Lifers, people who have spent more than 20 years in federal service, are a knowledgeable, diverse, and dedicated group employees. And now, as the long-predicted brain drain (40% of federal employees are eligible for retirement this year) begins to take its toll on our federal agencies, now is a good time to share the stories of three lifers I know; and to learn what they can teach those of us who are well into our careers, or just beginning our journey.
Mindy was one of the first people I met when I came to USCIS, as we worked on the same team. She didn’t talk much (she’s a true introvert); but it was clear, even in those early days, how much respect other staff members had for her. Over time, I learned she was the knowledge base: the go-to for information on HR, the person who could quote the Code of Federal Regulations backwards and forwards. Mindy is the person you want when the chips are down.
Like many in federal service, Mindy didn’t initially think she would be a lifer. She started working for the fed while still in high school, and continued to do so all through college. But the longer she stayed, the more expertise she gained, the more it became clear that the fed would be her career. Today, after nearly 30 years of federal service, she is a well-respected HR professional who is proud of her contribution to the service: "I am privileged to work with dedicated professionals. I know that the work I perform contributes to the mission of my agency and the betterment of the federal service,” she said.
Renata is a people person: she knows people across the government at all levels, has never met a stranger and never met anyone she hasn’t been willing to help. Renata is someone who speaks her mind; so if you can’t handle the truth, she’s the wrong person to ask. A prime example was her first job in federal service: she spent her days on a computer searching for aliases for people coming into the country. After a couple of months, she told her bosses that she wasn’t suited to the position- she needed to work with people. Her bosses, valuing her work ethic and honesty, found a position that was a better fit.
Over the last 30 years, Renata has worked, at a handful of agencies, in a variety of positions including organizational development, diversity and inclusion, and human resources. Today she is a respected senior advisor who is preparing for the next phase chapter of her life: in a few months she will retire from federal service and embrace the consulting life, using the myriad skills she gained in federal service to continue to help others.
And finally there’s Jeff, a rare lifer who has worked for the same agency for his nearly 25 year career. He is a third generation lifer, following in the footsteps of his mother and grandmother. He, like Renata, entered into federal service just out of high school and has worked his way up through his agency to his current position of proofreader/publisher. He has entertained the thought of becoming a supervisor, but for now, remains happy to “do my best every day and fulfill my family’s legacy of service.”
I have learned a lot from Mindy, Renata, and Jeff, not just about their respective areas of expertise, but about what being a public servant truly means: weathering the ups and downs, Administration changes, budget and staffing cuts, and public disdain or misconceptions of their contributions. They are concrete examples of what we newbies (at least by comparison) can aspire to and if we’re lucky, we’ll one day serve as role models to those who come after us.
(Thank you to Mindy, Renata, and Jeff for letting me share your stories. I'm sure your colleagues will immediately recognize you...even beneath your pseudonym.)
Kim Martin-Haynes is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.