest-serving brothers in congressional history and one of the few sets ever to serve as chairman simultaneously. And yet Sandy's son, Andy, who oversees workforce development and adult education programs for the state of Michigan, says it was not his father or his uncle who inspired him to choose a career in public service. Andy wrote a column about his mother shortly after her death, the sort of column any of us would be immeasurably proud to have our children write. Andy says this about the source of his inspiration: ``my mom . . . not famous and never elected to office . . . a classic `Washington bureaucrat'.'' Vicki worked for nearly three decades--until health reasons forced her to retire--as a science research officer for a variety of agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). During her career there, as well as for much of her [[Page E792]] life, she was a tireless advocate for research on children's mental health. In fact, it was her interest in this issue that prompted Sandy to spearhead an effort to rewrite Michigan's special education laws during the time he was serving as a state senator. The official description of Vicki's work on an NIH scientific review committee is that she ran a committee of scientists who decided which research proposals to fund in the areas of infant and children's mental health. However, as with many of our public servants, that description simply doesn't give a full picture of what her job really was, or more importantly, what her work meant to the average person. Since her death, volumes of letters from coast to coast have been sent to the Levin family. Some credited Vicki Levin with helping develop the emerging field of development psychopathology; many highlighted how she improved the lives of children by advancing research on the biological and environmental factors necessary for a healthy childhood; a number of scholars credited her with nurturing and encouraging their work at a critical point; and others told personal stories about how Vicki helped them through a personal situation. In his column, Andy Levin noted that Vicki ``was like so many others among the 21 million federal, state, and local public servants who make sure we have clean water to drink, safe roads and park lands, and who try to protect us from things such as tainted Chinese milk without setting up crippling barriers to international trade.'' Vicki Levin serves as a perfect example of the kind of person that conducts government work: someone whose goal is promoting and protecting the common good. Her story is a stirring reminder of the recognition that public service professionals merit, and an inspiration for others to join her son and commit to a life of public service. From the Detroit Free Press, Nov. 27, 2008] Be Grateful for Public Servants, Maybe Become One Yourself (By Andy Levin) I come from a family of public servants, people who work for the people. In recent years, this calling has fallen out of public favor. Approval ratings for the federal government sank to 37% this year, from a high of 73% six years earlier, according to the Pew Center. While much of this has to do with the economy and attitudes toward the Bush administration, distrust of ``Washington bureaucrats'' is an enduring feature of the American polity. But two developments herald a public service comeback. The first, of course, was the election--and the campaign-- of Barack Obama. More than any other successful presidential candidate since John Kennedy in 1960, Obama placed at the center of his campaign a call for each of us to serve and to sacrifice for the common good. The second is the financial meltdown. In the last quarter century, Democratic and Republican administrations alike participated in the mechanistic trend of ``less government is better'' to the point where banks and investment houses could engage in virtually any scheme to make money with no one really responsible for making sure decisions were sound. And the companies were able to pay their executives outrageous sums that bore no relationship to performance. In this moment of political opening in reaction to economic crisis, people seem to be realizing that we need public servants, people whose goal is promoting and protecting the common good, to build a new financial system that encourages investment, the building of real things and the provision of useful services, and that holds financial decision makers accountable for their actions--the essence of capitalism. If you've been in Michigan for any time at all, you may recognize my last name from our family's long line of public servants. My grandpa, Saul Levin, served on the Michigan Corrections Commission. Saul's brother, Theodore, was a federal judge, and Uncle Ted's son, Charles, served on the Michigan Supreme Court. My dad, U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, and my uncle, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, have quietly become the longest serving brothers in the history of Congress. But it's none of these men who set me to wondering whether we're about to see a public service renaissance. No, it was my mom, Vicki Levin, not famous and never elected to office. For almost 30 years, until she was forced to retire in the spring for health reasons, Mom worked hard as a federal employee--a classic ``Washington bureaucrat.'' We kids thought we knew a lot about Mom's career. She ran a committee of scientists who decided which research proposals to fund in the area of infant and children's mental health. We watched her read through mountains of papers, often bringing work home. We watched her sweat in preparation for the thrice-yearly meetings of her committee, making sure all the details were just right. But I don't think I ever appreciated what her work meant to her and to others, not fully. Back when I lived in the Washington, D.C., area, I tried to convince Mom to retire so she could spend more time with my four kids and her other grandchildren. After all, she was in her early 70s. Why not kick back? Mom bristled at the idea, saying her work and her relationship with colleagues were central to her life. When her battle with breast cancer forced her to retire in April, we all learned just what Mom was talking about--and just how much public service can mean. Letters of tribute poured in from colleagues, dozens and dozens of research scientists at universities from coast to coast. (You can read them at http://eskoink.com/VL/Vickilevin.pdf.) Many scholars, some now department chairs, told detailed stories about how they got their research start with Mom's help, or how she co-authored a paper with one scientist that is still her most cited work, or how her committee was the intellectual salon of their field. Some credit her with helping create the emerging field of developmental psychopathology. More than one said she has made the lives of children everywhere better by helping spawn and nourish path-breaking research on the biological and environmental factors necessary for a healthy childhood. Many of them told personal stories about how Mom had counseled them through a divorce, adoption or rocky situation at the office. OK, this is my mom, so you can imagine how reading all this felt. But if you step back, Vicki Levin was like so many others among the 21 million federal, state and local public servants who make sure we have clean water to drink, safe roads and park lands, and who try to protect us from things such as tainted Chinese milk without setting up crippling barriers to international trade. Thanksgiving will be hard for my family this year. Mom died Sept. 4 just a few weeks shy of my parents' 51st wedding anniversary. But as we gather together, and each work privately through our losses and gratitudes, I wonder whether our nation is ready to move on from the simplistic notion that ``government is the problem.'' Perhaps, with the consequences of unregulated greed staring us in the face this holiday, we are ready to give thanks for the humble public servants, who forgo the greater monetary rewards of the private sector to toil for the good of us all. ____________________