Thompson: Through the looking glass

He's seen the world from both sides now

If someone had told me when I began my career in government that I would retire 30 years later as a senior information technology manager, I would have thought that most unlikely. One of the greatest rewards of being a federal employee is that the right combination of hard work and openness to new challenges can lead to a varied and dynamic career. Throughout my tenure in

government, I changed jobs and roles every two to four years.

My government career had an unlikely beginning. In my final year of business school, I decided to take the Federal Service Entrance Exam after I helped a friend study for it. A few months later, I received a letter from the Office of Personnel Management offering me a position as a GS-7 management intern. A federal career promised stability and the opportunity to bring good business skills and knowledge to the task of improving government. At OPM, my job responsibilities shifted from audits to budget planning to policy, and I had a role in work that led to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

My introduction to IT came when a former boss asked me to help replace OPM's computer systems. With the agency's support, I obtained an MBA in information systems management. Within two years, I was managing a project to replace OPM's general-purpose computing systems, upgrade its retirement processing systems and automate its personnel investigation procedures.

After working at OPM, I went to the Internal Revenue Service to help develop its strategic plan for acquisitions. As IT was becoming critical for delivering government services, strategies for acquiring new IT systems were assuming greater importance.

In 1998, I moved to the Treasury's Department's headquarters to create the IT Workforce Improvement Program. The CIO Council helped me implement this program nationwide. When Treasury reorganized the chief information officer's office in 2002, I retired from government and joined Unisys as e-government practice director.

Things looked different from the other side. As a private-sector manager, I had to show a connection between my work and corporate revenue. Customer requests led to action, not debate. The emphasis on service and results was refreshing.

Earlier this year, I left the commercial sector for a position as vice president of management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government. Creating a service-oriented culture and performance metrics in government are challenges that I hope to address in my new job.

I have never lost interest in improving government, so I was intrigued when the council approached me about expanding its e-government program to a wider range of management activities. The council can bridge the gaps between government and business and among government agencies in ways that other organizations cannot.

Having been employed in every sector of the workforce — public, commercial and now nonprofit — I'm enthusiastic about the contributions I can make in my new workplace.

Thompson is vice president of management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. He can be reached at fthompson@excel.gov.

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