After what seemed like a very long and cold winter in Washington, DC, we are finally experiencing the greatest weather ever! No rain in sight, at least not this weekend. Sunny skies, 70-degree weather, who could ask for more? It reminds me of my time in Tucson, Arizona…how I miss those hot blasting rays all year round.
This week, I am excited to introduce an awesome Govlooper: Anita Arile, Management Analyst at the Department of Administration in Guam. Keeping with my sunshine theme, I have to say that Anita is truly a ray of light. Her enthusiasm and optimism are contagious and her ability to keep pushing herself to excel is truly inspiring. Through this interview, I learned a great deal about Guam and about the challenges that GovGuam is currently facing. Despite the distance, time difference and an extremely busy schedule, Anita took the time to answer my questions, and for that, I am very grateful.
Until next time, please enjoy this week’s edition of the GovLoop Member of the Week interview.
1.Can you share a bit about your background? Where are you from? How did you start working in government?
I most certainly can Celia! I hope your readers are in for the ride because I love talking! I am from the beautiful island of Guam in the southern-most tip of the Marianas Islands chain. I am the second of five children. My mother is an island native (called CHamoru) and my father is a native of the Philippines, so I am a mix of CHamoru and Filipino heritage. I recently graduated from the University of Guam with a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration. I am a member of the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) – Guam Chapter and the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), which is how I joined GovLoop. I am also a sort of philanthropist and enjoy working with non-profit organizations. In fact, I am a Board Secretary for the Guam Identifies Families Terrific Strengths, the Guam Chapter of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.
I was doing volunteer work for the public schools as a parent before entering the government. In 1993, I was nominated to represent the Head Start Policy Council in the Governor’s Task Force on Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Prevention. The Task Force was instrumental in the implementation of the Drug-Free Work Place for the island. This experience introduced me into the world of politics, government and public administration. Before this experience, my attitude towards the Government of Guam was quite critical because of the poor service I had experienced when conducting transactions with one of the public agencies.
Eventually, I promised myself that if I were lucky enough to be hired, I would do my best to help change Traditional Operating Procedures (TOP) to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). As luck would have it, in February 1994, I was hired as an Accounting Clerk in the Department of Administration’s Division of Accounts.
2.Can you talk about the Territory of Guam briefly?
Briefly? Well, Guam is about 1,600 miles east of the Philippine Islands in the Western Pacific and 3,803 miles west of Honolulu, Hawaii. It is thirteen (13) degrees north of the equator and located on the 144th east longitude. Guam is still a United States possession; yet it is the “Melting Pot of the Pacific” when you think about the diverse nationalities who call Guam home. We are United States citizens by virtue of the 1949 Organic Act of Guam signed by then-President Harry S. Truman making the island an “unincorporated territory with limited self-governing authority.” We do not have the privilege of voting for the President and Vice-President of the United States. The Secretary of the Department of Interior assumes administrative responsibility for Guam. What I wish Congress can do is include Guam in the History books of many mainland schools. Most mainlanders do not know where, what or how Guam relates to the United States.
Archaeological findings state the native CHamorus are of Indo-Malayan descent. If you live on Guam, you are a Guamanian (not Guamese). However, if you have heritage, you are CHamoru. One of the greatest aspects of being an islander is the fact that nothing can come between families – blood is, after all, thicker than water. When you live on Guam, driving to work takes only thirty-minutes, barbecuing is a daily “norm”, and sales taxes are unheard of. I would believe every state of the United States has at least one CHamoru living in it. In fact, you may find many clusters of CHamorus in the states of Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona. I heard from some of my relatives in New York and South Carolina that many CHamoru families are migrating to other eastern states.
Oh! Before going on, I would like to clarify some rumors about Guam. First, we do not wear grass skirts (except for the cultural dancers performing for tourists) or go around top-less (unless you are a male at the local beaches). Second, there are no laws to deflower our young virgins (a false statement made by Marie Claire in their December 2001 magazine). Last of all, thanks to many dedicated biologists, we no longer have a serious case of snake-infestation (evident by all the birds nesting all around the island).
3. What are the major challenges the government is facing in your opinion (e.g. the Furloughs you discussed in your post for example)? Currently, we (like most of the world) are facing tough economic conditions. Perhaps more challenging is the need for the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches to find a common ground for all issues facing the Government of Guam (GovGuam). Then again, this is how our founding fathers created a check-and-balance system for our type of government.
Guam does not have many natural resources. The majority of resources and supplies have to be shipped in from off-island locations, which results in a higher cost-of-living. Tourism and the military are the main sources of revenue for the island. With the current worldwide economic condition having the tourism industry operating at slower paces and the impending arrival of the military slated for 2010, visitor-related businesses are suffering. The bittersweet effect on most businesses is the reduction of use of human capital (negative) and energy (positive). Ultimately, the results are lower revenue collections.
