Communicating Openly and Honestly

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.


Meet the Finalist:

Who: Kai Fawn Miller, Director of Communication and Executive Support for the Office of Information Technology, Department of Veterans Affairs

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Award finalist, Exemplary Leaders Category

“In a year where our department has been wracked by scandal she has stressed the importance of communicating openly and honestly with the veterans we serve. In an environment where we would rather shield our organizational challenges, she has invited open engagement and communication with oversight and auditing bodies. In a climate where many have feared engaging with the media, she has leveraged VA’s relationship with the media to increase our ability to outreach with veterans, and share information regarding our IT services. She has expanded our partnership and collaboration with the veteran services organization to provide a regular forum for veterans to engage directly with VA, OI&T. She views challenges as opportunities, and she knows that open communication can be the pathway to success,” said Nicole Gilbride, a colleague of Miller.

Kai Fawn Miller describes her job in one word: storytelling. “I get to tell the story of people and programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs Technology Organization. So the people who are building the software that is in all of the VA medical centers, the software that is delivering the benefits to the veterans more efficiently,” said Miller. “I manage an incredible team of people who tell the good news about what those individuals are doing.”

Too often news headlines focus on the negative stories and never highlight the positive, making it difficult to communicate the amazing things the VA is doing. But Miller is combating this issue by bringing out the people that they help.

“It’s difficult for the public, or even the people in VA, to relate to the IT organization because they see it as a bunch of computers and technology,” she said. “What it really is is this team of amazing, very bright, brilliant thinkers who are working day in and day out to make these programs work. So I really try to put a lot of emphasis on program success stories.”

Being raised by two physical education teachers, Miller learned from a young age the value of being a team player. “That was my job growing up. My two little brothers were my team. So if you turn against them you’re basically turning on your team,” said Miller. “That has led over pretty naturally into my career. I’ve had the most success in my career when I’m actually a natural introvert and I stepped out of that weakness and extended myself to learn more about someone personally and try to figure out how we can work together professionally.”

Miller’s passion is public service and her advice to people coming into government work is not to get discouraged by anything. “Knowing where I was when I started I think I would tell myself to stop fighting it,” she said. “Figure out what your passion is, figure out why you’re there every day, and remind yourself of that. Don’t feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall when you run into the bureaucracy or you run into the difficult personality. Keep that one thing in mind, take a breath, and figure out how to work creatively through that difficult personality. Because if you’ve got your goal in mind and you’re doing it ethically and with integrity, you’re going to reach that goal.”

Miller’s passion is evident to her peers. “To meet Kai is to love her,” said her colleague, Gilbride. “The passion and joy she brings to the workplace is contagious. She inspires those around her to leverage their strengths, overcome their fears, and take their lives to a new level. When people tell me that something I did or said reminds them of, reminds me of Kai, or that I’m becoming a mini Kai, it is truly the best complement I can receive.”

Miller inspires the people around her and is truly making a big difference in public service. “I love to help people, I love to help people be successful, I love to help people through difficult times. So, I’m a public servant because I love helping other people in any way that they need,” said Miller.

There’s not much more anyone could ask for in a leader.

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. Finally, register to attend the Awards Ceremony to get to know the NextGen 30 in-person!


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