By Lily Whiteman
October 8th, 2012 | Uncategorized
My Sept. 24 column reviewed potential federal contracting opportunities to consider if you start your own business after leaving your federal job. Here are tips I collected from federal contract managers on how to win contracting bids:
- Follow solicitation instructions to the letter, and submit all required documents.
- Discuss solicitations that interest you with your target agency’s contracting officer (CO) before you submit proposals. Also, consult him if you anticipate missing deadlines or if you hit other obstacles while preparing proposals or fulfilling contracts. It is the CO’s job to communicate with vendors; don’t be shy out of the mistaken belief that you will earn a reputation as a pest if you contact him.
- Tailor each proposal. Specify how you will fulfill all solicited requirements. A federal procurement manager advises bidders: “Do the research. If your proposal just yammers on about your company’s history and why it is so great, it will flop.”
- Write your proposal so that it gets to the point quickly and hits readers with your best shot up top. “If you bury your relevant credentials and project plan in fluff, you will dig your own grave,” warns a federal procurement manager.
- Your proposal should answer questions such as: Why should we select your company? What does your company offer that other contractors don’t? If possible, provide concrete examples of your company’s successes that parallel the demands defined in your target solicitation, and describe any previous contracts you have fulfilled.
- Craft your written proposal to be complete and comprehensive. This document is the only record that will count — spoken conversations or handshake agreements are not contracts.
- Don’t communicate with anyone at your target agencies about your pending bids except the appropriate COs. If you violate this rule, you may inadvertently create fatal conflicts of interest.
- Answer appropriate “sources sought” notices — statements of potential interest in a product or service by an agency — posted at www.fedbizopps.gov. You may get your foot in the door and earn an insider advantage that could lead to a small business set-aside or a sole-source contract.
- Work to expand business. Research opportunities with your customers during the fourth quarter of the year, when they may be particularly eager to meet small-business contracting goals before the fiscal year ends.
Resources to help you win federal contracts:
- Most agencies have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which promotes opportunities for small business by publishing forecasts of their procurement needs and by hosting vendor outreach sessions, where businesses market their capabilities and learn about potential procurement opportunities.
- Before attending sessions, research your target organizations and practice your sales pitch. Bring with you marketing materials. Find sessions at www.osdbu.gov.
- The Small Business Administration’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program promotes opportunities for women-owned small businesses. See www.sba.gov.
- SBA offers free mentoring programs that pair small businesses with experienced entrepreneurs. For more information, type mentoring into the search window at www.sba.gov.
- American Express hosts a primer on government contracting at www.openforum.com/governmentcontracting.
- The Defense Department’s Procurement Technical Assistance Centers help businesses market products and services to federal, state and local government agencies. For more information, see www.dla.mil/smallbusiness/pages/ptap.aspx. For information on DoD contracting opportunities, see www.defense.gov/landing/contract_resources.aspx and www.acq.osd.mil/osbp.
- The Procurement Technical Assistance Program provides help to businesses at little or no cost as they seek government contracts. See www.aptac-us.org/new.
- The National Association of Government Contractors offers leads on government contracts and potential teaming partners, contract review services, proposal writing services, training and publications. See www.nagc.com.
September 24th, 2012 | Uncategorized
Do you have an itch to switch to the private sector — either because government does not suit you or because you want to keep working during your federal retirement? If so, check out the federal contracting world.
If you would like to work for a federal contractor, click here. This new website, the brainchild of a former Pentagon personnel official, is designed to help connect job hunters who have federal experience with contractors who want to hire it. Although businesses must pay to post openings on the site, job hunters use the site for free.
Perhaps you would like to be self-employed during your federal retirement because you yearn to be your own boss or because you suspect that your employment prospects will be limited by age discrimination. If so, consider starting your own business — and aiming to land federal contracts.
Threats of sequestration and other budget cuts aside, the federal government is the world’s biggest buyer. Purchases by military and civilian installations total almost $600 billion annually and include products ranging from office supplies to military jets and services ranging from janitorial to multimedia. In short, the government is a major buyer of just about every type of product and service for sale. In addition, the government poses virtually no credit risk and usually pays invoices within 30 days.
