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GovLoop Member of the Week: Kitty Wooley

Happy Valentine’s Day (weekend) everyone! I know, I know, Valentine’s Day is a bit commercialized and in a perfect world, we would love and appreciate our friends, colleagues and loved ones every single day. Yet in a way, I am glad that there is a day dedicated to showing appreciation, whether through a hug, a card, a nice dinner, or a smile; a day where we can stop to think about all the blessings that come through the relationships we build over time.

On that note, it is my turn to interview the GovLoop member of the week. This week GovLoop features Kitty Wooley. I “met” Kitty through GovLoop and immediately recognized her great sense of humor and her ability to inspire others to do their best. I was lucky to meet her in person at an event downtown. People like Kitty are the ones who keep me going, people who are passionate about what they do and who truly have a calling for public service. Thank you Kitty for taking the time to work with me on this interview and thank you for everything you do to develop others….you’re awesome!

1. Where are you from originally?

Texas. –But that’s fairly meaningless, because my father was an officer in the Air Force and we lived in five states before I was twelve.

2. Did you always know you wanted to work for the federal government? If so, what steps did you take to ensure that you did so? If not, how did you end up working for the federal government?

No, I didn’t. I worked as a college financial aid director and registrar for a number of years. Then, in 1994, I moved to “the other side of the desk” by applying for an institutional review specialist position in San Francisco. Two university business officers, an employment attorney, and I all started the same day. The federal building at 50 U.N. Plaza became our base for compliance visits to colleges in CA, NV, AZ, and HI. I did the visits and submitted reports to headquarters for a couple of years, until I moved to Washington to manage the development of a risk management system to support such reviews.

3. How do you define public service? Do you think the definition of public service is changing?

I define public service as work that’s done in the public interest. Absolutely; the definition of public service is broadening to include new categories of actors. It doesn’t just denote government any more.

4. What major changes do you see coming in government service?

Well, here’s what occurs to me at the moment:

–More interactivity with individual citizens and institutional stakeholders.

–An increase in backlogs, which will increase pressure on agencies to do additional process innovation and streamlining or have it imposed on them. I was lucky enough to tour the United Airlines maintenance operation center at SFO a long time ago, and was walked through the redesign of a 747 seat that cut out dozens of non-value-added steps. There’s always more that can be done.

–Some modernization of statute and regulation to allow and support the above.

–More collaboration among sectors, and more nontraditional players at the table, in order to address large, nonroutine events.

5. How do you define success in your own capacity?

Success is being able to look myself in the mirror at night and know that I was worthy of trust, did my best, and delivered value that day. Usually that entails helping someone else get their needs met so that they can add more value. Often it includes challenging a colleague or friend to rethink an action or conclusion. Sometimes it includes asking for help, although I’m not as good at that.

6. What advice would you give individuals who have recently joined the federal government or those who plan on doing so in the next few years?

I try not to give advice! But since it’s you, Celia, here goes:

–Learn as much as you can about who you are and what you need and want, so that you land in a culture and position that will support your growth. As a financial aid director, I observed that students who enrolled for the wrong reasons were often unable to establish a nourishing connection with the institution and dropped out or transferred, losing money, confidence, and time in the process. It’s the same issue with work; having a “skills/mission match” is not enough; you need to feel good instead of drained while you’re there.

–Always take advice with a grain of salt, and work constantly toward developing a reasoned, original point of view.

–Remember that it’s hard to make a good reputation and easy to lose it. Strive to be worthy of trust. Try to live and work in a way that you can remember with pride.

–Never forget your mission. If you get to a point where you feel no passion for it, go find a mission you resonate with.

7. Is there anything you wish someone would have told you early in your career?

This thought has never occurred to me, so I guess the answer is no!

8. If someone asked you, “what is networking and how do I get started?” what would you say? What role does networking play in your career?

