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  4. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Recognizes 268 Employees at Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Recognizes 268 Employees at Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Release Date: November 7, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On November 7, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hosted an awards ceremony at DHS Headquarters to celebrate the workforce. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas officiated the ceremony, where 268 employees received a Secretary’s Award in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the mission.

“Every day, the men and women of the Department respond to cyberattacks; save lives by sea and air; secure our nation’s borders and critical infrastructure; and deploy across the country to help Americans recover from disasters; and so much more. Their achievements aren’t only on the front lines, but also extend behind the scenes to modernize and streamline the Department’s processes in order to better relationships between the Department and the people we serve,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “It is the honor of my life to lead this Department and to recognize some of the extraordinary public servants who safeguard our nation and keep us all safe.”

The DHS Secretary’s Awards are an annual program that recognizes the extraordinary individual and collective achievements of the workforce. This year’s award recipients improved the efficiency of processing noncitizens at the Southwest Border, deployed across the country to respond to natural disasters, investigated cybercrime, created a new streamlined process for adjudicating asylum applications, safely and securely resettled nearly 100,000 evacuated Afghans in the United States, provided resources for organizations to enhance their cybersecurity resilience, established a process for Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge, secured the 2022 midterm elections, and demonstrated heroism by acting quickly and courageously to save lives in harrowing circumstances.

This year, DHS held ceremonies across the country, honoring over 1,300 employees. Earlier this year, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas unveiled 12 priorities for the Department, including a commitment to champion the workforce and transform the employee experience.

“I won the Secretary’s Award for Innovation for co-leading the development of a design for an industry leading, innovative, accessible, recreational vehicle, which complies with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards and the Architectural Barriers Act,” said Chief for the Supply Chain Integration Branch for FEMA, Deonna Johnson. “This award is special to me because I was able to contribute to an equitable solution for disaster survivors with disabilities and functional needs. I was also able to contribute to the expansion of housing options not only for disaster survivors, but a potentially national adoption of accessible recreation vehicles. Working at DHS is very rewarding, and in this career I am able to directly effect a person’s recovery in a positive and respectful manner.”

The 268 employees presented with awards at this ceremony for excellence and heroic actions include:

