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SERVING AFTER SERVING: WORKING FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
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SERVING ONE’S COUNTRY DOESN’T HAVE TO END WITH ONE’S MILITARY DISCHARGE. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OFFERS MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR NOT JUST CONTINUING SERVICE, BUT FOR KEEPING ONE’S FELLOW AMERICANS SAFE, WHETHER IT’S FROM DISEASE, NUCLEAR MISHAP, CONTAMINATED FOOD, UNSOUND BANKING PRACTICES, AND SO ON. HERE ARE SOME OF THE AGENCIES WHERE DISABLED VETERANS CAN CONTINUE TO SERVE, AND SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE SERVING THERE.
FINDING A HOME AT THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER OF THE CURRENCY
BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR, INSTEAD OF FEDERALLY ISSUED CURRENCY, THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF KINDS OF PAPER MONEY. LOCAL BANKS ISSUED THESE CURRENCIES. WITH MORE CURRENCIES THAN ONE COULD METICULOUSLY TRACK, COUNTERFEITING WAS EASY AND EVERYWHERE, THUS CULTIVATING UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE TRUE VALUE OF THE MONEY IN YOUR HAND. TO DELIVER CONSISTENCY AND CERTAINTY, PRESIDENT LINCOLN CREATED THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER OF THE CURRENCY (OCC), WHICH CHARTERS, REGULATES, AND SUPERVISES ALL NATIONAL BANKS AND FEDERAL SAVINGS ASSOCIATIONS. EARL JORDAN, AN OFFICE AUTOMATION ASSISTANT WORKING FOR THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER OF THE CURRENCY IN CHICAGO, IS PROUD TO WORK FOR AN AGENCY FOUNDED BY LINCOLN. HE’S ALSO PROUD TO WORK FOR AN AGENCY THAT JUDGES YOU ON YOUR ABILITY.
“I expected it to be different regarding welcoming my abilities and not prejudging what I can and can’t do,” says Jordan. “People let me prove my abilities here. Everyone with a disability wants that. You just want a chance to prove yourself. The government allows you the opportunity to do just that.”
One of 3,971 employees, Jordan’s duties are varied, and include data entry, answering phones, scheduling appointments, sending and receiving packages, processing mail, and basic customer service. “I also process security requests for visitors, repairs, and general maintenance,” he adds. “I perform quarterly updates on office documents, such as key logs, directories, safety manuals, etc. I also served as speaker/facilitator for our last office’s last two observances of Disability Employment Awareness Day.”
Whatever he’s doing, he delivers with drive, collaboration, and social fluency.
“The OCC seeks people with initiative,” Jordan emphasizes. “You have to take a project from A to Z. You have to have some experience in the bank sector and solid customer service skills. That’s imperative in my job and in this agency. You have to deal with bank professionals and deliver good and bad news in an artful manner. Collaboration is also key. There’s a lot of cross departmental collaboration.”
Jordan didn’t arrive at the OCC with a background in banking, which presented some challenges, lessened by the collegiality of his colleagues.
“I’ve been here a year and a half,” he says. “My background is not in banking, but my coworkers made me feel really welcome and not less than adequate if I have a question. One of my most challenging moments in my career was my first few months working here. It was learn by fire. I’m a psychology major working in banking. That was real scary, coming from a social services background. I focused on soaking up everything that I could. I tried to do this every day. I was a sponge. When you put a sponge in water, not all the water will be soaked up, so you wring yourself out and go back to absorbing. Stay diligent and don’t get discouraged. People are happy to help you. They don’t believe I burden them with what I don’t know, but rather want to help.”
In addition to fine colleagues, the benefits are also great. There is a flexible spending account, savings for retirement, and flex days which give Jordan every other Monday off by working nine hour days.
However, the greatest benefit might be working at an agency that enables Jordan to achieve his potential. “I had a spinal cord injury at the L4 and T12 levels,” he explains. “It’s congenital. I’ve been in this situation my whole life, so there was never an adjustment period. I’m in a wheelchair and have full use of my arms. I don’t require much in the way of accommodations. When I was first hired, they were first offered to me. Any accommodation was available, so I didn’t feel apprehensive about making any request. I feel that I mattered and matter.”
Jordan encourages other people with disabilities to consider thriving at the OCC.
“I fully encourage any person with a disability to explore a career with the OCC, from our work environment to the opportunities to grow. Build your skill set up and join us.”