I don’t think in terms of “networking” per se, because I’ve seen too many people translate that as, “Let me use you to get what I want.” That’s a toxic attitude that I don’t allow anywhere near me. If a conversation is not win/win, or if a negotiation is not based on aligning interests, it won’t work well enough to be valuable. These days, I’m using “connecting” more.

I do think that it’s important to get comfortable talking with lots of different kinds of people, especially for former latchkey kids who were told never to talk to strangers. It’s important because that’s how much of the real work, the most important work, gets done – and everyone should have an opportunity to be part of that. In 2007, at a panel of emergency first responders I attended at the Partnership for Public Service, FEMA’s Fire Administrator, Charlie Lippincott, expressed it succinctly: “For these collaborations to work, you gotta like people.”

I have cultivated a large, diverse, fairly resilient multisector network one person at a time over the past few years. The network supports innovative projects, federal leadership development, and professional growth. The intent behind all that network development has been to increase capacity, joint and individual, for mission delivery and to teach me and many others how to connect with ease. The ease is a function of constant practice and of pushing outside my comfort zone sometimes.

9. Are all managers, leaders?

Not in my book, although there are those who equate leaders with supervisors, managers, and members of the Senior Executive Service. I tend to think of leaders in terms of people who exercise leadership behavior, which is good news and bad news for individual contributors. The good news is, anyone can choose to exercise leadership behavior. The bad news is, that means no one gets a free pass – everyone is responsible.

What sets a leader apart?

There are many good answers to this question. Here’s the one I like best at the moment:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. –John Quincy Adams

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Adriel Hampton

Awesome interview, Celia and Kitty! I am so happy to be part of the community here with both of you. Kitty, I love your “value-added” approach to public service. Your advise is also helpful – and a little scary!


I’ve known Kitty (and been a fan of Kitty) for awhile. I really picked up some gems here that I didn’t know.

I really like this quote as I really like getting advice from people but often take it almost 100%

–Always take advice with a grain of salt, and work constantly toward developing a reasoned, original point of view.

K. Scott Derrick

Great interview! Kitty Wooley is an amazing person. Kitty is someone who should be listened to, because of her knowledge AND her passion AND her energy AND her insight AND her ability to kick butt when needed! Kitty has been an instrumental force in the membership of 13L (www.13L.org), helping to clarify what’s important and reinforce the significance of accountability. Thank you to Kitty for making a difference!

Mark Danielson

Here’s my favorite:

–Never forget your mission. If you get to a point where you feel no passion for it, go find a mission you resonate with.

Thank you for the insight and the interview Kitty and Celia. Fun to read. -MD


Great interview Celia. People like Kitty are one of the reasons I enjoy being a public servant. They see the best in people and alway strive to challenge people to be better. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kitty through Young Government Leaders and I am very thrilled at the advice she has given me along the way. Thank you Kitty for all your work!!!

Michael O'Leary

Celia, excellent interview with Kitty. I have know Kitty for a couple of years and I so enjoy her ability to be a leader, thinker, and a friend !

Michael O. Johnston

Great interview Celia. I haven’t known Kitty for as long as it appears some of you have, I met her when I started Govlooping, but I have learned a lot from her and enjoy hearing her input on things.

Susan Reed

Kitty has a subtle way of always getting to the clear message. She has helped me immensely through her leadership and ideas. Thank you Kitty!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Within the last month or so, I had the chance to break bread with Kitty, another member of 13L (Jeffrey Vargas) and our very own GovLoop Founder, Steve Ressler. In just 2-3 hours of conversation, I walked away with about 5-6 great ideas and Kitty followed up immediately with contacts and information that brought value beyond our time together. The conversation was so lively and insight was flowing so freely that we ended up being the last ones out of the restaurant! Thanks so much, Kitty. You have great story and I’m glad it’s been shared with this community.

Judith C. Johnson

I met Kitty during the Executive Potential Program, and she is a wonderful, giving person. I was happy and pleasantly surprised to see her celebrated here–in only my second visit to this site. I joined GovLoop today. Go Kitty!