  • Secretary’s Exceptional Service Gold Medal Award
    • Intelligence and Analysis Russia-Ukraine Crisis Response Team: The TSA Intelligence and Analysis office's Russia-Ukraine Crisis Response Team’s efforts ensured that senior leadership, remained well-informed about all aspects of the rapidly evolving crisis, including political, military, diplomatic, humanitarian, and cyber implications. The commitment to the mission displayed by members of the team was exceptional in service of the transportation security mission.
      • Dominic Bueno, Neeta Bajwa, John Beattie, John Bennett, Julie Carrigan, Christina Chesterfield, Peter Clemens, Robert Davey, Justin Fausett, Tiffani Ferrantelli, Jonathan Filipowski, Thomas Francis, Mark Ghere, Matthew Johnson, Mark Kauffman, Kevin McDermott, Anita Pelley, Clint Robins, Jeremy Trujillo, and Heather Wilkinson
    • OAW Safe Haven and Point-of-Entry Leadership Team: The Operation Allies Welcome Safe Haven and Point-of-Entry Leadership Team worked on-the ground efforts to welcome and resettle Afghan refugees following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The teams at the Safe Havens and Points-of-Entry helped to coordinate the Department’s approach to supporting OAW and worked outside their day-to-day responsibilities to integrate other key Federal Departments and Agencies. In an operation that frequently went beyond the normal mission of the agency, they went above and beyond to serve those who stood alongside the United States. 
      • Heela Aziz, Erik Breitzke, Chris, Cronen, Eric Delaune, Robert Guadian, Brett Kolb, Timothy Meadows, Brenda Nevano, James Stitzel, Bob Newman, Rich Altomare, Danielle Bean, Eric Beane, Chuck Burke, Eric Chin, Chris Conley, Robert Cope, Bryan Dillard, Carrie Hazel, Mandy Holland, Scott Johnson, Victoria Jones, William Kulbacki, and Jerry Spero 
  • Secretary’s Meritorious Service Silver Medal Award   
    • HSI Philadelphia 50 Lashes Investigations Team: Beginning in 2017, HSI Philadelphia initiated the 50 Lashes Investigation, targeting Internet Relay Chats (IRC) utilized to advertise and distribute child sexual abuse material (CSAM). A total of 17 domestic and foreign administrators were arrested and indicted by the DOJ, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) in the Southern District of Texas (SDTX), and three private IRC networks created and maintained for the purpose of sharing CSAM have been shut down. 
      • Thad Baxter, Richard Cerminaro, Joshua Conrad, Patricia Mullin, and James Munjone 
    • Jason Lim: Over the past year, Jason has pioneered TSA's adoption of innovative identity solutions that will positively impact upwards of 2 million travelers per day.  Jason manages a complex ecosystem of public and private sector stakeholders, promoting open communication and collaboration in pursuit of transformational objectives.  
      • Jason Lim 
    • Operation Allies Welcome National Security Litigation Team: The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor's Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) National Security Litigation Team provided legal support for the monumental humanitarian undertaking of evacuating and resettling in the United States thousands of Afghan nationals. OPLA, with support from inter-agency partners, litigated cases involving Afghans that potentially posed a threat to national security. 
      • Carolyn Abdenour Bogues, Nicholas Bolzman, Michael Falcone, Xiao Yan Huang, Justin Leone, Zach Linsey, Adam Loiacono, Jorge Montesino, and Jaired Stallard 
    • Shane Barney: Mr. Barney directs USCIS’s Next Generation cybersecurity program. Under his leadership, USCIS has replaced the reactive security practices of the past, creating instead a cyber program that deliveries proactive, high quality, innovative cybersecurity services and solutions. In 2022, he supported HHS, DOJ, IRS, others, and nearly every DHS component in their security modernization efforts. Over the last year alone, Mr. Barney’s focus on security automation saw a $17 million return on investment in saved labor hours. 
      • Shane Barney 
    • Shercoda Smaw: LCDR Smaw volunteered for both DHS and USPHS supporting an urgent POTUS priority for the OAW mission from July 20, 2022, to August 7, 2022. LCDR Smaw served as both the Infection Control Officer and Medical Case Management Officer, completing initial medical screening, contact tracing, and medical care to Afghan refugees, prior to their transfer and relocation to a safe haven. 
      • Shercoda Smaw 
  • Secretary’s Award for Leadership Excellence 