In the late 1990’s, the GovGuam’s personnel was reduced greatly by a mass exodus and retirement. The remaining staff had the inescapable obligation to do the work equivalent of two to three employees. Technology became the blessing in disguise for most GovGuam public servants.
All of the above issues have an effect on the GovGuam’s ability to meet the bi-weekly payroll obligation. The Governor of Guam has considered furloughing as an alternative to meet payroll every two weeks. An issue I have about this is that the number of employees that will be affected by the furlough equate to about one third of all executive branch employees. The remaining two-thirds of the GovGuam employees are exempted by a law passed during the first furlough that precludes staff under the “health, safety and education” classes of professionals. This exclusion causes a huge, negative rift between the classes of public servants, which to me is unfair. Additionally, these exempted classes of public servants have been given raises since the first furlough, which makes the gap even larger than ever. When the second furlough is implemented, many employees – already suffering from negativity and segregation – will start seeking better opportunities elsewhere. This can be on-island or off-island. If this separation continues, “non-furlough-proof” positions of the GovGuam become less attractive to potentially knowledgeable future leaders.
4. Can you share a little about the USDA Graduate School’s Executive Leadership Program in Guam? How did you find out about it?The program is part of the Pacific Islands and Virgin Islands Training Initiative or PITI-VITI. PITI-VITI is collaboration between the USDA Graduate School and the Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (DOI/OIA). The program’s goal is to assist Insular Area Governments – flag territories and freely associated states of Micronesia – in the retention of qualified, skilled future leaders of their respective participating governments. The Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) is similar to two one-year Leadership Development Programs already offered by the USDA Graduate School – the Executive Leadership Program and the Executive Potential Program. The USDA Graduate School designs and manages the PITI-VITI while the DOI/OIA provides funding support.
Here is a quick summary from their website (http://www.pitiviti.org):
The Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) is a yearlong program designed to:
• Help the insular governments develop and retain highly qualified staff.
• Identify a cadre of professional staff that can be promoted into leadership positions.
• Help ensure continuity in areas such as accounting, budget, finance, procurement, and audit, as senior officials retire.
• Build cross-departmental and cross-governmental networks and cooperation.
• Create and support the governmental human resource infrastructure to lead governments to the next level of performance, and into the future.
What set the ELDP apart from the other Leadership Development Program is the cultural sensitivity. The cultural practices of the islanders had to be taken into consideration when developing the curriculum. The first session was held in Guam in October 2008. The second session was held in Saipan this past February. This June, the third session will be held in Pohnpei. The final session will take place in September in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I found out about the program back in September 2008, when the DOI/OIA set out a call for twenty-five participants to the first ELDP. The GovGuam Director of Administration received the information from the USDA Graduate School and made some participant recommendations to my manager, which included my direct supervisor. My direct supervisor declined the recommendation and recommended me to apply instead.
The application process required a Letter of Intent, completion of an application form, a Letter of Recommendation from my manager, and a Personal Data report (or resume). Several requirements are needed to complete the ELDP. They include accomplishing short-term personal goals, working with a mentor, improving areas of weaknesses regarding the Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ) and the Graduate School’s Leadership Effectiveness Inventory (LEI). Perhaps my favorite requirement for completing the ELDP is the team project. During the first group session, we were asked to “throw in” team project ideas and I quickly suggested SOPs. When one of the facilitators told me that there were over eighty applicants to the program, it made being selected quite an honor.
5. Why did you decide to apply?
GovGuam has SOPs but I had always felt that the SOP was more like TOP. When I was hired in 1994, I was one of about three employees, in a division of over sixty employees, using personal computers and the internet to work more efficiently. When I was asked to introduce email, internet use and office software to other staff, I was faced with resistance. Many questioned why I am following a “trend” that would disappear soon. As I progressed in creating electronic versions of typical accounting tools (such as logbooks and the four column sheets) using the software Lotus123, I realized there were no updated SOPs to keep up with the fast-pace of technology.
Additionally, when I graduated from the University of Guam in June 2008, I was still thirsting for more education. When I read about the ELDP and the components involved, I realized this was my opportunity to fulfill my goal of helping to make improvements in the GovGuam – specifically the change from TOP to SOP. Now, because the SOP Project is passionate to me, the project is realizable. In fact, for our SOP Project to date, my co-associate and I are gathering the individual processing procedures from the various branches of our division. Our division is the pilot division for development of an updated SOP and accompanying Processing Procedure Manual (PPM). Our final project is to develop a department SOP by the end of 2010.
