Some feds juggle roles in field, at headquarters

James Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer, Johnson Space Center

wfedstaff | June 4, 2015 9:50 am

The federal government — with field offices sprawled across the United States &mdash presents a bit of a paradox.

Federal employees outside Washington, D.C. are more closely aligned with operations on the field. The feds at headquarters, on the other hand, perhaps have a better understanding of policy.

But some federal workers have expertise in both.

James Michael Duncan, the deputy chief medical officer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, is one of them. He serves on a rotation, which means he also spends time at the Office of International and Interagency Relations at NASA headquarters.


He shared his his unique perspective — from both inside and outside the Beltway — in Federal News Radio’s special series, “Talk Back to Washington: Insight for the federal manager on the workforce outside of D.C.”

By coming to Washington, he began to have an understanding of “the intersection of the operations and the policy,” and sometimes even the political side of things, he said.

“It’s been very interesting to understand the dynamic that goes on as an operations person somewhat behind the scenes and understanding all the programmatic and policy activities that take place at the headquarters level,” Duncan explained.

However, there is sometimes a lack of understanding of each other’s needs.”I think it is difficult for folks at field centers to understand all the policy implications,” he said. “And I think at a headquarters, it is for folks who deal with policy primarily, it’s difficult to understand all the operational nuances.”

Even in the age of high-tech mobile devices and easy access to tele-conferencing equipment and software, face-to-face communication still has its value, Duncan, said, which is why agency rotations are an important way to ensure policy is aligned with programs.

“Personally — and I hope this doesn’t sound too old-fashioned — I really think that there is value in meeting face to face with your colleagues, developing that personal relationship that only face-to-face contact can have,” he said. “And then when you do go back to your field center, and you’re talking via videoconference or over the phone, those relationships have been cemented and your ability to communication is that much stronger.


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