Former NAD regional programs director receives Army’s highest civilian award

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division
Published Jan. 12, 2023
Two men in Army uniforms stand on either side of a woman being handed an award.

55th Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, (left) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Command Sgt. Maj. Patrickson Toussaint (right) are pictured with Karen Baker, former North Atlantic Division regional programs director and current chief of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Office of Renewable Energy Programs, as she is awarded the Department of the Army Distinguished Civilian Service Award on behalf of the Secretary of the Army.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Distinguished Civilian Service Award is the Department of the Army’s highest award bestowed upon Army civilians. On behalf of the Secretary of the Army, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the honor to Karen Baker, former North Atlantic Division regional programs director and member of the Senior Executive Service, during USACE’s annual awards ceremony held Jan. 11 in Washington, D.C.

“Individuals presented this prestigious award are among a select group of civil servants whose unmatched efforts exemplify the Army Values and help us achieve our critical missions at home and abroad,” said the Honorable Christine Wormuth, Secretary of the Army. “I commend Karen Baker for her leadership at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and for stewarding projects that advance the nation’s security and resiliency, as well as providing the immediate assistance needed to support Ukraine last year.”

The award recognizes Baker’s contributions during her tenure at NAD from April 2019 to May 2022. In that time, Baker executed a $6 billion portfolio, one of the largest and most complex in USACE, reflecting 30 percent of USACE’s military construction, 20 percent of its civil works projects, and 25 percent of its nationwide environmental program.

“Through her expert leadership and commitment to our mission, she helped transform the North Atlantic Division’s capabilities to deliver critical programs across four continents,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, USACE commander. “With her support and guidance, we were able to more effectively deliver projects that improved our infrastructure and resilience throughout the northeast coast of the United States, while strengthening our Army and deepening our partnerships around the globe.”

When Baker arrived at NAD, the role hadn’t been occupied permanently for more than two years. Immediately she spearheaded an effort to cut down a backlog of studies, eventually moving 12 to authorization to clear the path for these critical coastal resiliency projects in the Northeast. She also worked tirelessly to reestablish key relationships with state and federal agencies, as well as Congressional offices and organizations representing regional interests, such as river basin commissions and watershed partnerships.

Baker, now the chief of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Office of Renewable Energy Programs, said of her time at NAD, “While I’m honored to be receiving this award, it truly belongs to my 3,500 teammates from the North Atlantic Division headquarters and its six districts. Each of three years I served as programs director, they not only delivered our annual portfolio, but they took on unexpected contingency operations, to include building alternate care facilities during the COVID pandemic, responding to record flooding, leading the interagency support for Operation Allied Welcome, and assisting U.S. European Command in its support to Ukraine. They are amazingly resilient and dedicated people who are so used to delivering the impossible every day, it seems unremarkable to them. It was an extraordinary privilege to serve with them.”

Before Baker transitioned to her new role at BOEM, she interfaced with the agency to broker the current partnership between BOEM and USACE. The two are collaborating to increase renewable energy production in offshore waters and to help the Biden Administration meet its commitment to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. Baker noted she is greatly satisfied to be able to continue this partnership as it develops and broadens.

Among Baker’s other accomplishments, she managed completion of final projects related to Hurricane Sandy, enabling construction awards for high-visibility contracts such as the $1.7 billion Fire Island to Montauk Point flood risk management project in New York state.

She distinguished herself at the height of the COVID pandemic by overseeing the execution of more than 240 assessments of potential alternate care facility sites in the Northeast and facilitating coordination meetings between FEMA, members of Congress and key stakeholders in the federal response.

As a member of the NAD leadership team, Baker directly engaged with employees and promoted a positive professional culture by soliciting feedback that informed the command’s action plan. For two consecutive years, the organization scored greater than 80 percent in workplace satisfaction on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

“Though I arrived just about the time Ms. Baker was heading out, her reputation has left a lasting legacy here at the North Atlantic Division,” said Col. John Lloyd, NAD commander and division engineer. “It wasn’t just that she moved the dial on so many important projects, it was that by all accounts she was an impactful leader who could be depended on to get the job done. This award is greatly deserved.”

Baker also served as the SES champion to NAD’s Army Women’s Leadership Forum, where she actively sought female leaders to develop topics of interest to the workforce across the division and its districts. Baker noted, given her active engagement in fostering professional advancement for women, it was a special honor to receive this award on behalf of the first female Secretary of the Army.