Some contracting basics: Most federal purchases worth $3,000 to $150,000 are automatically reserved or set aside for small businesses. Federal purchases worth more than $150,000 are also to be set aside for small business when bids can probably be obtained from at least two responsible small businesses and the contract can be awarded at a fair market price.
In addition, Congress requires 23 percent of federal contracting dollars to be awarded to small businesses. And targeted subgoals are established within this 23 percent: 5 percent for woman-owned small businesses; 5 percent small, disadvantaged businesses; 3 percent for businesses in historically underutilized business zones, known as HUBZones; and 3 percent for service disabled veteran-owned small businesses. Unfortunately, goals are not always met.
Most federal agencies have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which is dedicated to helping small businesses land federal contracts. You may obtain contracting advice from agency OSDBU specialists listed when you click here. The General Services Administration and the Small Business Administration also provide in-person trainings throughout the U.S. and online trainings to help small businesses land federal contracts.
There are many ways for businesses to contract with the government. For example, a business may contract with a single agency. Solicitations for most federal contracts worth more than $25,000 are posted on this website.
Alternatively, a business may land a GSA schedule contract. These long-term, government-wide contracts account for approximately $40 billion a year, or 7 percent of federal procurement spending.
GSA provides online and in-person resources on how to apply for its schedules contracts. In addition, a cottage industry of consultants is devoted to guiding businesses into GSA schedules.
Another option: Businesses may subcontract with federal contractors. By doing so, they avoid the federal bidding process, gain valuable contracting experience and may get their foot in the federal door. The federal government promotes subcontracting by encouraging businesses that win federal contracts larger than $650,000 to subcontract to small, minority- and woman-owned businesses.
In addition, GSA posts subcontracting opportunities on fedbizopps.gov, and SBA promotes business matchmaking events that help small businesses create relationships with federal contractors.
A caveat: If you’re a fed seeking a private-sector job or contracts, consult your agency’s ethics attorney for any “revolving door” restrictions that apply to you. Most restrictions apply to political appointees, senior federal officials and federal procurement professionals.
September 10th, 2012 | Uncategorized
Hiring managers generally are more likely to hire you if they see tangible evidence of your skills rather than if they just read about them in your résumé or hear them described.
Consider accommodating this “seeing is believing” principle into your networking strategy. A case in point: I know a computer mapping specialist who cold-called an Environmental Protection Agency manager to discuss a computer mapping issue that was relevant to both of them. Then, after the specialist kicked off a job search several months later, he again called the EPA manager to tell him how his innovative computer mapping strategy might be useful to EPA. That phone conversation led to a presentation by the mapping expert before the manager, and ultimately to an EPA job.
Also, consider accommodating the “seeing is believing” principle into job interviews by providing to interviewers a “success portfolio” — a collection of materials that validate your skills and reputation.
Package your portfolio in an easy-to-skim folder that has pockets or a binder with dividers. Your portfolio should include copies of your well-formatted resume (instead of your hard-to-read, format-less USAJOBS résumé) and your business card.
Your portfolio may also include:
- Writing samples, such as reports, articles, newsletters, press releases, press clips or print-outs of presentations that you produced or that cover your projects.
- Programs from events you organized or conferences that featured your presentations.
- Explanatory maps, charts and photos.
- Positive annual evaluations; praising emails from managers or clients; evaluations from trainings or other events you organized; and copies of awards you earned.
- Relevant academic papers and transcripts.
- Your reference list and perhaps a written recommendation from a reference.
- Samples of your online and video work products via print-outs of relevant screen shots and files on a CD, DVD or thumb drive; a list of websites that feature your work; a self-created online portfolio (password protected, if you prefer); or an iPad presentation.
For example, I recently coached a social media expert who bookmarked on her iPad her relevant reader-friendly online contributions to social media sites, and then showed them to her interviewers during her job interview. The result: She got the job. Her interviewers later told me that the iPad presentation together with the applicant’s smiling, engaging manner vaulted her ahead of her competitors, some of whom were more technically qualified for the job.
If you plan to present an online portfolio during an interview, confirm in advance that you will have an Internet connection. And even if you are assured of such a connection, arrive equipped with a backup plan if unexpected snags kill your connection or if your hardware or software malfunctions.