DIVERSITY RULES AT THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE
CAROLYN TAYLOR IS THE CHIEF HUMAN CAPITAL OFFICER FOR A PART OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THAT MIGHT BE UNFAMILIAR TO MANY CITIZENS: THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE (GAO). THE 2,900 EMPLOYEES OF GAO ARE THE FRUGALITY FACTOR IN GOVERNMENT. THE OFFICE IS OFTEN CALLED THE “CONGRESSIONAL WATCHDOG,” AS STAFF IN - VESTIGATES HOW THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SPENDS TAXPAYER DOLLARS. THEIR OBJECTIVE, FACT-BASED, NONPARTISAN, NON-IDEOLOGICAL, FAIR, AND BALANCED REPORTS HELP IMPROVE THE PERFORMANCE AND ENSURE THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
GAO is itself a high performing agency, ranking 3rd overall last year among mid-size agencies and 2nd in 2012. Most to the point, it ranked number one in support of diversity.
Diversity is Taylor’s forte.
“As the human capital officer, I am responsible for helping to insure the GAO has a diverse workforce with the skills and talent needed to support the mission,” she says. “We have focused on recruiting people with disabilities and work on keeping them here. We have participated at various job fairs for people with disabilities and have been emphasizing how we need a diverse workforce. We employ a multi-pronged approach, with commitment from the top, training opportunities, and various programs throughout the year. We are committed to diversity and welcome all people with disabilities.”
That commitment has worked.
“About 8% of our recent hires have been people with disabilities,” Taylor says. “Our outreach and going the extra mile to welcome people with disabilities is really working.”
To help insure it continues to work, the GAO has Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities. Taylor and her team meet with the group regularly to learn how the GAO can continue to improve the work environment.
Technology has supported GAO’s improvement.
“We have a deaf employee and have provided sign language interpreters, CART, and UbiDuo, which is a small device that’s like two small laptops,” Taylor explains. “There are two halves to the unit, and each person gets onehalf, which enables them to have a same room, typed conversation. This device allows the employee to give realtime, face-to-face responses to questions from managers and other employees and see the non-verbal facial expressions and social cues of the other party—often the most important part of a conversation. He can have chats without calling and arrange for the signer to come. He loves having that device that enables people to just drop by. It made him feel free and able to interact with his colleagues in a casual, spontaneous way.”
The GAO looks for people who are good thinkers, can communicate well, both written and oral, have good analytical skills, and can work well in a team environment. “We need team players because we always do our reviews in teams,” Taylor says. “We realize that everyone comes with their own set of skills and having that rich set of diverse talents really helps the team.”
The GAO is a great organization and place to work, Taylor adds. “I have been at GAO for over 30 years and one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most it is an environment that encourages learning. You continually learn here and that’s supported and encouraged here. It’s a very welcoming here. Lots of people-friendly, work/life balance structures are in place here.”
MAINTAINING DIVERSITY COMPLIANCE AT U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
THERE AS A TIME WHEN HUCKSTERS WERE FREE TO PUT SOME REAL KICK IN POTIONS LIKE “KICK-A-POO INDIAN SAGWA.” BUT THAT KICK, WHICH INCLUDED DRUGS LIKE OPIUM, MORPHINE, HEROIN, AND COCAINE, MAKE TONICS LIKE “WARNER’S SAFE CURE FOR DIABETES” ANYTHING BUT SAFE. COCAINE WAS EVEN FOUND IN COCA-COLA AND ARSENIC WAS SPRAYED ON THE FOODS THAT OUR ANCESTORS ATE. THUS, THE FOOD AND DRUGADMINISTRATION (FDA) WAS FORMED.
Rita L. Harrison, IT specialist/FDA 508 coordinator, lead, FDA Section 508 Web Task Force and chairperson, FDA Advisory Committee for Employees with Disabilities (ACED), explains: “The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.”
As the FDA monitors our food, Harrison monitors disability compliance.
“I work to ensure Section 508 compliance and accessibility for equal access to all of our employees and consumers, as well as continuing to improve the workplace for all employees through awareness and education of the talent our employees with disabilities bring to the table and what the value and contribution of an inclusive workforce brings to the mission of FDA,” Harrison says.
One of 14,648 employees, Harrison’s notion of diversity is inclusive.
