Being tasked with people’s safety is no small calling, especially when the people are across borders in sometimes hostile countries. When a crisis happens overseas, it’s Michelle Bernier-Toth’s job as managing director of Overseas Citizens Services at the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular
Affairs to contact US nationals and get them out of the situation. Because of the outstanding work she does every day, she is also a finalist for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies). She sat down with Chris Dorobek of the DorobekINSIDER to talk about her job and why she does it.
In a time-sensitive job like Michelle’s, the facts are important to gather as quickly as possible. There are usually journalists abroad during crisis situations that provide subsets of what is going on; it’s Michelle’s job to help piece together the whole picture so accurate information can be given to travelers. Getting this right is extraordinarily important, as bad information can lead to trouble.
Luckily for travelers, Michelle does a great job in accurately disseminating information, which legally must be given to private citizens if there is a specific, credible, and non-counterable threat that they would contact government employees abroad for. There are also great programs like the smart-traveler enrollment program where people can upload their itinerary online so that they State Department can reach out and blast information to them.
During the crisis in Haiti, the local government was devastated. Because of this, the State Department had to do things it normally wouldn’t, like repatriating the remains of US citizens; repatriation of remains is normally tasked to the host government. The Haiti crisis became a major US government-wide humanitarian response of which Michelle played a crucial role.
Michelle has made some serious sacrifices for the mission of public service. But it’s important, it needs to be done, and she is glad to serve America. It took her years to be able to get a normal nights rest after Haiti since she was up at all hours checking on the situation. Her commitment to public service stems from her parents, who were public servants themselves. Luckily, Michelle says her work is highly appreciated as some people who were helped abroad even reach out to say “thank you.”
To listen to Michelle’s full interview you can catch the full radio show at GovLoop Insights or you can subscribe to our itunes channel.
Michelle has helped make great things in Consular Affairs (which is itself a forward-leaning bureau in State Department). She’s definitely a government hero. Yay, Michelle!