For Immediate Release
March 22, 2022
Karen Garrett
Chief of Communications & Marketing
(202) 585-4313

ASPA and NAPA Recognize Public Service Leadership with the 2022 National Public Service Awards

Washington, DC – Each year, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) select outstanding public servants for its National Public Service Awards and the NPSA Rosslyn Kleeman Keeper of the Flame Awards. This year’s recipients, Sylvia Mathews Burwell (American University), Hung Cao (U.S. Navy, Retired), Mary Hamilton (University of Nebraska Omaha), William H. Leighty (Virginia Commonwealth University), James M. Shuler (U.S. Department of Energy) and Joseph Vass (Virginia Capitol Police), represent extraordinary leadership in armed forces administration, veterans’ health care and refugee aid. Their awards were presented March 20 during ASPA’s Annual Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. 

“These public service awards are our opportunity to say thank you to dedicated individuals for their hard work and contributions to all facets of society. Public service is about commitment to others and we are proud to highlight these individuals’ accomplishments,” said ASPA Executive Director William Shields.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell is the 15th president of American University (AU) in Washington, DC, and the first woman to serve in the role. Since coming to AU in 2017, she has focused on building a university centered on scholarship, learning and community. During her tenure, AU has entered the nation’s most innovative universities list and accelerated its standing as a place where scholars and students come to impact the world. Burwell previously served in the Obama administration as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she led a department that included the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Medicare. She oversaw the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act and led the department’s responses to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. She also was director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where she worked with Congress to negotiate a two-year budget deal following the 2013 government shutdown. She also served in the Clinton administration as deputy director of OMB, deputy chief of staff to the president, chief of staff to the Secretary of the Treasury and staff director of the National Economic Council. Burwell received undergraduate degrees from Harvard University and Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

Hung Cao, solutions architect for CACI International, leads a team of engineers developing the latest counter drone and electronic warfare systems for the U.S. Department of Defense. A Navy deep sea diver, he conducted high-profile salvage operations, including the recovery of the remains of John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Civil War-era ironclad warship, the USS Monitor. He commanded the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center, where he oversaw training for more than 4,000 special operations divers from all military branches. As a Navy master explosive ordnance technician, he commanded teams to counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). He also commanded the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell in Iraq, a multi-national, multi-agency counter-IED team that identifies, captures and prosecutes bomb-making cells. During his last combat deployment in 2021, he was director of counter-improvised threats throughout Afghanistan. Cao graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1996 with a BS and holds a Master of Science from the Naval Postgraduate School. He is a fellow with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar XXI for U.S. national security and foreign policy and Harvard’s Senior Executive Leadership program.

Most recently, Mary Hamilton has served as senior executive in residence in the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska—Omaha, where she was the driving force behind establishing the Nebraska Certified Public Manager Program. On a national scale, she was chair of the National CPM Consortium, which supports and accredits CPM programs in the United States and its territories. "Selfless service” to others has been a hallmark of Hamilton’s professional journey and she recognized the value of selfless service among public servants at every level. In 2011, she initiated the Public Service Stories Project as an effort to checkmate popular bureaucrat bashing and instead make positive stories about careers in public service broadly available to the public. Modeled after a program used by National Public Radio to capture stories of people’s lives and archive them, she teamed up with a videographer and a professional storyteller and put together a plan. “Ask Me Why I Care,” a video archive of public administrators telling their stories, is now online and widely available for public use. Hamilton is known to so many in the public administration community for her service as ASPA executive director. During her seven years at the helm, she led major strategic planning processes that involved dozens of Society leaders and members and resulted in major changes in focus that refreshed and revitalized the organizations. She built collaborative relationships with related organizations and helped create a critical mass for advancing good government causes. And, she did all of it, as she often has said, by “leading from the back of the room.” Hamilton was a senior executive with the then-U.S. Government General Office (GAO) in Washington, DC and was regional manager of its New York office. A fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, she received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Maryland at College Park, her MA in sociology and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her BA from Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

William Leighty is senior strategic advisor to the dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. Leighty joined Virginia State government after serving in the United States Marine Corps. His leadership positions included deputy secretary of transportation and public safety, where he helped secure the largest tax increase for transportation improvements in Virginia’s history at that time; principal negotiator on the creation of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the transfer of Dulles and National airports from the federal government; deputy commissioner for transportation safety and administrative services, where his efforts helped produce a 31 percent decline in alcohol related fatalities; and director of the Virginia Retirement System, during which time the system’s assets more than doubled and garnered national prominence as the 30th largest public or private pension system in the world. Leighty was selected by then-Governor Mark Warner to become chief of staff in 2002; in this role, he essentially served as chief operating officer of the Commonwealth’s 93 agencies, 121,000 employees and $72 billion budget. He oversaw the creation of a Cabinet and agency system of organization and reporting that garnered the designation of Virginia as “Best Managed State in the Nation.” Governor Tim Kaine retained Leighty as his chief of staff in 2007. Governing magazine named him one of nine public officials of the year in 2007. Leighty graduated from Mary Washington College in 1978 and holds an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

For more than 47 years, James Shuler has worked in radioactive material packaging and transportation. A senior health physicist, he is manager of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) packaging certification program, packaging quality assurance approval program, radiofrequency identification (RFID) program, packaging assistance program, packaging university and transportation safeguard and security program. He manages a diverse 75-person senior level contractor workforce in nine separate national laboratory teams around the country. Shuler has worked in federal government for more than 40 years, including more than seven at the U.S. Department of Transportation and six in commercial nuclear industries, including nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel reprocessing and low-level waste disposal. As manager of the packaging certification program, he has completed more than 850 packaging dockets. The program performs independent compliance reviews of package designs certified by DOE for shipment of nuclear material. Shuler has master’s degrees in management and supervision, radiation science and public administration, and a doctorate in public administration. He has 10 professional certifications, authored 14 books, authored or co-authored more than 200 papers, is a co-inventor with four patents and has taught various graduate level courses. He has received three international awards for his work.

For nearly 80 years, Joseph Vass has lived a life dedicated to public service. He is inventory and supply officer for the Virginia Capitol Police and spends his days “in cheerful service to others.” Vass joined the Virginia Protective Force when he was 15 years old and guarded ammunition storage facilities during World War II. He enlisted in the Navy shortly thereafter and served on three destroyers, seeing heavy action during the war. He then served in the Marines, and was deployed to Korea, where he was wounded and hospitalized for several months, after which time he rejoined his unit. He served in the Air Force as a security police staff sergeant, the Army as a member of the Virginia Defense Force and the Coast Guard Auxiliary as a member. Vass devoted his post-war life to law enforcement, joining the Henrico, Virginia Police Department in 1955. Throughout the decades, he worked for various departments and served as security chief for the University of Richmond and Richmond Airport and as police chief for the towns of Poquoson and Boykins. He joined the Virginia Capitol Police in 2011, where he is responsible for keeping a 125-employee division equipped and ready to carry out their mission. Vass was married to Barbara “Bobbie” Vass for 71 years—from 1950 until she passed away in 2021—and remains active in law enforcement and military support organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Marine Corps League.

About ASPA: ASPA is the leading interdisciplinary public service organization that advances the art, science, teaching and practice of public and nonprofit administration. Learn more at

About NAPA: Chartered by Congress, the National Academy of Public Administration is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization created to help public sector leaders meet management challenges through evaluation, analysis and recommendations. Learn more at