Megan Quinn & Steve Ressler: Accidental organizers

Two federal employees who felt out of place in an unfamiliar government workplace started an after-hours social network called Young Government Leaders

Steve Ressler and Megan Quinn didn’t set out to create a new organization. It just happened — over drinks in bars, through informal discussions and by way of an ever-widening circle of young federal employees craving connection.

Now the organization that started as a series of informal happy-hour gatherings in 2003 has a name: Young Government Leaders (YGL). It has a board of directors and a strategy.

A program analyst involved in information technology planning at the Environmental Protection Agency, Quinn said the impetus for the group was the disorientation its members felt as they were thrust into new roles with little guidance.

“We were all sort of thrown into something, and there wasn’t any sort of support,” she said. “There wasn’t any sort of mentoring. It was all our own initiative.”

Ressler, an auditor at the Homeland Security Department, echoed Quinn’s assessment of the bleak social and professional landscape for young feds at the time. Apart from several agency-focused groups, few organizations existed for young federal employees, Ressler said. He and Quinn wanted to bring together peers from many agencies, so they began organizing small happy-hour events to share ideas and frustrations. Gradually, they noticed a trend.

“More and more and more people were showing up for these happy hours,” she said. They were seeking interaction with people their own age who were similarly inexperienced as government employees.

chart “Megan was initially sending out e-mails, and she just started getting flooded” with responses, Ressler said. “The first big happy hour, 80 people showed up.” At that point, the group had only been in existence for about four months, he added.

Last summer, the organization elected its first board of directors and counted about 700 active members, Ressler said. The group now has committees that address social networking, communications, professional development and other topics of interest to members.

Developing a more formal structure has helped move the group along, Ressler said. Now leaders are considering forming local chapters beyond Washington, D.C., where young federal employees have even less support from professional peer groups.

“I am really for YGL being as informal as possible,” Quinn said. “Even the structure that we did take on was a little hard for me. But in the beginning people started asking me, ‘What else do you guys do?’ It really became apparent that people wanted more. They wanted more community, they wanted more activities.”

Adrienne Spahr, elected co-chairwoman of the group, said Quinn and Ressler laid a solid foundation for growth.

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“They’re very down-to-earth people,” said Spahr, an analyst at the Government Accountability Office. “You don’t have this authoritative, assertive personality coming from either one of them.”

The group has held one joint event with the Bethesda, Md., chapter of the Young AFCEANs and is planning to schedule more. Quinn and Ressler are wary of efforts to move federal work to the private sector, but they said they see value in bringing government and industry groups together.

Quinn and Ressler’s friendship predates their government jobs. Since Quinn began working toward a master’s degree in public administration at American University, she has scaled back her involvement with the group.

“Megan is kind of a visionary and a champion,” Ressler said. “She’s been a really good cheerleader for getting people excited.”

Ressler is “probably the most resourceful person I know,” Quinn said. “He’s really knowledgeable about different places to go for information and how we can disseminate information. He likes to have a lot of knowledge at his fingertips, and he also wants to share it.”

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