Managing the People, Partnerships and Processes in Government  
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Managing the People, Partnerships and Processes in Government  

Paloma Adams-Allen, the deputy administrator for management and resources at the U.S. Agency for International Development, is responsible for ensuring that the agency has the technological, financial, and human resources to deliver on its mission—in other words, for advancing the success of USAID’s people, partnerships, and processes. Working in support of Administrator Samantha Power, Adams-Allen speaks to the agency’s ongoing initiatives to build a more diverse, inclusive, and accessible workforce and her office’s efforts to encourage young professionals, students and leaders of color to pursue career opportunities with USAID.  She also discusses the process of forming partnerships with local development organizations, civil society organizations, and community enterprises across the world to be more responsive to the needs and priorities of the international communities USAID supports.  

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Loren DeJonge Schulman:  From the Partnership for Public Service, this is “Profiles in Public Service”—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous.  

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists and more to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives.  

I’m Loren DeJonge Schulman,  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher. Today’s episode we are joined by Paloma Adams-Allen, the Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources at the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

Similar to the role of a Chief Operating Officer, Paloma is responsible for ensuring the agency has the technological, financial, and human resources to deliver on its mission: to promote democratic values abroad, advance U.S. national security and economic prosperity, and lead the U.S. government’s international development and disaster assistance. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Paloma will share with us today about USAID’s ongoing initiatives to make the agency a more diverse, inclusive, and accessible workforce, the efforts her office took to support employees in the transition back to in-person work, and her own advice for young professionals, students, and leaders of color who are interested in pursuing career opportunities in public service. 

In addition, we will hear about the work that goes into forging partnerships with local development organizations, civil society organizations, and community enterprises across the world so that USAID can be more responsive to the needs and priorities of the international communities it supports. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: 

Before entering the federal government, Paloma worked in the nonprofit sector and with a law firm. Prior to her current role with USAID, Paloma served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Inter-American Foundation, a U.S. government agency that invests in community-led development across Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Welcome Paloma! 

Transition Music 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, what motivated you to enter a career in public service and work with the federal government?  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  My personal background really influenced my professional path, to both working in the non-profit sector, to working in the federal government and to working in the international development space. So, I guess I’ll focus on the personal. So, I was born to an American mother and a Jamaican father, and I spent my school year in Jamaica and my father’s home village, which is a tiny village on the northeast coast of Jamaica. A fishing village. And I spent the summers with my mother’s friends and family, primarily in New England in the United States. And from a very early age, I traversed both of these cultures. What I noticed, even starting in five, six, seven, eight years old, was just the contrast between both. Whether it be the racial contrast between black and white, whether it be the wealth contrast, the poor, incredibly poor conditions in which a lot of folks lived in Jamaica at that time, and particularly where I grew up, very rural, and the wealth and privilege in the worlds that my mother grew up in, and where we spent the summers.  

So, I spent a lot of time thinking about why this was, and really where I settled was really, you know, at least in my father’s and my Jamaican family’s context, was a lack of opportunity. Everybody was brilliant. Everybody was innovative, everybody was caring, but there was just so little investment, whether it be in their education, whether it be in infrastructure, whether it be in the productive sectors. And so I decided that I would spend my career figuring out how to make sure that that investment happened in communities like the one that sustained me. And so that’s, you know, in the field of global development and international development is where I found my space to contribute. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  So, you started to talk about this, how you’ve had a career spanning government, the nonprofit space and so on. How did you take this objective of investments in the community that you had experienced growing up and in other communities? How did that objective take you through your public service journey? Tell me a bit about where you started and where you continued from there?  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  I started in the nonprofit sector, truly interning in nonprofits. First in Boston, I went to college at Brown University in Providence. So, I would work in the summers in Boston. And I worked, for instance, for a youth empowerment organization in Boston called YouthBuild USA. Their work was primarily domestic, but they were also starting up an international program. And then when I was in graduate school, I started interning here in Washington and I just chose organizations that spoke to me, and specifically I looked for organizations here that were working in Latin America and the Caribbean. And part of it was I was simply homesick, and I wanted to be surrounded by people who spoke the languages that I grew up with, and I wanted to work in the communities that I cared about. And so, I just started anywhere I could get an internship in Washington.  

So that’s how I started in sort of a small non-profit space. And then opportunities, you know, arose from then and I just took them. And so, the next step was moving into the international institution space. I worked at the Organization of American States for a decade in a range of roles: programming, policy, leadership, management. And then when President Obama was elected, I had a chance to move into the federal government, which had been a dream of mine to work at USAID since I was in college. And so, an opportunity opened up and I jumped, and I moved into government, and it’s been a remarkable experience. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  And in your current role, Paloma, at USAID is Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources. And we know in D.C. we all love our titles. So, for our listeners, break that down for us as to what this means that you do every day.  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  Sure. So, I am the deputy administrator for management and resources. I’m also the chief operating officer, so that may be a more accessible term for our listeners. But essentially, I’m responsible for making sure that we are able to do the work and to deliver on our mission, that we have the resources both financial, technological and human do so, that we invest and support and empower the workforce that does so, and that our operating model is truly fit for purpose. So, what that means really, is that, you know, I am looking at overall management issues, operations issues, budget concerns, personnel concerns.  

