U.S. government agencies in spotlight this week

Joint Base Charleston, home to the C-17 Globemaster, and other federal defense facilities have an $8.8 billion annual economic impact on the region.

The federal government usually operates in the background of people’s everyday lives, coming to the forefront only when there’s a problem.

This week, nearly two dozen federal agencies with locations in the Charleston region will take part in an event geared toward bringing attention to the way they improve lives, provide protection, contribute to the economy and give back to the community.

The Federal Agencies Informational Exhibition — to be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Square on Concord Street — is an offshoot of Public Service Recognition Week, which begins today.

The week typically involves handing out distinguished service awards to government employees and rarely draws much notice from the general public.

Glenn Jeffries, chief of corporate communications for the Charleston office of the Army Corps of Engineers, was looking for a way to change that. She wanted a more interactive event where the public could meet government workers and ask questions, see and touch equipment, and learn about new programs and how the agencies operate.

Jeffries, who is organizing this year’s exhibition, was familiar with a similar event held in New Orleans that draws crowds every year to a shopping mall filled with booths and table displays representing that city’s federal agencies. She decided a similar event would be popular in Charleston, which has a long history with the federal government.

“This is the first time federal agencies in the tri-county area have come together in a joint outreach event,” Jeffries said of the exhibition, which will be held on federal property where the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center is located. Parking is available at an adjacent lot and Jeffries said she hopes the high-visibility site will attract the tourists and locals visiting Charleston’s Historic District that day.

“The government workforce keeps us safe, cares for our citizens and veterans, protects our borders, defends our nation and repairs aging infrastructure,” Jeffries said. “Together they make our community stronger and enrich our lives. This event will illustrate the many ways the federal workforce serves the community and helps make life in the Lowcountry better.”

There are nearly 10,000 federal government employees in the tri-county region, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and another 13,500 federal retirees live in the Charleston region. Defense workers make up the bulk of the Charleston region’s federal employees, at more than half. The Department of Veterans Affairs has nearly 2,100 workers and the Postal Service has a little more than 1,000.

Thursday’s event will begin with a “State of the Region: Military” breakfast hosted by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Musuem in Mount Pleasant. The breakfast, which is open only to chamber members, will feature an update on Joint Base Charleston and the region’s military facilities — which have an $8.8 billion annual economic impact on this area — as well as honor service men and women for their contributions. The speaker will be Major Gen. Kurt Neubauer, chief of safety for the Air Force and commander of the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.

Another highlight will be the debut of the Postal Service’s new stamps showing vintage circus posters, which will be released Tuesday and on display at Thursday’s Liberty Square exhibition. The Postal Service also will display a new stamp honoring poet Maya Angelou.

Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber, and Capt. Marvin Jones, the Navy’s commanding officer at the Naval Health Clinic in Charleston, will be keynote speakers at the exhibition. Several agencies also will display equipment at the event, such as an explosive ordnance robot, a drone, fire gear that visitors can try on, a model of a Maersk Line containership made of more than 1,500 Lego pieces, a 34-foot Coast Guard boat and a Homeland Security detainee transport van.

“There are a lot of things that people don’t know about the federal government,” Jeffries said. “This is a chance to find out what the Army Corps of Engineers does, or what SPAWAR is or if they have a question about Social Security they can get help.”

And the public can see how federal employees help through charitable donations that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, local federal employees have donated nearly 34,000 meals through the Lowcountry Food Bank and last year gave $1.3 million to 1,427 charities.

Sean McBride, a public affairs specialist with the Army Corps, said federal employees locally also donated 1,470 pints of blood last year and have given more than 9,300 pints since 2009.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_