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Awards honor unsung heroes in federal civil service

WASHINGTON—If the only worthy federal employee you know is your mail carrier, meet Robert Davis, a meteorologist who worked for years at his kitchen table devising the new U.S. flash flood-warning system.

And Susan Cantor, who led a massive child-porn investigation that's yielded 1,500 arrests worldwide. And Tobin Bradley, a young Arabic-speaking Foreign Service officer who helped Iraqis devise their first city elections and intervened to assure that women could participate in them. He even talked an armed Iraqi opposition group out of shutting down his operation.

All three are candidates for Service to America Medals, a top award for federal civil servants. The Partnership for Public Service, a Washington nonprofit group, created the awards two years ago to promote government careers. It lauded 30 finalists Thursday at a Capitol Hill breakfast, and will name nine winners by Sept. 28.

They're the cream of the huge pool of 1.9 million federal workers, unassuming team players mostly, who used the government's huge resources with great imagination and persistence. Consider:

_Ed Kacerosky, 49, a senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Miami, passed up management promotions for 13 years to lead investigators in dismantling a huge drug syndicate that you never hear about anymore: Colombia's Cali cocaine cartel. After 100 arrests, massive drug seizures and the unprecedented convictions of six U.S. cartel lawyers, alleged founder Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela is in a U.S. prison. Kacerosky persuaded Colombian authorities to extradite him in December.

Kacerosky's greatest satisfaction, he said Thursday after giving it some thought, "is knowing you've done the right thing."

_Foreign Service officer Bradley, 30, who volunteered for Iraq duty, showed the world that Iraqis could handle democratic elections. He started with town meetings in September 2003 in the southern province of Dhi Qar to help Iraqis hammer out qualifications for local candidates. To certify voter eligibility, he relied on family food-ration cards from Saddam Hussein's regime. When one voter per card produced only male voters, Bradley upped the number to two voters per card. After he'd led about a dozen municipal elections, "the Iraqis asked me to step aside," he recalled. "I was very proud of that."

_Davis, 57, a forecaster in the National Weather Service's Pittsburgh office, knew that flash floods kill more people than lightning, tornadoes or hurricanes. He also knew that small streams, with watersheds of about 5 square miles, were the most dangerous. So, starting in 1984 and using topographic maps, he mapped the ridgelines that form the watershed borders of every stream that size in western Pennsylvania. The idea was to overlay each watershed with rainfall data from weather radar and to do it fast enough to forecast which streams would flood dangerously.

Davis' mapping, by hand, took years. Then years more to do it again when smaller streams with watersheds of 2 square miles or less proved dangerous, too. But his flash flood-forecasting system worked. It's computerized now and offered nationwide.

_Cantor, 50, a Newark, N.J., senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, led history's biggest child-pornography investigation. It initially bagged U.S. companies that operated child-porn Web sites and billed their customers. To win favor from prosecutors, the U.S. operatives agreed to lure the leaders of a front company in Belarus that handled the business worldwide to Paris for a sting. Those leaders coughed up transaction records of 70,000 U.S. and 25,000 foreign subscribers. Working from those records, Cantor's team prioritized arrests based on the suspects' access to children. The arrests to date include teachers, priests, camp counselors, pediatricians and scout leaders.

"Child pornography was dying out until the Internet came along," said Kevin O'Dowd, an assistant U.S. attorney from Newark who worked on the investigation. Business flourished, he continued, "because the computer, which people used in the privacy of their own homes, gave them a false sense of security."

Cantor's team showed how false it was.

Cantor skipped Thursday's ceremonies. She was working.

Kacerosky flew back to Miami on Thursday afternoon. He's working Friday.

Davis didn't show up either, although the 28 other finalists did. Davis works 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shifts.

"Weather happens 24 hours a day," he said.


For more information online on the Service to America Medal, including a complete list of finalists, go to


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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