Position your most impressive pieces first and last in your portfolio. And limit your portfolio to your most relevant highlights that reflect the breadth of your work. Don’t make the mistake of one federal attorney whose success portfolio backfired because, according to his interviewer, it was “fat enough to choke a rhinoceros.”
Give a portfolio to each of your interviewers to keep, if possible. Label and annotate your portfolio to be self-explanatory to managers who may review it after your interview. Identify your contributions to group projects.
Stay ethical. Your portfolio should not reveal any confidential information.
August 20th, 2012 | Uncategorized
Hopefully, you will never experience health problems serious enough to compel you to use leave available under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
But because health and family crises may arise suddenly, you should always carry with you your boss’s contact information so you can inform him of your need for FMLA leave as soon as possible.
Also, always carry with you any passwords, security tokens and Web addresses you need to remotely access your work email and the desktop of your work computer.
If you must take FMLA leave for a crisis or for the birth of a child, consider asking your boss if you may combine it with telecommuting. Doing so would enable you to extend the total amount of time you may stay out of the office for your crisis; conserve FMLA leave, which your employer may limit to 12 weeks annually; and generate income and accrue sick and vacation leave even while you’re out of the office.
Although supervisors are required to approve valid requests for FMLA leave, they are not required to approve requests to combine FMLA leave with telecommuting. However, your supervisor would probably be most likely to approve such an arrangement if you already have a telecommuting agreement in place and have a reputation as a reliable telecommuter when you request it. So consider laying the groundwork now for any future need you may have to combine FLMA leave with telecommuting.
Advice for combining FMLA leave with telecommuting:
* When you craft a FMLA-telecommuting arrangement with your boss, identify with him your telecommuting projects. If you can’t predict how much time you will need to telecommute during your crisis, select high-impact projects that have no hard deadlines for your telecommuting period, if possible.
* When your leave begins, inform all appropriate professional contacts about your leave status.
* Craft your out-of-office email and phone messages to reflect your likely response time, and include a referral to a colleague who can handle time-sensitive issues.
* Regularly update your boss on your progress on your telecommuting projects. If you fall behind schedule on a project, tell your boss about your situation in a timely manner. No surprises.
* Unfair though it may be, your boss will probably scrutinize your productivity more closely when you’re combining FMLA leave with telecommuting than when you’re telecommuting under normal circumstances. So report your telecommuting hours with due consideration; don’t do anything that would raise questions about your trustworthiness and thereby potentially jeopardize your FMLA-telecommuting arrangement — even if this means erring on the side of underreporting your hours.
* If, during your absence, your telecommuting hours are being submitted to your agency’s time-keeping system by a timekeeper, keep precise records of your telecommuting hours and then check the accuracy of such records when you return to the office.
* Phone into staff meetings, if possible, to create “a presence” in the office during your absence.
* Keep your boss informed, if only in general terms, of the status of your personal situation while you’re on leave. When you can estimate your return date to the office, inform your boss accordingly.
* Maintain a running list of everything you worked on while telecommuting, your projects’ positive impacts and the resulting positive feedback you received from managers, colleagues, clients or other associates. When you return to work, meet with your boss to thank him for extending himself for you; remind him of the hardships you’ve faced, if appropriate; and submit to him a list of your FMLA-telecommuting accomplishments along with any available tangible evidence of their success.
Also, give your boss with a quick “show-and-tell” presentation of your best telecommuting accomplishments. You will thereby impress your boss with your productivity while telecommuting, even if he has already forgotten the contents of your weekly updates or if he never reads your complete list of telecommuting accomplishments — which, unfortunately, is an all-too-likely possibility.
* When you return to work, inform all appropriate professional contacts of your return.
August 6th, 2012 | Uncategorized
If you must take leave from work because you are sick or need to care for a sick family member, you have a range of leave options that probably include:
• Accrued or advanced annual leave. You may be advanced as much annual leave as you would be expected to accrue throughout the rest of that leave year.
• Accrued or advanced sick leave. You may use up to 13 days of sick leave per leave year for bereavement or for caring for a sick family member who is not necessarily seriously ill; and up to 12 weeks of sick leave per leave year to provide psychological comfort or physical care to a seriously ill family member. You may be advanced up to 30 days of sick leave.
