In most massive worldwide organizatons — like the U.S. government — there are sometimes heroes we never hear about. People who quietly make things better even though the beneficiaries often don’t know who did it, what they did or how they did it.
There aren’t many of these remarkable hidden heroes. But fortunately, there always seem to be just enough. Members of the federal family lost one of the very best, ever, last week.
William W. Bransford. Bill.
Bill died Friday after a lengthy and difficult illness. He was busy almost up to the end. He actually collapsed at the office while working on a pro-fed project. And he worried about the shutdown’s impact on employees even as he knew he was dying.
Bill was a Vietnam vet. His official list of offices held, and accomplishments, is impressive. Even by Washington standards. He wrote a column, had a radio show and chaired the Federal Dispute Resolution conference, Uncle Sam’s premier HR show, each year. He served on the boards of, or as counsel to the Senior Executives Association, Federal Managers Association, FAAMA. And the Public Employees Roundtable. Name a key group and Bill was probably involved.
His law firm, Shaw, Bransford & Roth, started and specialized in federal employment law more than 30 years ago. That was back before most people knew there was such a thing. Jerry Shaw, who founded the firm and is now retired, said, “Bill was a great lawyer, a great man and a great friend. I will miss him.”
Back in the day, federal workers were easy targets for their political bosses. Civil servants, especially in the intelligence agencies, were easy targets. They often jerked around without cause, or tossed under the bus to take the heat off one of their political masters. The firm’s success in helping clients fired a shot across management’s bow. What they did helped everybody in government today.
Most of the attention on Bill’s life has been focused on the jobs he had, the successes he had. Rightly so. Up to a point.
But a lot of us wonder why he did it, and how he did it so well? When people who knew him well talk about Bill they invariably used the word “passionate.” About his work. About people like you.
Unlike a lot of people who come to Washington to make their mark, Bill grew up here. And I think that, and his personality, made the difference. Lots of famous people and wanna be saviors talk about “the little people” even as they do their best to keep those abstract creatures at bay. Bill knew them as real people.
The feds Bill knew and grew up with were neighbors. They were friends of the family, relatives and parents of friends. Not statistics or faceless bureaucrats. They were secretaries, not Cabinet Secretaries. The Senators and big wheels came later. But he never forgot that the average civil servant does not have a fancy office, custom-made suits, or a limo with armed guards. Or a 6-figure salary.
Following the first round of furloughs, Bill, with all his medical problems, worried about other people: Feds who lost part of their pay. He wondered how they would cover their bills, make the rent and have school lunch money for their kids.
All of the above, and more, while lobbying on Capitol Hill and with the administration to push bills and plans that would benefit the federal workfoce as, equally important, to block those that would hurt feds.
So Bill, typically, did something about it. Bill and his family — with personal life and death decisions to make — looked ahead to the shutdown. They’ve asked that friends and admirers, instead of sending flowers, make a contribution to the Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund. FEEA went bust temporarily, making interest free loans to federal workers slammed by the sequestration-triggered furloughs at the IRS, Defense, HUD, EPA and other agencies.
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