Government transition: Planning ahead for career risk

As a FED covered by the Hatch Act most onerous elements I have eschewed all political discourse and basically kept my mouth shut. That isn’t going to change now. I have no view public or private to share on the electoral cycle. My one and only view is as follows. Throughout my life I have served my nation in some capacity. I have been an enlisted soldier in the Army and the Marine Corps. This is patriotism not politics. I have been a tribal police officer, deputy sheriff/corrections officer. I have been a teacher, professor, and industry professional serving the nation with my expertise and dedication. It is often easy to be pious when nobody asks you to do anything. Much to my horror and my former platoon in the Marines service is part of volunteering.

However, since the number 2 item on PEOTUS 100 day plan is shrinking the federal work force. I guess I should seriously start looking around for a job. I doubt my job is in danger as I’m special category of senior executive in federal government. Yet much like when I was working at National Defense University teaching military leaders I know that if I leave others with less opportunity may get to stay. As a top tier infosec guy, having written books, worked with many industries (health, finance, engineering, etc). I won’t flip to a contractor to government slot. Whatever I do would mean leaving government and not turning around and try selling to a shrinking government market as a contractor. First, I don’t do sales. Second, I love the pace of operations and seeing my efforts do stuff.

PEOTUS has talked about draining the swamp and I admit I have seen things that literally blew my mind in the areas of waste. I have done my best to correct, mitigate, or change the way things are done in government. I know that my efforts have succeeded and I have been rewarded for the big and little successes. It will be easy to get disheartened as senior leadership attacks your compensation as they require you to accept more mission. Job satisfaction can be low while mission satisfaction is high. When you deal with security you often are “doing” while never being “done”. It is frustrating but also the reality of a career in any type of security.

Like many things I write this story isn’t really about me. It is my way of communicating concepts to a broader constituency (lots of former students and coworkers). The first concept is frying pan -> fire. Jumping from the fed to contractor is silly even if you get money in the short term. Why? Risk increases exponentially to long term gains. The second concept is fear of failure. Much like when I sought senior academics advice on giving up tenure at Purdue. I was told if you need tenure don’t give it up. Since then I’ve given up tenure twice. That said I’d never take a job in academia without tenure. Which is the third principle. Understand your worth and demand the resulting requirements. Don’t settle for ease or out of fear.

Building more on that, be open to challenges, and opportunity. Recently I was cold called by a recruiter. I’m a wee bit of a curmudgeon and instantly suspicious. The conversation was “brag about yourself a bit” and ended with a second phone call. The job wasn’t really in an area I wanted, was kind of low level. I honestly didn’t take it seriously. Oh, did I mention it was $500K to $1.2mill a year salary for an operations gig? I passed on it before I knew the money on the table. Not my brightest moment. This is the counterpoint of not jumping into the fire. Do know what you’re giving up because instead of fire maybe it is chocolate pudding. Or, well, perhaps something more positive. Make rational choices about risk aversion and opportunity.

There will be enough time for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Rational risk aversion coupled with informed risk taking are all part of a good career plan. As my wife teases our kids before sending them off to school, “Have fun, and make good choices.” My add to that is take every recruiter seriously you never know what great opportunity you just scoffed off.

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