Awards & RecognitionIEEE-USA InFocus

Wheeler Receives 2022 IEEE-USA Distinguished Public Service Award

By Paul Lief Rosengren

Kevin Wheeler has received the IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Public Service for her many years of service to the engineering profession, through crafting programs that foster innovation, and for advocating for legislation of importance to IEEE and its members.

“During her many years on the Hill, Kevin Wheeler has been a valued partner for IEEE-USA. She’s a strong advocate for strategic federal government investment in R&D, and for bringing technological innovation successfully to the marketplace,” said IEEE-USA Senior Advisor Government Relations, James Savage.

Wheeler was a lead advisor for the recent reauthorization of the largest federal small business research and development programs — Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). The reauthorization averted a shutdown of these vital small business programs, extending their authority for three more years. SBIR and STTR provide competitive, merit-based awards to small businesses and research institutions with an idea, or a government-funded project, with the potential to develop into government or commercial sector products or services.

Eleven agencies, including the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), participate in the SBIR program; five participate in the STTR program. In total, these awards provide nearly 4,000 U.S. high-tech firms about $4 billion annually to partner with government and research institutions to explore promising technology. Wheeler has been involved in every reauthorization of the SBIR and STTR programs since 1999.

Wheeler explained that these competitive awards went to a wide range of companies. SBIR and STTR awards helped develop the technology that hides condensation trails on jet fighters, and it brought home robots that vacuum (Roomba) and mop (Braava) (these originated as iRobot’s military robots that searched for bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan) to the consumer market. These two programs also helped revolutionize wireless communications — by funding Qualcomm’s earliest semiconductor technology; reduce periodontal disease by engineering Sonicare’s electronic toothbrush; and develop the second generation of Lasik surgery (which had originally been developed to help improve pilot eyesight and prolong fighter pilot careers).

“It can be challenging to authorize and reauthorize important government programs like SBIR and STTR through both chambers of Congress,” said Savage. “Kevin Wheeler is a highly respected expert, in both forming policy and building the needed (and necessary) coalitions to successfully pass legislation into law. It has been a distinct honor and pleasure to work with her over the years, to advance American high-tech innovation.”

Wheeler recently remarked she valued the strong partnership in both directions: “This award from IEEE means a lot to me. I always appreciated IEEE’s strong support for SBIR and STTR legislation — and well as its communication channels with a wide range of Members of Congress. IEEE is well respected by members from both sides of the aisle; viewed as a credible source of unbiased expertise.” She added, “IEEE members were critical advocates for the most recent SBIR reauthorization. I could not have asked for better partners.”

Wheeler has 30 years of experience in the U.S. Senate, the Executive Branch, and the U.S. House of Representatives. She also served as President Biden’s head of congressional affairs for the Small Business Administration. Most of her career, she served as deputy democratic staff director of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, with policy expertise in small business finance, innovation, research and development, budget, and appropriations.

Wheeler is particularly proud of her role in helping craft and pass legislation responding to COVID-19, the 2008 Financial Collapse, and 9/11 — as well as promoting diversity and equity in federal innovation and research and SBA loans.

Wheeler left the Hill in January. She is currently on sabbatical, spending time with family, and evaluating her next career move.

The IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Public Service honors an individual, not currently in the practice of engineering, for contributions in furthering IEEE-USA’s professional goals, by influencing laws or regulations benefiting the profession — publications designed to enhance professionalism, or other similar activities.

To learn more about IEEE-USA awards, visit:


Paul Lief Rosengren

Paul is the coauthor of In the Time of Covid: One Hospital's Struggles and Triumphs. He worked for more than three decades in corporate communications at NBC, PSE&G, BD and in state government. He has a Master’s in Public Policy from The Kennedy School of Government, Harvard; and an undergraduate degree in political science from Dickinson College.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button