Federal Spotlight: Honorable Davita Vance-Cooks
MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today?
DVC: I started Federal Service with the Government Printing Office , which is what it was called back then, in August of 2004. I was hired to be the Deputy Managing Director of Customer Service, and at that time I was responsible for providing print procurement products and services to all of the Federal agencies across the United States. You see, the GPO is the official printer of the government, and that includes all Federal agencies. When they need printing jobs, like the Census or different products for their mission, they come to the GPO and we use printing companies across the country to procure those services for them.
Over my 12 year career at the GPO, I have been fortunate to work in multiple business units across the agency with increasing responsibilities. After the Deputy Managing Director of Customer Services, I became the Managing Director for Publication Information Sales, Chief of Staff, Deputy Public Printer serving as Acting Public Printer, then Public Printer in 2013.
In 2014, the name of the agency changed to the Government Publishing Office in recognition of our transformation to a digital publishing operation. The title for the head of the agency changed from Public Printer to Agency Director. I am responsible for leading the strategic direction of the agency. Our organizational strategy is a transformation from a print-centric functionality to a content-centric publishing operation. I oversee a workforce of 1,750 employees at the GPO. Back when the GPO was print heavy, maybe 20, 30 years ago, we had as many as 8,000 employees. Today I’m the person who sets the strategic direction and the tone for the agency – that’s what I do today, and I’m loving every minute of it.
MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector?
DVC: Well, I really believe in the GPO’s mission and I believe in my GPO employees. The mission of the GPO is to Keep America Informed, and that’s because when we were created in 1861, our job was to tell the American people about the business of the government. We publish information products for all three branches of government, and you can really see it in products such as the Congressional Record and the Federal Register. I believe very passionately in the importance of producing these documents, and I’m also very passionate about our employees because they believe in that mission. They’re committed to it and that keeps me motivated, because I watch them every day bring excellence to what they do in serving Congress, the Federal agencies, and the library community, so I really enjoy it. I’m excited about the transformation of us shifting into that digital information platform. We are here to make a difference.
I’ll give you two examples. First, with the Congressional Record, as you know it is issued every day when Congress is in session, and it describes what happened the day before. When Congress’ lights go out for the day, they start to send their files over to the GPO, so that we can prepare the Congressional Record and we work all night. We’re 24/7 – we work all night to make sure that the Congressional Record is put together and then in the early morning hours we upload it to GPO.gov so it’s out there on the Internet, and we print off whatever number of tangible copies is needed.
What’s so passionate and wonderful about it is that we have several hundred employees of the GPO whose primary job is to do that, and it’s like a delicate balance of getting all that information in, all the files, doing the pre-press work, checking quality, making sure that everything is set, that it’s put in the correct order, that the words are correct, the spelling is correct, and you see this every day. They come in, no matter what the weather’s like, no matter what’s going on. When we had snowstorms, they’re there. When we have bad rainstorms, they’re still there. When we even had an earthquake, they came back in. It’s that kind of passion.
Secondly, if you take a look at Roll Call, you’ll see an article about a gentleman named John Crawford, who is celebrating his 50th year of working for the GPO the title of it is, “Fifty Years on the Job and Counting.” If you read that article, you’ll understand why the employees have such passion. He represents exactly what I’m talking about.
MC: What is one of your biggest achievements?
DVC: I think the biggest achievement is GPO’s name change from the Government Printing Office to the Government Publishing office in December of 2014; it was proposed by Congress and signed into law by the President. To me, this reflected the fact that our stakeholders understood that the GPO had changed and transformed itself to be of greater value to them in the digital age. I think that it reflects well on the GPO employees that all the work, the commitment, and the loyalty that they have for the agency was seen, that the rest of the government saw – that our stakeholders saw – and understood that we have changed to accommodate the digital requirement. This is an achievement for all of the GPO employees.
MC: What advice would you share on making public service a career and not a pit stop?
DVC: We must make sure that our employees understand that their job matters and explain how their job connects to the agency’s mission. I think it is important to convey this message to all employees, especially new hires and particularly millennials – I’ll talk most about them because we’re trying to recruit them. What we have started to do when new employees come on board is to conduct quarterly strategic orientations whereby some of my executive staff, on a quarterly basis, meets with all of the new employees to explain the history of the agency, the mission, and to tie in the history and the mission with what they do. I think it’s important to make the effort to explain to the employees how their job ties in with their job role and ultimately with their career. When people don’t understand what their role is, what their part is in the greater process, they become disconnected and they just think of it as a pit stop. I think by making the effort to show how their job matters and connects, it helps them to think of it as a career instead of a pit stop. We just started that about a year ago, and it’s starting to work because they see their connection.
MC: What advice would you share with young people on entering government?
DVC: Give us a chance, just give us a chance, and be patient. When they first come on board, as I said before, we try to make sure – and this is not just millennials – it’s any new employee who comes in, that they understand the connection to the big picture, but also ask them to make a difference in whatever job they have, so that when they leave that job they can answer the following questions:
- Did I leave an impression?
- Did I make a difference in what I did?
Because when you make that difference in that job, no matter how small, then it ultimately helps your resume in the long run, because you have an achievement. You have something that you can point to. To the millennials I’m saying, make an effort to make an impression, give us a chance, and be patient. Sometimes change takes a while to stick.