Tuesday, April 29, 2008
It is with great sadness that I leave the government. Although I have occasionally had Kafkaesque experiences, the time I have spent in the government has, in large part, been personally and professionally fulfilling. Not to mention my time with the excellent members of YGL. I’m extremely sad that I won’t be around to see my fellow Gen Y’ers will step up to the challenge of reinventing the government during the next administration.
The reinvention of government is not an option, but a necessity. However, it will not be accomplished solely by current feds. To succeed, it must be a collaborative effort by groups and individuals across the country. It will take former feds (like I soon will be), academics, grassroots activists, non-profits, state and local governments, and countless others to force the federal government to flatten its organization and breakdown barriers to progress. Right now some of the most innovative projects in the public sector are taking place at the state and local level. They are partnering with private enterprise and non-profits, exploiting existing opportunities as well as creating their own. They are combating issues like global warming and the housing crisis, occasionally hitting a home run, frequently striking out. But they are trying and innovating, while the federal government often acts like a pitcher on the disabled list.
As the 21st century progresses and Gen Y and Gen X begin to move into positions of influence, the government will not have the luxury of watching from the sidelines. If we fail to act, action won’t fail to be taken. We will be forced to act quickly and decisively, or watch the federal government’s influence diminish and its power for positive change shrink. A void will be left that other stakeholders - state and local governments, non-profits, private enterprise, even foreign countries - will fill, but only the federal government can act with the best interests of the whole nation in mind.
So what can we do to prepare for our inevitable roles as leaders in the federal government over the next few years of our careers? I have a few suggestions:
1. Focus on collaborative efforts
Collaboration will be even more important in the century to come than it is now. Everything is interconnected from environmental issues and urban planning, to homeland security and agriculture. The government will need outside actors (such as academics as I hope to be) to accomplish its goals, not just as regulated entities, but as partners and allies.
2. Be prepared and empowered to act
One of the major factors promoting intractability in the federal government is the constant quest for ‘more data’ or ‘more information.’ While the accurate information is priceless to a decision maker, demanding ‘further study’ is often simply an excuse for delay and inaction. Inaction is safer; the status quo is always comfortable. But neither accomplishes our primary goal of better serving the public. We need to become significantly more comfortable with risk and dismiss the “manufactured uncertainty” that so often plagues our policy debates. “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”
3. Get out more
Compared to previous generations, ours is much more comfortable with change and movement. Take this with a grain of salt if you must from someone leaving the federal government, but we must bring that mindset to reinventing government. The old model of federal employment where people spent 30-40 years at the same agency is no longer viable. Federal employees need rotational opportunities, exchange programs, sometimes even new jobs. To properly collaborate with and even understand our clients, we will need to move in and out of government, to the non-profit, private, and even contracting sectors, to learn the skills we will need to serve the public.
What is needed to reinvent the government is not so much new policies and procedures as it is a new mindset, a new outlook. Many might argue that some of the things I’ve suggested are already being done. Multiple agencies have private sector advisory councils; rotations are available to certain employees, etc. But it’s the difference between embracing change and being forced into it. It’s the difference between being reactive and proactive. A reactive government is no longer viable. We need a proactive, responsive government. To get that, we need an adaptable, knowledgeable workforce that has seen and done more than sit inside a federal building. So, while soon I will no longer be a public servant in fact, I’ll still be one in spirit. Hope to see some of y’all out in the world.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Generating Opportunity by Forgiving Education Debt for Service Act (GO FEDS), H.R. 2363/S.1047
Got student loan debt? If you are the average undergraduate, you probably owe nearly $19,000 for your college education. While some agencies in the federal government currently offer loan repayment, this loan repayment must be included in taxable income. This bill would amend the tax code so that student loan repayments made on behalf of federal civilian employees and active military service members would be deemed non-taxable. That’s a little extra jingle in the pockets of money-strapped recent college graduates that could make the difference between noshing ramen noodles for dinner every night or deluxe dinning at Whole Foods.
The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2007, H.R. 3799
Now, many of you may not be thinking about babies anytime soon…but if you plan on having them anytime in the future, this is an important bill to consider. Under current federal law, there is NO MATERNITY LEAVE POLICY. Instead, employees can use 6-8 weeks of sick leave following the birth of their child. It takes employees 3 years on average to accrue 8 weeks of sick leave. Any additional time the employee wishes to take off has to come from annual or unpaid leave. Originally calling for 8 weeks of paid leave for new mothers (by birth or adoption), the bill was recently halved to 4 weeks out of concerns regarding cost.
United States Public Service Academy, H.R. 1671/S.960
This bill introduced last spring would establish a 5,000-person undergraduate university to attract a new generation of students to civil service employment. The new Academy, likened to the Naval and Air Force academies, would offer students a free education in exchange for at least five years of civil service at the local, state, or federal level. In order to attend, students at the academy would have to be nominated by members of Congress and would be required to study abroad and complete internships in the non-profit or military sector. There has been must dissent as to whether the Academy would be the best way to attract and retain young people, but I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions.
For those of you that remember the BEST Schoolhouse Rock EVER, check out “I’m Just a Bill” on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEJL2Uuv-oQ.