    • DHS Volunteer Force: Volunteers served temporarily in support of Operation Allies Refuge (OAR) and Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), as well as in support of CBP to help manage the greatly increased flow of migrants crossing the Southwest Border. 
      • Alex Padro-Perez, Michael Champness, Sandra Huxford, Sheila Montano, Elsie Silva, and Gustavo Quintero 
    • ICE Health Service Corps: The ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) leaders administer the detention health system offering care for detained noncitizens in ICE custody with integrity, vigilance, and respect. In FY 2022, they led a highly productive workforce of 1,640 staff, who provided direct health care to over 118K noncitizens in 19 ICE-owned facilities; oversaw compliance with health care-related detention standards in 163 contracted facilities that housed 120,500 ICE noncitizens; reimbursed $102.7M for off-site health care services; and supported multiple special operations missions. 
      • Felix Alicea, LaMikka Armstrong, Stephanie Avent, Maria Benke, Francis Bertulfo, James Carr, Tracy Coleman-Rawlinson, Tara Daugereau, Jamal Gwathney, Indira Harris, Stephen Holt, Robin Hunter-Buskey, Tonya Johnican, Darlene Jones, Aisha Mix, Jennifer Moon, Tiffany Moore, Denise Morrison, Diedre Presley, Ada Rivera, Crystal Russell, Martin Sanders, Stewart Smith, Terry Smith, Michelle Williams, Latrise Workman, and Monique Worrell-Oriola 
  • Secretary’s Award for Innovation 
    • ​​​​​​​Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Micro App Support Team: The Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Micro App is a web-based application developed to streamline the ATD enrollment process by improving the speed at which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Officers enroll individual adults and adult members of family units (FAMU) into the ATD program. In Fiscal Year 2022, ERO LESA completed the rollout across the Southwest Border (SWB) by facilitating field user adoption through field visits to Phoenix and San Diego Areas of Responsibility (AORs). Since the ATD Microapp’s full deployment to the SWB AORs in February 2022, over 500,000 noncitizens have been enrolled into the ATD program, saving over 40,000 personnel hours.   
      • ​​​​​​​Pargat Bajwa, Dustin Bell, Kamillah Connolly, Bobby Jerath, Alberto Ramirez, Jose Villafane, Kevin Wetzel, and Jeffrey Wilson 
    • Stephen Styk: Mr. Stephen Styk developed a tool, the Business Process Flow (BPF) Tracker, a centralized software application that helps manage and provide situational awareness of a given OHS Component's needs through the stages of the R&D life cycle at S&T. This tracker promotes transparency across the S&T organization and gives the Directorate a full understanding of customer needs, potential solutions, business case analyses, resource planning, execution status, and transition strategies.   
      • ​​​​​​​Stephen Styk 
    • Streamlined Case Processing Team: The Streamlined Case Processing (SCPP) team is actively addressing USCIS challenges by identifying process efficiencies for technology to support the adjudicative mission. In FY22 alone, the SCP team reduced the Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (EAD) backlog by 13% and prevented backlog accumulation in new areas associated with humanitarian response. The streamlined case processing efforts resulted in nearly 300,000 Employment Authorizations and Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) deferred-action cases processed in record time.
      • ​​​​​​​Melanie Egan, Cassandra Gilbert, Guani Gomez, Marie McGee, Kathy Sepponen-Ghosh, Dawn Stephens, Marilyn Teunis, Kellie Weir, Bin Xu, and Michelle Young 
    • Support Services Branch Acquisition Team: FEMA’s Support Services Branch Acquisition Team developed a design for an accessible recreational vehicle, significantly expanding housing options for disaster survivors with access and functional needs. The innovative designs comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards and the Architectural Barriers Act.  
      • ​​​​​​​Donald Carter, Shunte Gray, Parker Holloway, Deonna Johnson, Denise Lynch, Matthew Rabkin, Patrick Tarleton, Brenda Taylor, Edward Taylor, and Kirstin Brumsted 