• Up to 12 weeks of leave without pay (LWOP) within any 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Contrary to popular belief, you are not required to exhaust all of your annual and sick leave before taking FMLA leave.
FMLA also provides job protections, and health insurance is maintained under FMLA leave. In most cases, you may take FMLA leave in combination with whatever forms of paid leave are also available to you — including teleworking, credit hours, comp time, annual leave and sick leave — and thereby “stack” leave.
Some caveats: You are required to provide notice of your intent to take FMLA leave at least 30 days before the start date of that leave or, in emergencies, as soon as possible. Beware that you may not retroactively substitute any form of paid leave for FMLA leave. So be sure to inform your supervisor in writing or via email of your intention to take FMLA ahead of time, if possible, and remind him of your FMLA leave status when it begins.
A little-known fact: An agency may grant an employee LWOP outside of FMLA if, for example, an employee needs additional time to recover from an illness.
• Up to 24 hours of LWOP per leave year for school and early childhood educational activities; routine family medical purposes; and elderly relatives’ health or care needs.
If you’re debating which form of leave to use, consider:
• A supervisor generally cannot deny sick leave or FMLA leave to an employee who provides required medical certification. However, a supervisor may deny a request for annual leave if the employee is needed at work during the requested leave period.
A supervisor may also deny a request for LWOP outside of FMLA or the 24-hour LWOP option.
• FMLA leave may only be used to cover care for a parent, spouse, child or child of a same-sex domestic partner — but not a domestic partner. However, sick leave may be used to cover care for additional types of family members, including parents-in-law; siblings; grandparents; grandchildren; stepparents; stepchildren; foster parents; foster children; guardianship relationships; same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners; and any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. The 24-hour LWOP option may be used to cover care for a same-sex domestic partner or the child of such a partner.
• You must be in pay status either the day before or the day after a holiday in order to get paid for that holiday. So if you use some form of unpaid leave in combination with some form of paid leave, time your dates for paid leave accordingly.
• Whenever you take paid leave, you continue to accrue annual and sick leave. But this is not so when you take LWOP: Once you accrue 80 hours of FMLA leave, you will not earn annual or sick leave during that pay period. If you take unpaid leave in combination with paid leave, you will accrue annual and sick leave prorated to the amount of paid leave you take.
Go to the Office of Personnel Management website for more information on leave.
July 16th, 2012 | Uncategorized
My June 25 column described a sample of fellowship programs for feds. By participating in such programs, you may enhance your success at your home agency. For example, participating in a fellowship program that would place you on a congressional staff would likely teach you about how Congress generates laws and agency budgets; political considerations affecting agency programs; opinions and misconceptions about your agency held by lawmakers and their staffs; and the prominent personalities on Capitol Hill.
A congressional fellowship would also likely provide you with contacts among congressional staff — many of whom wield potentially pivotal power and may influence congressional actions affecting your agency.
If you serve as a legislative liaison for an agency, the knowledge and contacts you would gain through a congressional fellowship may help you design and implement strategies that would improve your agency’s relationship with Congress. Alternatively, if you are in a technical position, participating in a congressional fellowship program may provide you with credentials to segue into a congressional liaison position.
Many agency leadership positions involve testifying before Congress and working to build support on Capitol Hill for agency programs. So if you are aiming for an agency leadership position, experienced gained through a congressional fellowship may increase your ability to fulfill those types of high-pressure responsibilities successfully.
Fellowships may also help you:
Earn credentials to qualify for the Senior Executive Service. Some fellowships are designed to give fellows experience in the five executive core qualifications (ECQs) required for SES entry.
ECQ-based fellowships may augment or sometimes substitute for ECQ experience gained through agency candidate development programs, the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Candidate Development Program or work experience.
Organizations that run ECQ-based fellowships include the Harvard Kennedy School, American Council of Technology Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), Brookings Institution and Partnership for Public Service.
Make a career switch. Some fellowship programs qualify feds to work in new fields. For example, the Sustainability in Procurement Fellows Program trains fellows to serve as governmentwide sustainability leaders. But applicants of all backgrounds — even those without experience or education in sustainability, environment or procurement — are invited to apply.
