A program started this year is affording Huntsville Center employees an opportunity to work at Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for four months to learn how USACE operates.
Sally Parsons, Sheron Belcher and Todd Watts, all from Engineering Directorate, are the first to participate in the Senior Leadership Development Fellow program. Parsons went on the first assignment, Belcher is at headquarters through October and Watts will take the next rotation.
The idea for the program came about when Charles Ford became Huntsville Center’s Programs Director. He said he realized he didn’t sufficiently understand how USACE HQ operated, and he did not appreciate how Huntsville Center fit into the big picture. He said it became apparent to him that most of the Center’s employees were in the same position.
“A lot of people – including us – think of us as a district, but we direct report to HQ. That makes us a division-level organization with execution mission; which is unique within the Corps,” Ford said. “I wanted to elevate our strategic engagement with USACE HQ.”
The assignment doesn’t come with a set of duties. Ford said he expects each employee to talk to as many people as possible, attend as many meetings as they can and work from there.
The employees selected for the program this year responded to an email sent to the Center’s employees asking if anyone was interested in the assignment. Ford said he plans to recruit three more individuals sometime in the first quarter of FY15. He is looking for self-starters, people who are highly motivated, flexible and adaptable.
“I’m not looking for a specific discipline,” Ford said. “Employees in Contracting, Resource Management or any other directorate can submit a resume. They just need to be able to operate independently.”
Parsons, a project manager in the Utility Monitoring and Control Systems Mandatory Center of Expertise at Huntsville Center, said she employed self-guided learning at headquarters.
“I made many office calls with HQ leadership and attended a lot of meetings across several offices and programs,” Parsons said. “The idea is to come away from this experience with a better idea of what goes on across the Corps enterprise, rather than focusing on what happens in the few offices and people I've dealt with routinely over the years. So, instead of limiting myself to working with Installation Support personnel, I attended a number of Contracting peer review, Acquisition Policy Community of Practice (CoP), and Contracting Policy CoP meetings; Military Construction (MILCON) issues meetings; a Civil Works meeting with Office of Management and Budget; USACE Operations Center briefs; and Cyber Threat Working Group meetings. I also attended leadership meetings, such as the Military Programs Integration Division-Programs Integration Division-Installation Support Division-Engineer & Construction-Environmental (MID-PID-ISD-E&C-Envr), Director Military Programs Management Review (DMR), and Services and Infrastructure Core Enterprise (SICE)
Parsons said she produced some products, too, such as trying to get funding for the Commercial Utility Program (CUP), facilitating development of a draft CUP Strategic Plan, trying to improve USACE's support to the Defense Critical Infrastructure program and enhancing cyber security for Industrial Control Systems (ICS).
“Some of the things I worked on at HQ have followed me back to HNC,” Parsons said. “I'm still helping the Corps to lay out how we can be leaders in Industrial Control System cyber security, which is something I enjoy doing. It gave me a lot of Continuing Learning Points (CLPs), too. And I made new friends, both at HQ and in the D.C. community.”
Parsons said she absolutely recommends the opportunity to anyone who is interested.
“I tell anyone who asks me that I highly recommend taking the opportunity if you get the chance,” Parsons said. “It's good exposure for you as an employee. It benefits the Center to have people here who understand HQ better. And it benefits all of us for HQ personnel to understand HNC's mission and capabilities.”
According to Belcher, who is the USACE United Facilities Guide Specifications (UFGS) Database Manager at Huntsville Center, the time at headquarters has been informative and fun.
“My goals while in this assignment were to learn about the greater Corps of Engineers and to act as an advocate for the Center,” Belcher said. “All my years with the Corps of Engineers have been in the same branch at the Huntsville Center. I thought it important to see what and how other elements function; see a bigger picture of the Corps of Engineers. I have gained a fuller understanding of the breadth of the Corps’ missions, activities and influence. I have also gained an understanding of how the Huntsville Center is regarded from the Headquarters perspective. HNC plays a vital role in implementing enterprise and national level program mandates that have high visibility for the Corps. I was amazed how often I overheard Huntsville mentioned, favorably I might add, in telephone conversations around me. In carrying out my assignments in the fellowship I have become more familiar with HNC organizations and people that I have not had occasion to work with. I believe the fellowship experience will allow me to look at my duties in a different light as well as feel more involved in Huntsville Center activities.”
In her spare time, Belcher took advantage of being in Washington, District of Columbia.
“One of the draws to the fellowship was to take full advantage of being in Washington, D.C., and take in all of the sites that I could,” Belcher said. “So far I have enjoyed the downtown festivities on the Fourth of July including the concert on the Capitol’s west lawn (that is the concert where they use real cannons playing the1812 Overture); a concert at the Kennedy Center; spent nearly every weekend visiting several of the Smithsonian museums, the Library of Congress, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market and other D.C. landmarks; and had a personal tour of the Capitol with someone from Congressman Mo Brooks’ staff. I am waiting for cooler weather to tour Mount Vernon and the Lincoln Cottage. I have also been able to share the experience playing tour guide to visiting family and posting my adventures on Facebook.”
Watts, chief of the Architect-Engineer Contracts and Criteria Branch, said he is ready for his rotation.
"After spending four weeks at the Civilian Education System (CES) Advanced Course in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I am very excited to embark on my next leadership development opportunity,” Watts said. “I spent a lot of time learning about national and Army level strategy as well as critical thinking while I was at Fort Leavenworth. I'm looking forward to expanding that skill set while I'm at Headquarters."