    • Enrollment Services and Vetting (ESVP) and Intelligence and Analyst (I&A) Parsing Tool Team: This year saw a rapid return to travel across all transportation systems following improvements in the Nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent reopening of the economy. As a result, TSA witnessed a record influx of applications to its vetting programs, including a large surge of security threat assessment (STA) cases that required processing and adjudication. Use of this innovative tool, along with other risk-based policies, resulted in the immediate approval of over 300,000 TSA Pre-Check enrollments and over 28,000 TWIC enrollments, which would have otherwise required a much longer manual review and adjudication process and directly resulted in transportation workers oner and low-risk passengers to travel on time. 
      • Lindsey Alazraki, David Baker, Josh Martin, Dan Sears, and Erinn Wagner 
    • TSA RAPID Cloud Deployment Team: TSA LE/FAMS and IT collaborated to re-platform and modernize the Real-time Analytic leverage Microsoft Azure Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud-based capabilities. By leveraging cloud-based capabilities, RAPID can accelerate the ability to ingest and structure new datasets, and greatly reduce the time to develop and deploy new features for our mission support personnel. 
      • John Bogers, Thomas Fealy, Kimberly Johnson, Aarika Lewis, Harender Marpu, Christopher McBroom, and James Simoneau 
  • Secretary’s Award for Team Excellence 
    • Asylum Processing Interim Final Rule (IFR) Implementation Team: The Asylum HQ Asylum Processing IFR Implementation Team planned, orchestrated, and oversaw the establishment of the Asylum Merits Interview (AMI) process and procedures to implement the IFR that went into effect on May 31, 2022. The team worked cohesively and cooperatively to establish an entirely new way of creating, processing, and adjudicating asylum applications in a more efficient and streamlined manner than the status quo, in accordance with the IFR.  
      • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Lisa Andre, Cory Clements, Robert Daum, Jeremiah Farrelly, Arthur Hale, Katherine Hall, Nathaniel Jones, Ebbed Joseph, Mallory Lynn, Ajai Mathew, Erin McEvoy, Diana Navas, Tara Pinkham, Stacey Rusnak, Jeffrey Schwartz, Elizabeth Scott, Marta Sisco-Izak, Mitsie Smith, Karen Turo, Ashley Walker, Matthew Wille, and Alyssa Xu 
    • CWMD State and Local Engagement Team: The CWMD State and Local Engagement Team has improved CWMD’s engagement with state and local stakeholders through aggressive outreach and education, senior level site visits across the country, constant staff contact on a personal level and superb delivery of products and services. These efforts have improved state and local agencies' understanding of CWMD lines of support and facilitating their mission accomplishment. 
      • ​​​​​​​Thomas Cao, Julia Colon-Mathews, Kristina Frierson, Ki Harvey, Jenna Hayfield, April Hodges, Jamey Hyland, Candi Jones, Kate Kolstad, Brian Kuleski, Christopher, Magrino, Matthew Martin, Kristina Mastropasqua, Chris Rauh, Kim Robinson, Mark Scheckelhoff, Nick Smith, Cara Stankewick, Brian Stevens, and Robert Whitehurst 
    • Cyber Mission Center Ukraine Crisis Team: The DHS I&A Cyber Mission Center Ukraine Crisis Team demonstrated superior performance in its response to the unfolding Russian war in Ukraine. The Ukraine Crisis Team provided outstanding cyber intelligence production and direct support to senior DHS policymakers and DHS stakeholders that improved DHS's operational readiness in the face of emerging cybersecurity threats from a foreign nation state. The Team members' efforts were timely, impactful, and indicative of their dedication to the mission and DHS I&A. 
      • John Burns, Joseph Cheravitch, Leo Dorsey, Derrick Elliott, Samantha Glass, Matthew Hackner, Jarrod Hinton, Eric Horton, Scott Karo, Emily Koenig, William Mackenzie, Michelle Martin, James Miller, Christopher Peyton, Christopher, Phair, Saul Roselaar, Isabella Smart, and Jose Venzor 
    • Employment Based and Adjustment of Status Litigation: 2022 was a year of unprecedented demands and challenges to USCIS' mission to utilize all available employment-based immigrant visa numbers for FY2022. A team of USCIS employees from multiple Directorates and Program Offices worked to safeguard fair and orderly processes for visa usage, implement new legislation, publish multiple new forms at a record pace, and contemporaneously mount a robust defense to legal challenges over one of the most valuable immigration benefits, the granting of permanent residence adjustment of status and corresponding allocation of an immigrant visa number. 
