Another View: Transition'job opportunities on the horizon

The next five years will offer substantial career transition options for federal workers. Agency budget cuts and program restructuring will alter the numbers and types of federal job opportunities. The Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure decisions will result in the movement of many federal jobs from their current locations to different cities and towns across the country. The aging federal workforce under the Civil Service Retirement System will continue to swell retirement rolls, providing leadership opportunities for a new generation of federal managers. Workers under the Federal Employment Retirement System and many military personnel will continually weigh the benefits of federal employment. They will evaluate the government's job security and public service appeal against the private sector's higher pay and greater opportunities for professional advancement.

A pessimist might view these trends through a quantitative lens and see fewer jobs and fewer opportunities. Yet an optimist might view these same trends qualitatively, as a way to refresh both the federal workforce and the contractor base that supports it. For individuals who choose to stay in federal employment, the opportunities to make an impact will never be greater. Key executive and management positions will increasingly open up to the best and brightest. Conversely, for those individuals who choose to leave federal employment, there will be opportunities to leverage their federal know-how and experience to make an impact in the commercial and nonprofit sectors.

The rise of a new generation of government leaders, coupled with the transfer of former government officials' intellectual knowledge from the public to the private sector, can have a positive effect on government performance. What are the strategies to make this work?

For junior staff aspiring to top government positions, the key strategy is to acquire the essential executive skills in management, acquisition and leadership. General management skills such as supervision, financial management, and communications are learned and practiced by most government managers. Acquisition and leadership skills are more difficult to obtain but are the crucial executive skills that assure high-performance government. Education and front-line experience in managing changing requirements, operating programs, and providing oversight of dollars and schedules help grow acquisition experts. Since leadership is a learned art, those who can set and sustain visions for change, motivate individuals and teams, and demonstrate organizational savvy have the best chance of joining the next generation of government leaders.

The key strategy for federal workers transitioning to the private sector is to leverage their management, acquisition and leadership skills to help deliver successful government programs and to serve as two-way educators between the private and public sectors. Individuals with federal experience can provide great insight to their corporate colleagues on government policies, programs, processes and mind-sets. Similarly, these same individuals can provide insight and knowledge to their former government colleagues on business dynamics, best practices, and capabilities and solutions. A real stretch goal for both sides would be to establish more formal, cross-sector professional development opportunities for high-level government and private-sector officials.

Government programs today are only as strong as the people are who develop and operate them. The complexity, scale, and challenges of these programs require multifaceted knowledge, i.e., a mosaic of facts, figures, analyses, seasoned judgments and trusted relationships. Can the combination of a new generation of government leaders and the transfer of former government leaders to the private sector work? Will government performance benefit from these changes? The answer is yes, if we grow and leverage the skills, experience, and embedded public service ethos of federal employees, current and former.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is currently a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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