As a seasoned executive who began my federal government career as a Division Assistant Chief (then Division Chief) with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Board of Veterans Appeals, and who has been a GS-15 since 2005, I find it extremely important to hold departments and agencies accountable for delivering their respective products and services in accordance with federal policy and overarching national objectives. As the Chief of Policy, Planning and Program Development with the Department of State (DOS) from 2006 until 2008, I oversaw a broad range of Human Resources (HR) policies and initiatives while collaborating with approximately 40 senior managers and 250 HR specialists in an environment that was highly resistant to change.
The DOS’ hiring timeline was 203 days, and I was given 6 months to implement the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) End-to-End (E2E) 80-day hiring model and comply with an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) mandate to reform government hiring across DOS. I was fully accountable to the Deputy Under Secretary, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and OPM. Likewise, I was committed to providing world-class service to our 20,000 customers, including employees, foreign service officers, political appointees, and senior executives.
To accomplish this strategic and herculean task, I partnered with key members of the DOS HR community to build support and promote a sense of ownership in the overall hiring reform process. Concurrently, I organized several focus sessions and led development of an “as-is” current hiring model, including mapping of each step of the process to identify potential barriers along with methods to overcome each. For example, I believed that security clearance requirements were creating unnecessary delays in the hiring process. Even if an applicant was considered highly qualified, he/she had to wait 67 days for the security clearance to be processed before being hired. We were losing numerous qualified candidates, and the 67 days counted against our hiring timeline. My reasoning was that since 95% of all DOS positions required a Top Secret clearance, why not hire applicants based on their qualifications and an interim security clearance, when possible?
This approach would increase the number of highly qualified hires, since we would not miss out on hiring these individuals due to security clearance processing. If the clearance was not approved, then the individual could be terminated. The end result is the same: a workforce of highly trained personnel, most of whom possess Top Secret clearance. By excluding this particular requirement on the front end of the current hiring model, we could instantly reduce our hiring timeline by 67 days. I gained support from the HR community, the Intelligence Community (IC), the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and the Director of Civil Service HR to advocate this issue. During the focus sessions, I clearly explained the issue and my proposal with visual representations of the hiring timelines. I persuaded OPM to permit DOS to exclude the security clearance process from the hiring model. Implementation of this change alone reduced overall processing times throughout the HR community.
Utilizing my vast knowledge of HR systems and processes, and based on the results of the focus sessions, I also directed the elimination of several duplicate processes. I partnered with stakeholders, classifiers, and systems developers to create a position description library used for all standard vacancy announcements, further reducing processing time. I directed that we refine the language used in the announcements to make them more user-friendly to applicants and that we implement an electronic four-point notice system to meet OMB’s four-point notice requirement, and achieve additional time savings in the process.
My actions and changes created impactful results. DOS reduced its hiring processing times from an average of 203 days to 80 days, meeting both OMB and OPM requirements. Further, I positioned DOS for continued success by simultaneously enhancing accountability and customer service. HR specialists began to be held accountable for meeting specific deadlines for each step of the hiring process. HR managers were permitted to make effective hiring decisions to meet organizational needs, and we refined policies to improve overall performance. For effectively meeting the OPM hiring reform while addressing the department’s strategic goal of providing timely recruitment actions, I received an “outstanding” evaluation and informal recognition from the IG Office for the support I provided to his team.
Prior to this position, I served as the Associate Director of Administration with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) from 2005 until 2007. When I arrived, the agency did not have a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) and was not prepared to respond to a natural or manmade disaster. I viewed this as a major deficit in terms of meeting organizational goals, and immediately set out to create a COOP and improve the agency’s level of preparedness. I was accountable to the Deputy Director of Administration and the Director of OGE to develop a viable COOP, and I felt strongly that an organization such as OGE with a public service responsibility must be highly responsive to customer needs, even in the event of a disaster.
Recognizing employee vulnerabilities in a post-9/11 environment, I immediately began assessing the agency’s program weaknesses and benchmarked various COOP plans of both state and federal agencies to determine viable options for the OGE. Next, I surveyed managers, supervisors, and employees to determine their knowledge of emergency preparedness to focus my efforts on meeting their needs while developing the COOP. I then assembled a team of professional and administrative support members to lead the development of a customer-centered COOP strategy that was inclusive, responsive, and added value to the agency. Right around this time, the Administrative Officer went on maternity leave. She was one of the most respected leaders in the organization, and team members who were loyal to her suddenly lost interest in the initiative.
I overcame this challenge by delegating tasks, promoting inclusion, and driving progress and momentum toward our common goal. Specifically, I led the team in identifying the agency’s Primary Essential and Mission Essential Functions, identifying essential personnel, determining proper delegations of authority, and creating a chain of succession. We then documented the entire process to establish a historical record and a foundation for the COOP. I also identified an offsite secure location for essential senior officials and a computer backup system for vital records (technical credibility). Additionally, I improved OGE’s readiness by advocating for and leading the agency’s first-ever participation in the Eagle Horizon exercise to test and validate the new COOP. In the past, OGE had not been required to participate in Eagle Horizon, which is an annual government-wide exercise designed to test agencies’ ability to respond and reconstruct in the event of a natural disaster. To ensure OGE’s future readiness, I sought and received approval and commitment from the Director of OGE to participate in the ongoing national preparedness training; OGE is now a regular participant in such COOP exercises.
Within 45 days, I trained evaluators, gained buy-in, and implemented the newly developed COOP. As a direct result of my ability to identify, gain support for, and address this complex, strategic issue, OGE now has a functioning COOP in place that permits the agency to continue its defined essential functions in the event of any disruption of services. Additionally, all employees are now prepared to respond to any natural or manmade disasters. As a testament to its effectiveness, OGE’s COOP has been used as a model for other agencies. I received a Certificate of Appreciation award from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and OGE for my involvement and leadership in the Eagle Horizon exercise.ECQ Examples