Leading Innovation for the Federal Government since High School

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.


Meet the finalist:

Who: Susanna Marking, Public Affairs Specialist, Federal Protection Service, Department of Homeland Security

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Finalist, Innovators Category

Most high school students’ after-school jobs consist of babysitting, waiting tables, lifeguarding at a pool or swiping membership cards at a gym – but not for Susanna Marking. As a senior in high school, Marking got her first job in federal government working for the U.S. Forest Service’s Visitor Information Center as a GS-1. And yes, that’s actually possible.

Marking has been a go-getter from the beginning of her career in federal government, working her way through every GS level. After working for the Forest Service for seven years, Marking is proud to say she is still working in federal government as a Public Affairs Specialist for the Federal Protection Service in the Department of Homeland Security.

To put it simply, Marking calls herself a federal communicator. “I have the great job of spreading the word about all the great programs and great people the federal government has to serve to the American people.”

There is not a hint of doubt about whether Marking loves her job or not. “When I go back home [to South Dakota] people are like, ‘oh the federal government, that must be boring.’ And I’m like no, I have done so many cool things because of being in the federal government.”

Some of the “cool things” she has been able to do include flying helicopters above Mount Rushmore; preparing events involving governors and the Secretary of Homeland Security; working with CNN and other news outlets during major disasters; seeing an archeological dig; and going to fire school, just to name a few.

Dedication to outstanding service at her agency is just one of Marking’s strongest assets. Marking went to firefighter school for a week, living outside in a tent, learning how to survive in the wilderness and learning the signs of fire. She did all of this to embed herself in the program and her agency’s mission. “It’s important to get out into the field and work side-by-side with the day-to-day, boots on the ground, people at the agency,” she explained.

While Marking was with FEMA she was the project lead for the Pocket Guide, one that was specifically for tribes across the country. The informational guide was used as a resource for tribes to contact FEMA directly to ask for assistance during a possible tragedy or natural disaster.

Marking said that in order to create these guides and communicate her agency’s needs, you need to focus on plain language. “You need to make sure that all of your products are easy to understand. The reason you’re trying to put every message out there is because somebody wants that information. You really have to think about all of your stakeholders, all of your agency stakeholders, all of your audience members, individual citizens and what stake they have in your program and you have to connect the question ‘what’s in it for me’ with your message.”

The innovation and services Marking is providing to her agency and American citizens is integral to the continuing success of the DHS and federal government.“I’m a public servant because I enjoy working for a cause greater than myself, with services and programs that truly make a difference to people across our country.”

You can’t ask for a much better public servant than that.

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!


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