“In our context, ‘diversity’ relates to human qualities different from our own and those of groups with which we normally identify ourselves; and yet which can be seen in other individuals and groups,” she says. “Aspects of diversity may include such qualities as: race, sexual orientation, educational background, age, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience, and organizational position and level.”
Harrison’s encompassing framing of diversity serves the FDA’s rich workforce.
“In the workplace, appreciating diversity means developing an environment that respects and includes differences, recognizing the unique contributions that individuals with many types of backgrounds, capabilities, and perspectives can make, which is what we strive for at FDA,” she says. “It just makes sense, to create a workplace that provides the opportunity for all employees to reach their greatest potential.”
Harrison personally understands the power and necessity of reasonable accommodation.
“There have been so many times in my life, when I had to take a step back and figure out how to re-adjust the way in which to do so many different things, on both a professional and personal level,” Harrison remarks. “I was born with an eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). I’ve always had poor vision and as I continued to lose my vision, I’m always trying to figure out better ways in which to do my work using different types of assistive and adaptive technologies. All of my managers and supervisors from the top down and my co-workers believe in my abilities and encourage me to continue to grow. I’ve never worked with such welcoming and positive people as I do now and consider myself very blessed. One of the last huge hurdles I faced was in 2001, when I was going through chemotherapy and lost the majority of my vision. I woke up one day and could no longer read print. I learned how to read Braille, received a guide dog, and learned how to perform my work using only speech on a PC. This was right at the time Section 508 came into play and they say, when one door closes, another door opens. I believe this was the case and what I was destined to do with my life.”
And what Harrison has done with her life is to open doors for so many others at the FDA.
“Within the last several years, I’ve been afforded so many opportunities to assist in the effort of making positive changes, through my work in the 508 arena and the work of the ACED, which is an advisory committee chartered by the FDA Commissioner, that I’ve been proud to lead for my third term. None of this could have happened without the support of management from the top and the fact they believe in me and what I can bring to the table.”
MAKING GREAT STRIDES AT THE U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
ALICIA MULLINS, AN IT/IM SPECIALIST AT THE U.S. NU CLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION (NRC) HEADQUARTERS IN ROCKVILLE, MD, EXPLAINS THE WORK OF HER AGENCY USING WORDS FAMILIAR TO ALL VETERANS: DEFENSE, SECURITY, AND PROTECT: “THE NRC LICENSES AND REGULATES THE NATION’S CIVILIAN USE OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY, PROMOTE THE COMMON DEFENSE AND SECURITY, AND PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT.”
Mullins is one of approximately 4,000 employees in five primary locations in the United States. As an agency IT/IM Specialist in the area of records management, she evaluates IT processes and records requirements for agency-wide information management and infrastructure planning, develops agency-wide electronic information and record-keeping systems, and assesses agency-wide information management and infrastructure operations.
“I love working for NRC as it promotes diversity in gender, ethnicity, education, occupation, disability, and age,” Mullins says. “The agency has eight Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Committees to assist agency management in accomplishing diversity objectives. I am the founder of the Advisory Committee for Employees with Disabilities, which celebrated its fifth anniversary May 2014. Since my arrival at the NRC in October 2001, great strides have been made in providing reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. I’m proud and fortunate to be working with such a diverse workforce on a daily basis.”
Mullins disability as a deaf individual has been with her since birth, she notes. The NRC has enabled her to pursue her career interests through rotations, internal and external training, and on-the-job experiences by providing reasonable accommodations in the form of American Sign Language Interpreters, a CapTel phone, and a videophone. “As an employee who is deaf, I have difficulty following conversations when the discussion involves more than three individuals,” she explains. “To overcome that difficulty throughout my career, I have given presentations from large to small audiences on how to communicate with deaf employees. I make my presentations humorous and interesting to engage the employees in feeling comfortable to ask more questions. When I began working for the NRC, I continued with my presentations and provided American Sign Language (ASL) classes during lunchtime. NRC now has ongoing beginning and advanced ASL classes for employees at our Professional Development Center.
The agency has also encouraged me to become a University Champion of Gallaudet University and participate in various recruitment events.”
The NRC believes that as it empowers its diverse workforce, its diverse workforce empowers the NRC’s mission.
“There is a positive attitude among employees and managers because of we have such a diverse workforce that enables employees to contribute their view on various topics,” says Mullins. “NRC has employees with diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, cultural and disabilities who enhance our workforce by using their experiences to contribute in making sound decisions that affect the agency.”
