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The Federal Coach

Dealing with new political appointees in your agencies

This week's questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Departments of Education and Homeland Security and from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Any advice for dealing with new political appointees? Not the senior officials, but the younger "special assistants" who tend to give assignments without regard to chain of command or current workload? -Program analyst (GS-14) at the U.S. Small Business Administration

As a starting point, consider the political appointee's perspective. They're often new to an agency and unfamiliar with how to navigate the agency's ins and outs, and their senior officials are asking them to get things done quickly, before the next election. As a result, I suspect many of these political appointees feel a little betwixt and between top officials and career public servants.

Once you realize where they may be coming from, you'll be in a better position to offer your assistance. Consider having a short, off-line conversation following a meeting or over coffee to share your perspective and ideas about how to best interact and work with the agency's career staff.

Smart political appointees will welcome the advice since it will not only improve their individual performance but also your performance--and ultimately the agency's overall performance as well.

Can you provide one or two successful networking strategies for non-managers in the federal government? As a new civil servant, I found it difficult to make the transition from the networking opportunities I had in the private sector to the public sector. -Federal manager (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

While networking opportunities in the two sectors may differ, the same techniques you used in the private sector certainly apply to the public sector. You just need to find the right opportunities.

Here are a few ideas in support of your networking goals. First, find out if there are any affinity groups such as Blacks in Government, Federally Employed Women or the Federal Asian Pacific American Council in your agency. Whenever I visit federal agencies, I'm always amazed at the interesting networking opportunities that I see posted for these groups.

Second, you might consider joining a government-wide group like Young Government Leaders--the definition of "young" being quite inclusive. You might also consider joining a government-related professional society related to your occupation, such as the National Association of Government Communicators. These groups will give you an opportunity to expand your network beyond those in your agency.

Finally, I find that interagency meetings, conferences and other government-wide events offer an incredible opportunity to connect with a broad range of interesting folks from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

Just remember to be strategic with your selections and your time. You want these opportunities to be fun, not a burden.

What's the best way to get supervisory experience if you're not currently in a supervisory position? -Federal manger (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Education

You may already have thought of these, but here are three strategies to consider. First, consider serving as a team lead for a special project. Although you would not be anyone's supervisor of record, you would have many of the same responsibilities; and if you succeed, you could make the case that you're ready to formally supervise others.

Another option would involve taking a detail to another office that would enable you to supervise others. If you've been a team lead and you've distinguished yourself, you should have no problem taking on a supervisory role in another part of the agency--even if it's only for a limited time.

Finally, highly interactive training programs offer you an opportunity to learn about and practice the skills associated with setting expectations, evaluating performance and delivering feedback. It's not the same as on-the-job experience, but it's a great way to gain some experience beyond what your current job enables. Good luck!

By Tom Fox

 |  October 29, 2010; 12:01 AM ET |  Category:  Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Give us a break. Maybe federal salaries should include a political appointee adjustment, you know, like combat pay, to compensate them for the additional stress of "doing" their jobs as "civil" servants.

Probably a nice taxpayer paid Hawaii convention is in order to exchange ideas of how they can all keep their heads down until the next crop of appointees show up.

The pressure on federal employees must be really tremendous, have to wait until at least 3:00 pm on Fridays to leave for the weekend, not have to worry about health care, for some not even having to pay their income taxes, gassing up and keeping their govt' vehicles clean, a thrift and savings plan in a "G-Fund", a fully liquid for government employees only treasury obligation paying 30X, yes 30X, the current 90 day rate on T-bills available to taxpayers.

Maybe a PASS (political appointee stress syndrome) payment is in order here and the creation of a new federal job at the G-17 level. Call in the surrogate mommy federal employee ombudsperson.

Posted by: wesatch | October 31, 2010 8:49 AM

It's time to cut the federal workforce by at least 40% and then you won't need to fret over these problems

Posted by: steelers01 | October 30, 2010 8:06 AM

Forget it all.
If the appointment is made by Obama or any other Democrat - - -some GOP Senator will put a hold on it - just for meanness!

Posted by: lufrank1 | October 29, 2010 4:35 PM

A career exec must not assume there is a one approach to establishing productive working relationships with new political appointees to whom one reports or must otherwise deal with. The key first step is to assess the situation. Many appointees are clearly well qualified for their positions; many are not. When graced with a qualified appointee who is interested not only in him or herself but in policy development and execution a career exec should be able to develop a solid and productive working relationship centered on agency activities. However, when having to deal with the under-qualified appointees whose lack of experience and knowledge often pushes them into condescension and arrogance the career exec, faced with many operational challenges, must work to find common ground with the appointee. But don't have high expectations for that because usually the appointee is consumed with career moves rather than learning. Just hunker down and wait it out - they'll move out soon enough.
Peter H. Daly, co-author of "The First 90 Days in Government." (Harvard Business School Press)

Posted by: peterhdaly | October 29, 2010 11:14 AM

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