A peek inside the Fed 100 process

A lot of hard work goes into choosing each year's Federal 100. Here, we pull back the curtain to show you how we do it.

The annual Federal 100 awards gives us at Federal Computer Week an opportunity to recognize some of the brightest stars in the government. It’s a privilege we’ve enjoyed for 23 years now.

To understand how much care goes into choosing the winners, you need to know that we spend about a third of every year on the process. For this year’s event, we started taking nominations in the last week in October. Over the next two months, several hundred came in. Meanwhile, our editors were working behind the scenes to recruit our ten judges, who are themselves some of the brightest minds in government and industry.

After we closed the nominations, we compiled all of the entries into binders and sent them to the judges, who had some time in December to read through them and make their initial determinations. Then, on a Saturday in January, the judges gathered in our offices in Vienna, Va., along with Anne Armstrong, president and chief content officer of the 1105 Government Information Group, Jennifer Weiss, publisher of FCW, and some senior editors. The judges spent the day discussing (and sometimes debating) relative merits of each nominee, before finally making the nearly-final judgment calls.

That process is fascinating to observe. Many of the entries were clearly worthy and got quick yeses from the panel, and some got quick nos. Not all of the nos came because the nominees were not worthy, though. In many cases, the judges agreed that the project in question was quite meritorious, but most of the hard work is still in the future. Because our award is for work done in the previous calendar year, some of those deemed premature will almost certainly win in the next year or two.

After that first pass through the hundreds of entries, the judges had picked several dozen winners, but there were still a lot of open spots. At that point, the process became more deliberative. The judges considered each one of these “maybe” entries in detail and, with some discussion and occasional disagreement, spent several hours choosing the remaining winners and 10 more to serve as alternates.

Picking those alternates is important, because in some cases the judges agreed a nominee was worthy of the award if the account in the nomination was true, but there might be some reason to doubt. And as always happens, a couple of the original 100 didn’t pan out during the verification process, and the first names on the list of alternates became winners.

In the weeks following the judging, I marked up the nomination forms to highlight the work that the winning nominees had won for, to make sure it clearly stands out from the rest of the text on the entry forms. These marked-up forms provide the basis on the assignments that our reporters use as they write the profiles of all 100 winners, to be published in our March 30 issue.

And that’s where we are now. The reporters have their assignments and are starting to work on writing the profiles. Meanwhile, plans for the annual gala, to be held March 28 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., are well underway.

To those who won, we hope you’re proud to have earned the honor and know that it has a real significance. To those who were nominated but didn’t quite make it, we hope you understand you had some stiff competition.