Switch sectors. Some fellow-ships, such as those sponsored by ACT-IAC, feature activities designed to improve the ability of fellows to collaborate. Such programs may give fellows contacts and credentials to switch sectors.
Generate networking contacts. Many fellowships feature frequent networking activities and maintain large alumni groups that engage fellows in varied activities long after their fellowships end. Such programs thereby offer current and former fellows opportunities to generate contacts who may serve as trusted sources of troubleshooting advice, insider information about other organizations, job leads and social activities.
It’s never too late to participate in a fellowship. I know a federal communications expert who became a congressional fellow a couple of years before she retired from her agency position. When she retired, she used political connections from her fellowship to land a job on a political campaign.
Most federal fellowships are highly competitive, and applicants must frequently submit multiple applications before they are accepted. If your fellowship application is rejected, seek feedback on it from managers and program alumni, and improve your application accordingly. Also, participate in non-fellowship activities sponsored by your target fellowship organization.
Note that many fellowships involve tuition or other fees usually covered by the fellow’s home agency. Sometimes, such fees are negotiable or can be paid via installment plans. If your agency can’t cover the fees for a fellowship you think would boost your career, consider covering the fees yourself as an investment in your future.
June 25th, 2012 | Uncategorized
Want to gain experience, learn about timely policy issues, hone your leadership credentials, network, earn qualifications to enter the Senior Executive Service — or just climb out of a professional rut?
If so, consider applying to one of the fellowship, training or education programs for feds. Costs are usually covered by participants’ agencies.
American Council of Technology and Industry Advisory Council leadership development programs. The Partners Program is for GS-15s or advanced GS-14s who are involved with business transformation, information technology management, program implementation, development or acquisition, and are considered promotable to the SES within the next three to five years. The Voyagers Program is for GS-14s and below.
Participants dedicate two to three days per month for nine months to development activities, which include lectures, coaching and workshops while working their federal jobs. Find details by clicking here.
American Political Science Association fellowships. Federal executives learn about legislative processes by serving on congressional staffs and participating in seminars and other enrichment activities. They may participate in an eight-week seminar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Click here to learn more.
Brookings Institution programs. Participants in the Legis Fellowship Program, GS-13s and above, receive their federal salaries while working for either seven or 12 months on congressional staffs to prepare them to more effectively lead their agencies’ legislative objectives. Brookings also offers several certificate programs and a master’s in the science of leadership. Click here to learn more.
Capitol Hill Fellowship Program of Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute. GS-13s and above receive their federal salaries while working on congressional staffs and participating in training. Fellows may enroll in GAI’s advanced courses at no cost. Fellows may thereby complete up to two-thirds of the requirements for Georgetown’s Certificate in Legislative Studies. Click here for details.
Department of Homeland Security Fellows Program. DHS GS-13s and -14s complete a 10-month curriculum that includes site visits, residential sessions in key DHS locations, instruction and a 60-to-90 day rotational assignment. Click here to learn more.
Excellence in Government Fellows Program. During the year-long program, GS-14s and GS-15s remain in their federal jobs, but meet every six weeks for a total of approximately 20 days of full-day activities and up to five hours per week on project work. Fellows collaborate with public, private-sector and nonprofit leaders and apply to their jobs leading management principles — including qualifications required for SES entry. Click here for details.
Office of Management and Budget Regulatory Exchange and Training Program. Participants analyze regulatory policies to ensure they are consistent with economic principles, public policy and the president’s goals. Employees seeking details for SES candidate programs or rotations for the Presidential Management Fellows Program may apply. Click here to learn more.
MITRE Federal Employee Fellowship Program. The MITRE Corp. is a not-for-profit organization that manages federally funded research and development centers. While working between two and 12 months at MITRE, each fellow completes project work and research, and receives leadership instruction and mentoring. Click here for details.
Sustainability in Procurement Fellows Program. Sponsored by the General Services Administration, this six-month program provides training on sustainability, including regulatory requirements, industry trends, and project experience. Fellows devote at least 20 hours per week to fellowship activities. Click here for details.
June 11th, 2012 | Uncategorized
Each agency’s success hinges, to a significant degree, on how much its headquarters and field offices cooperate. As one GS-15 headquarters manager who has previously worked in the field said, “The field offices are where the rubber hits the road. So if you don’t understand how these offices work, it’s tough to get anything substantive done. I wouldn’t have traded my field experience for anything.”