If you are interested in working at the NRC, Mullins offers some advice.
“The NRC seeks individuals who are bright and motivated in seeking to make a difference every day, in protecting people and the environment,” Mullins says. “We are interested in employing individuals who think outside-the-box for solutions and are willing to work in an open, collaborative work environment.”
To that end, she urges you to become her colleague.
“Any disabled individual would be missing out on a lifetime opportunity by not applying to any of our vacancy announcements,” Mullins states. “NRC cares about employees as an individual who brings their best knowledge and skills to the table regardless of their disability.”
SERVING THE WORKFORCE AT THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
DARLO KOLDENHOVEN, WHO IS THE DISABILITY PROGRAM MANAGER IN THE OFFICE OF EQUAL EMPLOYMENT AT THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (CDC), EMPHASIZES “THE” IN DESCRIBING HIS AGENCY, SAYING; “THE CDC IS THE WORLD CLASS PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE ORGANIZATION. IT WORKS 24/7 SAVING LIVES, PROTECTING PEOPLE FROM HEALTH THREATS, AND SAVING MONEY THROUGH PREVENTION. WHETHER THESE THREATS ARE GLOBAL OR DOMESTIC, CHRONIC OR ACUTE, CURABLE OR PREVENTABLE, NATURAL DISASTER, OR DELIBERATE ATTACK, THE CDC IS THE NATION’S HEALTH PROTECTION AGENCY.”
Even though its mission is medical, there are myriad, non-medical opportunities at the CDC.
“You do not have to have a medical background to work here,” Koldenhoven emphasizes. “There is so much support of medical personnel that makes it work. There are program analysts, statisticians, engineers, media people who get our story out, programmers, and so on.”
With 8,866 permanent, full-time employees, plus additional contractors and temporary employees, Koldenhoven believes that world class curiosity and intellect serve the CDC’s workforce.
“You have to be motivated to explore,” he says. “You can’t be reserved about exploration. I ask scientists, ‘How’d you get into this?’ They all have stories of being curious as children, about wondering why the world works the way it does. Why things happen is what drives us. We have a museum here that talks about our ultra-secure labs. There are six people qualified to go into those labs and the director is not one of them. You have to be the cognitive equivalent of an elite athlete. You have to have world-class curiosity and the right stuff. Six people are qualified to go into that lab, but nearly 9,000 people support them.”
Koldenhoven’s specialty is serving curious, brainy, disabled candidates and employees.
“I am an EEO (equal employment opportunity) specialist,” he explains. “I came here to specifically to work with individuals with disabilities. Any federal job is great for people with disabilities to aspire to, but an interest in public health and science makes this the most exciting place to be. This is your Olympic gold medal if you are curious. You are expected to bring something here. Aspire at the least to finish your career here. It’s not that you can’t start your career here, but you are expected to add something and you’ll have to grow. The CDC doesn’t stand still. If we’re not doing anthrax, we’re doing Ebola.”
Koldenhoven’s been highly successful in developing an ever more diverse workforce at the CDC.
“In our last hiring cycle, which hasn’t had the numbers that earlier cycles have had due to budgetary restraints, the CDC hired 90 new staff and 17 have been persons with disabilities. That’s 18.9%. We’re proud about that. We do not discriminate, but we can be preferential for a person with a disability. The federal government’s Schedule 8 hiring program enables this. If a person’s doctor writes him a letter delineating his disability, that can help secure a position.”
Once hired, Koldenhoven continues to support disabled colleagues.
“We have an individual employed here who was thinking of retiring due to hearing issues,” he remarks. “This person had issues hearing in meetings due to a lifetime of hearing loss. ‘Why do you want to retire?’ I said, ‘Do we have a deal for you!’ That ‘deal’ was CART, communication assistance real time translation. We order up the CART service for the meetings. We pay for the CART technician. The machine looks very much like what a court reporter would use. What appears on the screen looks very much like the closed captioning that you see on your TV. The person didn’t have to retire and felt like her life was back. She said, ‘I was ready to retire.’ She was crying and those were tears of joy. She was able to retire on her terms.”
If you’re considering joining the ranks of the curious who protect our nation, Koldenhoven reiterates that there are numerous opportunities.
“Again, you do not have to be in the medical field to support public health,” he says. “We have a lot of people here who don’t have medical backgrounds. There are so many opportunities here.”
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