Scott Thomas: Asking 'why' to bureacracy

Monday - 7/25/2011, 6:00am EDT

(Photo courtesy of LA Air Force Base)

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

This profile is part of the Federal News Radio special report, "The New Face of Government." Federal News Radio profiled a total of six young feds for this series.

Name: Scott Thomas
Age: 26
Title: Project Manager for GPS Directorate, Space and Missile Center
Agency: LA Air Force Base
Time in Government: 2 years

Why did you want to work in government?

I always saw myself in public service. I think it's part of my DNA. My grandfather in New Jersey has a nonprofit and a home for homeless veterans that he started. And he was a town councilman for years and years before he passed away. My father was in public service too on the local school board. So growing up, whenever anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, President of the United States.

What was the application process like to get your job?

It took about six months from the interview until I was actually on base in Los Angeles. It was a little frustrating but I still had my contacts from the interview and they explained that this is normal, this is the process, keep your head up. And I was able to do that until I made it here on base.

I really had to take the initiative to reach out to them to find out what's going on. During the application process, you get emails, fill out this, fill out that, and you're not sure what it means. So having a clear, proactive line of communication to the applicants would be very beneficial. I'm sure there were people in my situation who felt abandoned after they didn't hear anything for a month and may have found another job and taken that job.

What's different about a government job compared with a private sector job?

I think things in government move slower, but there's always a reason for that. We always have audits and that type of thing (because) we're using taxpayer money.

I think coming out of college, you're excited. You want to change the world. You want to go a million miles per hour. And when you get here, you have to take a deep breath and try to understand why we do the things we do.

I think asking why is very beneficial because it's often led to discussions that have probably led to a more efficient way of doing business.

How are you treated as a young fed at your agency?

I think leadership is very aware that we are the next generation coming up. They want to know what we think. We're the first generation that grew up with the Internet. So they are always impressed when we come up with ways to use online collaboration to do our job better. And they often ask our point of view because it's just so fresh and new.

What's been helpful to you in succeeding on the job?

Mentorship has been a big help in my career. My work offers training for mentors and mentees here on base, and they also have a database of mentors you can literally flip through and find someone you think would be a great fit.

I can give any young federal employee this advice: If you don't have a formal mentorship program, I would take the initiative to find mentors outside your chain of command to know and grow from.

What's something about young feds that federal managers should be aware of and may not be?

I think our motivations in life are a little different from other generations and I would stress to managers to get to know the young person in your office and what motivates them. I know feedback is something my generation loves. We love hearing how we're doing and how we can improve.

I don't know if it's just me or my generation - I feel like we don't really have a big ego so we're okay with being told, 'Don't do things this way, you need to do it this way and that's why.' I think some people in the older generations don't like to hear those things.

Check out more from the Federal News Radio special report, "The New Face of Government."

Part 1 - Introduction: New Face of Government

Part 2 - Survey reveals both opportunities, rift between generations

Part 3 - Practical tips for engaging young feds

Part 4 - Young feds share what they really think (Read the profiles of six young feds)