One of the unsung heroes at the Project On Government Oversight was recognized this week for his years of working behind the scenes on issues that have saved billions in taxpayer dollars, kept the public safer and healthier and made the federal government more accountable to its citizens. On Wednesday, the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen awarded its 10th annual Phyllis McCarthy Public Interest Award to POGO's Chief Operating Officer Keith Rutter.
While others at POGO have often received the accolades, much of the organization's accomplishments wouldn't have been possible without Rutter's work. Rutter literally single-handedly kept the organization from folding in the early 1990s.
“Keith was the only remaining employee, but he believed so strongly in the mission that he hung on, reaching out to board members to help save the organization," POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said. "He always puts the organization’s best interests first – his motto is, ‘There’s no ‘I’ in POGO!”
In accepting the award, Rutter (in typical fashion) downplayed his own contributions and spread the credit around to the POGO staff, including his wife, Pam, the organization's web manager and chief photographer. He also gave a touching tribute to the late Beth Daley, a POGO staffer who passed away in 2010 after a long fight with breast cancer.
The Public Citizen award, which honors the late managing editor of the organization's Health Research Group, recognizes individuals who have "worked behind the scenes for a public interest group, performing critical functions as did McCarthy, but who have not received public credit commensurate with their contributions." McCarthy, a 24-year Public Citizen employee, died in November 2002. Rutter noted that POGO had similarly honored Daley by creating a fellowship in her name.
It seemed fitting, Rutter said, to donate the $2,000 check he received from Public Citizen to POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fund Fellowship -- thus honoring the legacy of both women by providing an opportunity for a young person to begin a public interest career.
"I really believe the world is a better place because of the good work that groups such as POGO and Public Citizen do, and I truly believe it's critical that we keep this work alive by encouraging young people to enter the field of nonprofit advocacy," Rutter said.
Rutter started his career at POGO in 1989 when the organization was known as the Project on Military Procurement. While the Department of Defense is still a focus of POGO's work, the organization has expanded its investigations to areas such as financial reform, nuclear safety and public health, among others.
Brian said she's happy that Rutter found himself in the spotlight for a change.
“Keith is the heart and soul of POGO, but his central role and years of devotion to the organization (as well as his love of bad jokes) have always been behind the scenes,” Brian said. “The Phyllis McCarthy Award allows us all to publicly thank him for all his has done and accomplished.”
All photos by Joe Newman.