Federal Spotlight Interview: Nathaniel H. Benjamin
MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today?
I’ve been in Federal Service excluding military time for about 15 years and my main responsibility is managing the Human Capital Office for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Under that responsibility, I’m responsible for talent acquisition for general schedule employees. Additionally, we manage the executive resources program for our Senior Executive Service members and our political staff. We also manage the diversity and inclusion programs, learning and development, employee engagement, outreach, employee relations, performance management, and data collection and reporting.
MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector?
We are in such a place of change when it comes to the Federal Service. We have Baby Boomers that are exiting. And as Baby Boomers are exiting, it’s creating new opportunities for Generation X and Generation Y. As these opportunities present themselves, it creates a landscape for public servants to see change right before their eyes. For me, it’s an opportunity to continually build a solid career and, down-the-line, position myself so that I can hopefully be a change agent for Washington, as well as the Federal Government at large.
MC: What is one of your biggest achievements?
I would say one of the biggest achievements that I’ve had is coming into my position. We had a hundred percent turnover. I am currently the most seasoned veteran. When I came in, one of the charges was to bring the office into the 21st century; to be more strategic; to be more aligned with the organization. Because those were the marching orders that I received, I made it a point to make sure that I hired a staff that was capable of making these things happen. It’s great if you have one person come in, but anybody who is in management understands that the staff really can make or break the organization. And so, I hired in a top-talented staff, or as I call them, my varsity squad; because there was no room for JV players.
Within 18 months, we brought in more automated processes and website development. We really ramped up our employee engagement efforts to include staff partnering with our senior leadership to create a Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Work Plan focusing on D&I as a part of the institution and not just a program that resides in Human Capital. By getting engagement around the entire organization, we’ve been able to establish what we know as diversity and inclusion dialogues. Additionally, we have created a program known as “Community Spaces” where our employees with different backgrounds, perspectives, life styles, and work experiences can feel safe to engage in constructive dialogues – in a confidential setting — because we know that who you are and what you bring to the office has a critical impact on the work that you perform. We want our workforce to feel that they can bring their whole self to work, because that is when they can do their best. The total person is very important. We were intentional when it came to promoting Special Emphasis Programs (SEP) and it’s very important for each month where we acknowledge and celebrate specific groups. And so, each month that there is a recognized group, we partner with our senior leaders, who are absolutely and completely supportive.
We get our Director engaged in messaging to make sure that diverse groups and special emphasis months are recognized. We do programming as a part of an overarching plan to ensure that people know that diversity inclusion is not just a title, but that it’s paramount to our organization. And it’s not just diversity, but it is really that inclusion part. Because diversity is asking someone to come to the dance, inclusion is when we really ask you to be part of the dance.
I have a great network of colleagues and we leverage ideas from each other. I would love to say that I sit back and come up with all of this, but I don’t. I have a great staff that challenges me with different ideas, and challenges us to go to the next level. I have colleagues that challenge me and I do the same for them. And so, it’s just about building and creating networks. I think that I’ve done that pretty well.
MC: What advice would you share with young people on entering government?
There’s generally always three to four generations in the workforce. With the new generation that’s coming up “Generation Z”, I think what’s so great and interesting about them is their youth and agility. They understand technology even better than Millennials. I think that as government is getting better suited in technology, there’s going to be such an opportunity for them to use technology in ways that our generation can’t – in ways that Generation X’s and Baby Boomers don’t even get. I think this is an opportunity for those of the new generation to sink their teeth into a system that’s evolving and ever-changing. The way the Federal Government looks right now, more than likely, will not be the way it looks within the next 15 to 20 years. They get the opportunity to be in Federal Government at the ground up for changes that likely will occur.
I would suggest that young people, wherever you go, just listen. After listening, learn the craft, observe interactions, understand the rules and engagements of that organization, understand the culture, and build credibility. These recommendations can make or break your experience in an organization. You can be awesome in everything that you do but if no one trusts you, that’s when it presents challenges. But after you do all those things, I would say seek to become that change agent. You have those people who are supporting you, who understand where you’re coming from. You now understand the culture, so you also understand how to navigate through it.
Often times people end up hitting walls, not because their ideas aren’t great, but because they don’t know how to navigate through their organization or they don’t know who should be the champion to fight for and with them in instituting change. In my 15 years of Federal Service, those are the things that have worked for me. Those are things that I impart to colleagues, people I’m mentoring, or staff.