President, Young Government Leaders
Sunday, April 13, 2008
While the Postal Service is different in many ways from your traditional federal departments and agencies, employees have many of the same needs and goals. By bringing together a number of interested and energetic employees and leveraging my involvement in Young Government Leaders, we have now established a group at Headquarters called Emerging Postal Leaders (EPL). The groups are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, the EPL group complements YGL by taking advantage of many of YGL’s activities and creating opportunities to host joint events.
With the wave of federal retirements continuing, agencies will be recruiting large numbers of entry and mid-level professionals to fill the gap and that means great opportunities for YGL. But it also means opportunities for motivated individuals to start professional organizations in their respective agencies. The need is great! And there are already great examples of success such as the State Department’s YPro (the Society of Young Professionals). But I encourage new federal employees to take the initiative and seek out like-minded colleagues interested in learning more about the various parts of your agency and interested in climbing the management ranks. And while you’re at it… encourage your peers and colleagues to attend YGL’s diverse professional, social and community events as we work jointly to attract and keep our Nation’s best and brightest.
Chairman, YGL Strategic Planning Committee
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
While my fellowship experience in the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is coming to a close (graduating this summer!), I will carry with me important life lessons on leadership. In fact, I keep them posted at my desk as daily reminders. They originated from daily observations of federal leaders and mentors that I deeply admire and respect. These extraordinary folks taught me that…
The workplace ought to be the most creative place on the planet;
Everything is an experiment;
Expect the unexpected;
Everyone is invaluable and irreplaceable;
Give people respect when they least expect it and least deserve it;
Playing it safe is risky (never be afraid of change – don't become complacent); but
Maturity does not equal conformity;
Go the extra mile; and
Leadership is an action, not a position or title.
Young feds, what are you learning about leadership? How will you apply those lessons in your life and career? Whether surrounded by good or bad leaders in the workplace, I encourage you to write down your observations on leadership. You'll be surprise by your list, and hopefully inspired and transformed.
Lora L. Allen
Young Government Leaders, Membership Committee Chair, 2007-2008
Presidential Management Fellow, 2006-2008
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Aside from at work, are you challenging yourself in other aspects of your life? You work approximately a 40 hour work week. Well there’s 168 hours in a week and if you deduct sleep, travel and work time, there’s still over 60 hours left in your week. That leaves at least 8 ½ hours a day- that’s enough for a whole other work day! What in the world are you doing with it? Get involved. Do you participate in outside social and/or professional organizations such as YGL, volunteer, or take up special interests or hobbies, etc. Is there somewhere you’d like to be professionally 5-7 years from now? If so, and it’s not in line with what your current job entails, what are you doing to get there? Make yourself more competitive. Want to do communications, but it doesn’t seem to fit into any of the requirements of your current position? Take an advanced writing class, a class in journalism, or look into your local Toastmasters. International work? Expose yourself to different cultures, take a course in Governance, or learn a new language. Be creative, be proactive, and whatever you do, don’t just let life just pass you by.
When you take vacation time from work…take a vacation!!! Don’t just stay home to run errands and work on “home projects”, that’s what the weekends are for. Nothing is worse than burnout, and it can happen even in a job that you ab-so-lute-ly love. When you return to work, you will be refreshed, and may approach your job responsibilities and future goals with a new positive perspective. I prefer to hop on a plane and travel somewhere distant and unknown, but a vacation can be just as simple and effective as taking a relaxing road trip a few states away to a quaint town, getting geared up for the outdoor adventures of picturesque mountains or woods, or the liveliness of an upbeat city that never sleeps. Whatever’s your pleasure, just take your pick and GO.
Save, Save, Save!!!
If you can save, even if only a little, it will make you feel more in control. It can’t be a good feeling to have to live paycheck to paycheck. If you can save a little each check, you can start to build a nest egg. Yes, of course many of us will say “my job doesn’t pay enough”, and unless your up for a promotion, that’s probably not going to change tomorrow. Above all else, you should be happy with what you’ve chosen to do professionally and until you can make the money that makes you comfortable, work with what you’ve got. Try cutting back on some things that aren’t necessities right now. If things are tight, you may want to make some adjustments like consolidating your student loans or putting them into deferment. Contribute to your 401K, most agencies will match up to 5%. That’s free money in addition to your paycheck; don’t let it pass you by. Put forth some effort in trying to save and invest, and you’ll probably find yourself less stressed over what your paycheck looks like today, because you’ll know soon it will look much better.
Strengthen your Network
All of us know about professional networking, but don’t forget about making time to nurture relationships with family and friends. This is a strong network, one that will follow you throughout your life and therefore throughout your careers. Treat this network as an investment in your personal well-being.
We are Young Government Leaders, and when I think of a leader, I think of a person who has a passion for what they do and work hard to be good at it. They work hard by taking initiative, constantly challenging themselves as well as those around them, and they seek to be positive well-rounded individuals, who know the value of nurturing strong networks both professionally and personally. It’s important to have an interest in what you do, and know your limits. Then push yourself beyond your “comfort zone”, and as you blaze your trail to success, remember to encourage and guide those following.
Marissa Pretto, Treasurer
Young Government Leaders