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It’s Not About the Money

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.

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Meet the finalist:

Who: Ted Kowalsky, Director of Office of Grants and Asset Management in the Office of the Fiscal Assistant Secretary, Department of Treasury.

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Finalist, Exemplary Leader Category

“Ted’s track record of delivery, excellence, and his commitment to the mission of public service speaks loudly to his sense of duty.” – John Miller. Mr. Miller nominated Kowalsky for the NextGen  Exemplary Leader Award.

We often hear that for public servants, it’s not about the title, the glamor, nor the money – it’s about serving our nation. That’s the ideal that one public employee, Ted Kowalsky, embodies. As a young professional who excelled quickly to higher positions, Kowalsky understands that there’s more to running a financial system than just money.

Kowalsky has served in many roles and currently oversees a portfolio of programs covering a wide range of topics, including affordable housing, economic stabilization, renewable energy, and environmental restoration programs. Currently, he’s accountable for three programs that deal with some of the biggest national challenges of the past ten years.

The first part of his leadership includes management of the Office of Housing and Energy (OHE), which oversees $25 billion in grants for 100,000+ renewable energy and affordable housing programs associated with the $787 billion Recovery Act.

Secondly, he’s part of the team of the Office of Financial Agents, which manages the hiring and performance of all asset managers, investment banks, and government sponsored entities – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – engaged to execute the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

And finally, Kowalsky is the accounting executive to administering the BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Trust Fund, which is intended to pool together all penalties levied against the different firms involved in the oil spill and distribute grants across the gulf region to fund a variety of economic and environmental projects.

For someone younger and highly advanced in his career, Kowalsky knows he has his work cut out for him. “In total, we’re managing a 30 to 40 billion dollar portfolio of different investment and grant activities, so it’s a pretty significant bit of activity. But when you have a good team, it makes even the most daunting task easier.”

Before rejoining Treasury in 2009, Kowalsky worked for a bulge-bracket investment bank in London after completing his Master of Science program at the London School of Economics. This was around the time when the global economy underwent significant turmoil as a result of collapsing home prices and related financial products. U.S. firms took some of the biggest hits and firms like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed entirely. To compound this chaos, the worst offshore oil spill in the history of the US took place only one year later. So why did Kowalsky decide to return to the public sector? Why back to Florida, of all places, embroiled in the most chaos?

As a tried and true public servant, Kowalsky had a sense of duty to his nation. “When the crisis hit, it was hard being on the outside. I missed my family and I missed my country. My old boss at Treasury was trying to bring me back saying, ‘We need some talented people. There’s some storm clouds gathering on the horizon,’” he said.

Returning home from London after a decade or so was no easy task. “It was definitely scary. Hundreds of thousands of people were at risk of losing their homes. It was definitely no soft launch there,” he said.

Kowalsky also felt a sense of duty towards his home state. “My father’s company in Florida went under during the financial crisis. I grew up in Florida, and I spent about two years on the gulf coast of Texas as a child when my dad was transferred to work for Beaumont, Texas. We used to spend significant times in our summers with my grandparents and my parents going to the riverboat casinos and restaurants along Biloxi, Mississippi. That region raised me,” Kowalsky said.

In the end, Kowalsky retained a positive perspective from the whole experience. “This was a once in a generation activity where there was a tremendous crisis and people of all political stripes and all walks of life came together to try to solve these problems,” he said.

When asked why he’s in public service, Kowalsky said, “I don’t think there’s anything better than service to one’s nation and one’s fellow citizens. Having had a career in both public sector and private sector, nothing beats the kind of opportunities and rewards of working on public sector programs and working with public servants.”

He shared his advice for young, aspiring government professionals. “I would tell young government workers coming in to do their homework but don’t be afraid to speak up. I think senior leaders are a lot more willing to hear good and new ideas than people think,” Kowalsky said. He also recommended the book, True North, by former Medtronic CEO, Bill George. The book contains insights about finding your purpose and personal leadership success. “Never stop learning, always be inquisitive. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor and always be looking for challenges to inspire good thinking and good ideas,” said Kowalsky.

Kowalsky is an exemplary leader who used his experiences in both the public and private sector to serve his country. From helping the nation recover from financial loss to aiding the process that allowed at least 20 million residents rebuild their lives after national disaster, Kowalsky demonstrates that public service alone can be enough to inspire and innovate. He concluded, “A lot of people fall into this trap of thinking public service as being slow and immovable. But some of the best innovative thinking has been by people hearing the call of the nation and coming to work together to inspire, innovate, and solve problems together.”

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. Finally, register to attend the Awards Ceremony to get to know the NextGen 30 in-person!

Photo Credit: Flickr/Pictures of Money

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