6. What do you think are the biggest challenges you face as a public servant?
Working as a public servant in the GovGuam is quite challenging because of the many statute of limitations and compliance laws that govern us. While transparency and freedom of information are important to the public, it can be very challenging to comply. For example, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are supposed to be responded to within five working days, this does not give the researching public servant enough time to ensure proper documentation is provided or verified to be truly relevant to the request. This may result in many wasted resources, both material and non-material.
There are times when a request from persons with position or authority forces the public servant to bypass standard operating procedures. During this situation, the public servant has the unfortunate duty of trying to conform to all legal aspects and ethical expectations, without challenging authority. Although many times the reasons are justified, if done repeatedly, this type of action makes SOP become TOP.
7. You mention in your page that you would like to contribute to change in your local government; what kind of changes would you like to see within the government?The first change I would like to see is the GovGuam Recruitment Process. Because the GovGuam is joining other governments in reducing its number of employees, focus should be on hiring individuals who truly possess the knowledge, skill and abilities required for any governmental position. In my fifteen years of employment, I have noticed many employees who claim certain required knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) do not actually have those “claimed” knowledge, skills and abilities. Raising the standards for technical and professional positions is one way to ensure the selection of the right applicant. Incorporating exams in the application process is another excellent way to ensure that the applicant has the required KSAs for the position. In addition to the exam, a disclaimer must be included to hold those responsible for falsifying their application. This will help to ensure a minimal need to train and monitor new employees.
Another area of improvement I would like to see in the GovGuam is more focus on the employee. By ensuring the employee that they are key stakeholders and providing a truly equal opportunity for training and personal growth, employees will produce more efficiently and gain more self-confidence. Employee recognition programs should also be more flexible to allow all levels of employees the opportunity to be recognized. Counseling programs should be easily available to employees and utilized completely to ensure the removal of negativity from the workplace. A zero-tolerance system should also be in place to ensure that professionalism is practiced often. Finally, by keeping the employee up-to-date with issues that affect them (like a monthly newsletter), the employee will feel he or she is invaluable to the organization.
8. Throughout your career, have you ever encountered someone who truly inspired you (e.g. a teacher, a supervisor, a family member, etc.)?
Of course, I could easily say my father inspired me to do my best. He especially reminded me to admit to and learn from failure. I believe parents are supposed to be our first mentors; it is their natural job to do so. *smile* Other leaders inspire me. Most of them are women like our Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; but I have to mention my former manager, Mr. John DeNorcey because I have much respect for this highly intelligent man.
9. What was it about this person that inspired you?
Mr. DeNorcey was the former Controller for our office and was a very great leader. He was the first mentor I had and had been influential in how I remained resilient throughout many challenging phases of my life – both personal and professional. He had confidence in my goals and aspirations for the government as a whole and was always supportive of my efforts to instill a positive environment for our department. I especially admired how calm, cool and collective he was whenever he was facing tough legislators during various hearings.
When I started working for our Department, I was amazed that the employee association was not providing enough anti-stress and social-networking activities for the employees. With encouragement from Mr. DeNorcey, I became very active in reviving the association and keeping the department united as a whole. Mr. DeNorcey always stood behind any efforts I made to improve employee morale and attitude. I did this by incorporating families into employee activities. It was perhaps the best five years of my employment in the department.
10. What are your plans once you finish your program at USDA?
Currently I am planning to pursue the Certified Government Finance Manager (CGFM) certification through my membership with the AGA. I am hoping for another promotion upon my completion of the USDA Graduate School ELDP, but if that does not happen, I will keep my options open for opportunities that may arrive. However, one of the agreements I have under the ELDP contract is to remain with my organization and utilize the knowledge, skills and abilities I gain from the program to benefit my department. Therefore, I am thinking to remain with my department and cross my fingers that a promotion is forthcoming.
I am also making plans to pursue my Masters in either Business Administration or Public Administration sometime in 2010. I will do this by re-enrolling at the University of Guam for the one year Professional Masters in Business or Public Administration program or taking online courses. If I have to take online courses, I may look into one of the Universities the ASPA recommends or endorses, such as Walden University.
I would like to thank you, Celia, for selecting me for an interview. I have no regrets in joining GovLoop. In fact, I find it a great resource for ideas and advice to help with the daily grind of being a public servant. I am trying to convince my fellow public servants, on Guam and throughout Micronesia, to join as well and start connecting to other government employees worldwide. Many think that it is nothing but another social network that will not benefit them. On the contrary, it becomes their loss not to get up-to-speed in technology and current government trends and best practices. Thank you for the opportunity to share information about my island and my government.