Still, relationships between headquarters and field offices can be strained. That is because of geographic distances, cultural differences, differences in the pressures faced by field and headquarters offices, and because of the limited opportunities for headquarters and field employees to share meaningful face time. Headquarters and field offices frequently do not really understand what each other does, why they don’t do it better, and the limitations and constraints confronting one another.
Therefore, feds who have held jobs, fellowships or detail assignments in a particular location may be able to offer new perspectives to feds working in other locations that would help improve understanding and cooperation between their offices. So if you’re a fed seeking a job in a new location, mention in your cover letter, résumé and interviews how your experience in another location has helped prepare you to promote interoffice cooperation — even if you’re not asked to do so.
For example, if you’re a headquarters employee applying for a field job, emphasize how, as appropriate, your headquarters experience would enable you to:
• Help demystify the personalities of headquarters managers and interpret their actions for field staffers.
• Promote exchanges between headquarters and field contacts.
• Explain to field staffers how political pressures confronting headquarters may affect decision-making from headquarters on certain issues, slow the development by headquarters of new regulations, and stall responses from headquarters to various types of requests from field offices.
• Promote the enforcement of regulations by identifying and explaining to field staffers how to avoid traps that may inadvertently have been written into regulations issued by headquarters.
• Generate positive coverage of field activities in the national media by informing national media contacts of relevant but overlooked local achievements that have national implications.
Alternatively, if you’re a field employee applying for a headquarters job, emphasize how, as appropriate, your field experience would enable you to:
• Share your knowledge of field operations with field staffers to provide guidance from headquarters during emergencies that must frequently be managed from the bottom up — but still require headquarters oversight.
• Enlighten headquarters staffers about budgetary and staffing constraints, as well as challenges and cultural mores, in field offices, and explain to headquarters managers achievements by field offices that have been overlooked.
• Advise staffers on how to craft programs that realistically accommodate field conditions and minimize ambiguity.
• Obtain additional information from field contacts, as necessary, that may help headquarters offices improve the efficiency and effectiveness of field offices.
• Apply skills that you gained in field offices to your management of headquarters issues.
• Generate positive coverage of headquarters activities in the local media by informing contacts of headquarters achievements that will affect field activities.
Also, if you’re applying for jobs that would require you to relocate, explain in your application why you would want to move. Base your application primarily on opportunities provided by your target job — even if your willingness to move is based on other considerations. Also, consider mentioning reasons why you would personally thrive in your new environment.
May 21st, 2012 | Uncategorized
This column summarizes the relative advantages and disadvantages of working in agency field offices.
The mission of field offices usually is to implement and enforce programs, policies and regulations issued by headquarters; provide feedback and progress reports to headquarters on these activities; and work with local media. These roles may require, among other things, trying legal cases, conducting inspection and monitoring activities, running research programs, issuing permits and conducting outreach activities.
Field employees often have authority to make decisions faster than headquarters employees because the activities they manage often demand quick responses. As one headquarters media officer who has extensive field experience put it: “Field employees don’t have to ask, ‘Mother, may I?’ before making decisions or talking to the press as often as do headquarters employees.”
He noted that interactions between field employees and local reporters usually involve relatively frequent contact, and require thorough knowledge of on-the-ground projects — conditions that tend to foster relatively strong professional relationships. By contrast, interactions between headquarters employees and individual national reporters tend to be less frequent and sometimes more superficial, and are more likely to involve broad policy issues than project particulars.
Also, field employees generally work “in the trenches” on projects that involve direct contact with people and resources that are affected by their programs. They must engage in more in-depth analyses and management of local projects instead of in the abstract policy issues that tend to occupy headquarters employees.
Because field offices are relatively small, they sometimes are more collegial, less competitive and less hierarchical than headquarters offices. The preferences of a fed for a headquarters vs. field position would likely hinge on his career options, goals, personality and personal biases.
For example, I know a supervisory GS-15 attorney who transferred to a supervisory job in a San Francisco field office after working in many high-powered positions in Washington, where she had often contributed to national rule-making. Because she enjoys her new office’s relatively calm atmosphere and loves the Bay Area, she is happier in her field job than she was in her headquarters jobs.
