‘First, listen, listen and learn, and then prepare’

“First, Listen. Listen and learn, and then prepare,” said Beth Killoran, interim chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, when asked to give advice for the new presidential appointees going through the confirmation process.

Killoran sat down with Women of Washington hosts Aileen Black and Gigi Schumm back in October. Killoran has been CIO of DHHS since 2014. The CIO position at DHHS is an appointed one, and Killoran went through the Senate confirmation process herself.

“Anyone who is going in new to an agency, whether you’re going to the Hill or going to an agency to run it, the first thing it’s really critical to understand is: what’s happening in the organization now?” she said.

An appointee who doesn’t take time to listen can be challenging. “That becomes very disruptive in an organization,” Killoran said. “There’s a cultural change, and you tend to lose a lot of your great talented people, because this is their day to day job, and that stress of unknowing, of what’s going to happen to them makes them want to move on to something else where they have a little bit more control.”

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Killoran also said that an appointee should educate him or herself about their new organization, from both inside and out. “The next thing is to learn: what do you know about this organization?” she said. “Find out. Read the policies. Read the regulations. Talk to people both internally and externally that have experience in those organizations. And then, plan.”

Killoran also gave advice for young people who are starting their careers. When asked if she would recommend young people work for the federal government, she said, “I think the government service is a good place to mature.”

“There are so many different missions and so much different geographic distance between locations, that people can not only learn different capabilities, you have the opportunity to move around, and if one thing doesn’t fit, you can try, try, again,” she said.

Killoran added that she had experienced this personally. “I’ve been in three federal agencies now, learning lots of different missions, so no matter what individual mission you’re passionate about, you can find it in the federal government,” she said.