I’m delighted to have been able to interview my fellow Seattleite, Tom Melancon, “Civil Savant”– Technical Writer, Department of Labor.
My sincere thanks to Tom for taking the time to give this interview!
What is your role with the Department of Labor?
My position is called Technical Writer, in the Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Office of Worker’s Compensation programs (I sometimes laugh at the length of the title).
In particular, I work for the Division of Energy Employees’ Occupational Illness Compensation Program. We assist people who became ill as a result of developing the nation’s nuclear weapons assistance in obtaining financial compensation and medical benefits. In Seattle, we work a lot with The Department of Energy’s Hanford Site because it was involved in the development of the original atomic bombs. What I do within that organization is to respond to Congress when they have a question about the program, or whenever they have a constituent with a question.
The other part of my job is to coordinate staff training for the office. The EEOICP program is nationwide, and the Seattle regional office covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and the rest of the West Coast. There are 4 regional offices (the others are in Denver, Jacksonville, and Cleveland).
The regional office has 100 staff. Some of the other positions are claims examiners, senior claims examiners and fiscal officers—we have a quite a few attorneys in the claims examiner position (it’s a GS 11 to step 12). It’s a good position for people entering the government. Some previously worked in medical claims or other state or private workers compensation programs. The claims examiners job is to get medical and employment evidence and qualify people for compensation.
How did you get into this job? Mine was a strange route. I joined the government through Job Corps in Seattle. I got recruited into my current position because I was a Job Corps Programs Director and the DOL regional office needed someone with center experience. As a project manager for Job Corps, I was a consultant; I worked with 3 Job Corps centers to improve their performance and make sure they had funding. I loved the job; but they changed the administration of the office and closed the Seattle regional office, which is why I moved to my current role with the Department of Labor.
We have one of the biggest regional offices in DOL in Seattle. There are other agencies located here: OSHA; FECA (federal employee’s compensation program), etc.
How did you start in federal service? I finished a Master’s in Counseling, and started as a basic orientation specialist at a Job Corp center in Reno, NV, where I stayed for 8 years, and worked my way up to Program Director. I worked for a few years as a career counselor in private practice, and came back to Job Corps as a consultant. Then I went to work at the Job Corps in Astoria OR. During my time in Oregon, I met the people working in the Seattle office of Job Corps, and they recruited me to work as a project manager. I had to fill out one of those very long federal job application forms, and then they interviewed me over the phone in 1999. I didn’t get the position at that time, but then a year later got a call from the same office, and they just hired me based on the previous application.
What is a typical day like for you? A typical day involves about half the day in more administrative work, part of which is responding to Congressional letters. Congressional letters are usually generated on behalf of a claimant who is unsatisfied with some aspect of the program. So I have to research the claim, identify what has been done to address the claimants issues and what may need to be done and write a response that addresses all issues and is signed by the District Director. I’ll spend part of the morning responding to emails and updating the office Access Data Bases for claims and employment verification sources. The second half of the day I’ll be training staff members on best practices, use of office reports, time management, etc. It’s partly file and writing work, and then developmental work.
What was your favorite accomplishment in your career? The accomplishment in this position I’m most proud of is that I was asked to develop two of the training presentations for the newly developed EEOICP New Claims Examiner Training Program in Jacksonville, Florida. I also travel to Florida about every other month to present them. It’s a great thing to be part of, to make sure the claims examiners understand the importance of customer service, and to make sure everyone’s trained under the same procedures.
I’m really excited about the GovLoop network. One of the things I’m interested in as a Federal employee is interacting and interfacing with others in the fed system, and GovLoop looks like a good way to do that.
P.S. I came up with the moniker “Civil Savant” recently, and I plan to develop a cartoon based upon the things I find funny about working in the government. I’ll let the GovLoop members know where to find it when it’s published.