But field offices tend to be more isolated than headquarters offices and therefore offer fewer opportunities for contact with employees from other organizations.
Because field offices are usually small with few management layers, but are often compelled to make rapid decisions, entry-level and midlevel feds may receive more responsibilities and opportunities to gain leadership experience than headquarters-based feds with comparable experience.
Also, because field staffers work in relatively small offices, they sometimes form strong professional bonds with high-level managers; this may help them as they move up through government.
But the flip side is that some field offices have limited senior-level positions for some occupations. Therefore, some field feds may have to make lateral moves into different types of jobs or transfer to other field or headquarters offices to advance.
Because field offices are geographically and managerially distant from headquarters offices and Congress — and thus may have relatively few opportunities to justify their work to Congress and headquarters — they may be more vulnerable to cutbacks and cost-saving plans involving consolidations of separate field offices than are headquarters offices.
May 6th, 2012 | Uncategorized
As the saying goes: “location, location, location.” So what are the relative advantages and disadvantages of working in an agency headquarters office in Washington vs. a field office elsewhere in the U.S.? In this column, I’ll describe the relative advantages and disadvantages of working in a Washington-area headquarters office.
Some caveats: Conditions vary from office to office. And impressions and perspectives about any particular office would likely differ among staff members, depending on their personal preferences and individual circumstances.
The mission of headquarters offices is to design and develop programs, policies and legally binding regulations; monitor implementation and enforcement by field offices; help Congress hammer out legislation; respond to Congress’ oversight activities; manage agency budgets; issue grants; interact with the national press; and conduct outreach and education activities.
Decisions made in headquarters offices frequently influence the health and welfare of huge numbers of people (sometimes with life-or-death consequences), the fate of large sums of tax dollars and the future of precious natural and man-made resources.
Because headquarters decisions generally yield such potentially important consequences and have such wide reach, many headquarters staffers receive a great deal of gratification from contributing to them.
Political junkies and policy wonks who revel in the abstractions and details of programmatic alternatives may take special joy in working in the power vortexes of headquarters offices.
However, because of the potential importance of headquarters decisions and because headquarters officials are often targeted by the watchful eyes of the White House, Congress and the national press, headquarters officials tend to act cautiously and slowly. Therefore, many layers of approval are often needed before headquarters staff may take actions. Read: bureaucracy and frequent meetings.
Further, headquarters employees generally only have limited one-on-one contact with the people, places and things affected by their activities, and may sometimes feel as if they are operating in a bubble.
The atmosphere of headquarters offices also has advantages and disadvantages.
Headquarters staffers are ideally located to attend important and informative conferences, lectures and training. Their jobs may offer opportunities to mingle and work with dynamic staffers from nonprofits, think tanks, various government organizations and other types of stakeholder groups. Such opportunities may yield social and professional opportunities.
On the downside, headquarters offices tend to attract ultramotivated go-getters who may be vulnerable to “Potomac Fever” — a potentially contagious syndrome that, when left unchecked, may promote competitive rather than collegial working environments.
Because political appointees have relatively little job stability and are closely watched, they often feel personal stress that negatively influences the atmosphere of their offices, and their staffers may work under high-pressure, stressful conditions.
Some high-level headquarters positions require long working hours, although most headquarters staffers may be able to stick to 40-hour weeks.
Promotion potential is another factor to consider when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of headquarters work.
Because of their potential proximity to political appointees and congressional staffers, headquarters staffers generally have more opportunities to learn about the inner workings of the highest levels of government from firsthand experience than do field employees.
Headquarters staffers who are able to “hitch their wagons” to rising-star executives and political appointees may climb the career ladder faster than feds who have comparable seniority and skills but work for lesser-known field-based managers — unfair though that may be.
And because headquarters offices are relatively large, frequently employ relatively large numbers of senior-level professionals and are clustered geographically together, headquarters staffers usually have more opportunities to rise into senior-level positions or to move laterally into other jobs in their own or other agencies than do field staffers.
But because of the large size of headquarters offices and the potentially busy agendas of managers, headquarters staffers who work in offices that do not address attention-grabbing controversial issues may feel isolated — similar to being “a little fish in a big pond.”