      • Lauren Bernstein, Lori Bruun, Kathleen Busenkell, Robert Cox, Andrew Diroll-Black, Paul Egan, Greg Furtado, Lianne Garza, Laurie Goudge, Evadne Hagigal, Kevin Highman, Jeanne Hughes, Miriam Morse, David Nazer, Andrew Parker, Bianca Phillips, Jeffrey Savage, Cherita Smith, Craig Stalzer, Michael Steinberg, Samantha Stout, Heba Tellawi, George Ulrey, Michael Valverde, Jessica Walters, Debby Wang, and Elizabeth Zelman 
    • Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Virtual Processing Team: Faced with an increasing flow of non-citizens, rising time in custody, and continued efforts to improve resilience/morale, the Rio Grande Valley Sector collaborated which Swanton and Buffalo Sectors to transform Virtual Processing into a high-yielding A-file mechanism that is now replicated throughout the Southwest Border. Through their efforts, the monthly Virtual Processing throughput increased exponentially, successfully decompressing large numbers in detention, decreasing critical time in custody, and boosting morale for detailed agents who had been leaving their families month after month in support of the Mission in the Rio Grande Valley. 
      • Joe Gonzalez 
    • Transnational Organized Crime Mission Center (TOCMC): The Transnational Organized Crime Mission Center and DHS Intelligence Enterprise (IE) Migration Indications and Warning Cell (MIWC) are actively engaged in identifying, assessing, and informing departmental and national leadership of significant threats to our national security and homeland. Mission Center and MIWC analysts, team leads, branch chiefs, and Senior Intelligence Officer create an innovative and collaborative environment that has helped I&A, the Mission Center and MIWC to be recognized by our intelligence and law enforcement community partners as leaders in the campaign against illicit migration, human smuggling, and threats from Mexico-based drug cartels, specifically synthetic opioids. 
      • Kirstin Brumsted, James Jacksits, Nathan Kast, John Morris, Michele Peterson, Kelly Pilka, Jeffery Shaffer, Christopher Ceparano, Greg Twyman, Misty Walker, Rickey Adderly, Rachel Barnett, Jennifer Blixt, Catherine Bowyer, Jeffery Brady, Efil Celik, Jack Chin, Charles Graul, Maria Haas, Alice Havard, Mollie Hayes, Devon Hill, Kristen James, William Jefferson, Andrew Lesko, Heran Masho-Rice, Karla Minai, Jesus Montes, Christopher Natola, Kathryn Nutting, Sean Parenti, Abbe Power, Theodore Prieboy, Acadia Roessner, Jerry Sanders, William Sessom, Jeanette Smith, Siobhan Steel, Anikh Wadhawan, Alexandra Yoeckel, Jessie Garcia, Daniel Herman, and Lukas Henke 
  • Secretary’s Award for Volunteer Service   
    • Dawn Slaven: Dawn Slaven made significant contributions to servicewomen and women veterans in her volunteer roles. As a female veteran, Ms. Slaven passionately advocated for the unique needs of her fellow veterans and provided an opportunity to showcase their military service and visit the memorial dedicated to their service. 
      • Dawn Slaven
    • Justin Philipbar: Justin Philipbar is the true definition of a public servant. He puts people first within Training and Development, as well as outside of work. His compassion for others, along with his volunteer service with a number of organizations, make him deserving of the Secretary’s Volunteer Service award. 
      • Justin Philipbar

DHS has the third largest workforce of any federal department, behind the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Department is home to more than 92,000 sworn law enforcement officers, the greatest number of law enforcement officers of any department in the federal government. DHS has committed to increasing the representation of women in law enforcement or related occupations at DHS to 30% by 2023. Over 54,000 veterans, or nearly 21% of the workforce, continue serving their country by working at DHS.

DHS operational components interact more frequently on a daily basis with the American public than any other federal department, from travelers moving through air, land, and sea ports of entry, to businesses importing goods into the country, to immigrants applying for services. To learn more about the impact DHS makes every day, visit: DHS.gov/TodayDHSWill.

Last year, DHS launched a hiring initiative recruiting hundreds of experts in digital user experience and design for the Customer Experience Program. DHS is working to improve the overall experience for those accessing government services and benefits by accepting mobile driver’s licenses, reducing processing times for immigration benefits, and simplifying FEMA policies when applying for assistance.

For the full list of awardees, visit the DHS 2023 Secretary's Awards page.​​​​​​​


Last Updated: 11/15/2023
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