If I were to simplify it into my three priorities, they’re first and foremost people, right. And that is to support and empower our people. And there are a couple of efforts that I’m primarily focused on. 

One is growing and revitalizing our workforce and specifically expanding our direct hire workforce. And what that means is we are made up of a mix of different types of hiring categories that are possible in the federal government, and we want to create as many permanent and career enhancing opportunities for people to join our agency. So that’s what I’m focused on. And we have a specific initiative called the Global Development Partnership Initiative, which is a three-year effort to really bolster our workforce. And it includes expanding the workforce and particularly recruiting and expanding our expertise. We have fantastic expertise here, but there’s so many demands on us. So, our expertise in climate change, in democracy, anti-corruption, issues in global health, security, national security, a range of management issues, procurement, human resources, financial management, as well as building a more permanent humanitarian assistance workforce. So that is a big piece. We need our people in order to do this work, and we have to grow that workforce in a way that sustains them and sustains us. 

The other piece is mainstreaming diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility into everything that we do. This is a key priority of ours, and that includes really institutionalizing who is going to be responsible for this. We’re all committed to this value but making sure that our institution has the resources needed to truly advance this mainstreaming. And so, in early 2022, we established the Office of the Chief of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility. So, this is an office linked to the office of the administrator, and we named our first chief diversity officer in our history, frankly. And so now we have a lead, and we have a resourced office to do this. And that office is coordinating and overseeing all of our efforts to tap into new talent pools so that our workforce is representative of our country, but also opens up our agency to all the talent and brilliance that that’s out there. And frankly, they don’t have a path to necessarily get to USAID at this point.  

It also means embracing inclusion, inequity as a value, right, and promoting a respectful and safe workplace for everyone. Elevating the expertise and knowledge of all parts of our workforce, no matter how they come to our mission, and expanding accessibility for persons with disabilities, and truly enhancing our IT and our organizational structure to facilitate this more flexible workplace and more flexible environment in which we’re all working post pandemic.  

So that is a people piece. In addition to people, the next set of priorities are around partners and specifically how to expand our stable current partners and truly diversify them to reflect not only the partners in our own country, but also the range of incredible partners in the countries that we work. So, in the U.S., we’re working through a couple of initiatives: our new partner initiative and a big push by the Biden administration, which is our equity and procurement initiative. And that seeks truly to open up our agency to the ideas, service providers that are out there across the United States who would be fabulous partners for us, if only they could get to us. One of the first things we’ve done is have stood up a new platform that’s about a year old now, and it’s called Work with USAID and it is a website that facilitates the access of new partners to USAID. It provides information, a range of languages, it explains how one can partner with USAID, the different ways to contract with us, or to try to get a grant through USAID to work with us in the U.S. or overseas. 

Our goal is to make sure that anyone who’s interested in partnering with USAID at least knows how to do so. The other piece of the partnerships’ focus is on how we open ourselves up more and do better partnering with local organizations overseas, many of whom we helped create. We have been in business, we’ve been representing the American people overseas, supporting global development for 60 years, and a lot of what we do includes supporting civil society organizations, starting up small businesses, supporting community enterprises. Those organizations and enterprises now are at a place where they could be real partners to us, but it is very difficult for them to partner with us because we are a massive and complicated bureaucracy. So we have embarked on a set of internal reforms that are intended to make it easier to work with USAID as an overseas partner. We are also looking very intentionally how we better tailor our development and humanitarian assistance to be more responsive to the needs and priorities of local organizations, the countries in which we work, and the communities in which we work.  

So that would be the second bucket. The third bucket, and these are three P’s, is around processes. Part of the reason it is so difficult for anyone to come work with us or to partner with us is that we are a bureaucracy, and it is very difficult to navigate our processes. We are kicking off a process which responds to the Biden administration’s push for the federal government to really address the administrative burdens that make it difficult for all of us as Americans or, you know, partners and others overseas to work with us. And so we are in the process of standing up and internally facing, at this point, burden reduction effort. And that is really in response to our own workforce, just flagging and noting that they are burned out, that we make it way too difficult for us to do the work we have all signed to do and that we really need to go through an exercise of really slashing and eliminating the things that are truly burdensome and are very low impact. So, that effort is being kicked off soon and we are so incredibly excited about it.  

On top of everything else that we have to do every day, I keep those three Ps in mind: the people, our partners and our processes. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  I love how in listening to you talk about the work that you’re doing at U.S. Agency for International Development, I see the reflection of the racial equity executive order, the customer experience executive order, and the DEIA executive order, all things that I could have seen a, not superficial but like a kind of obvious, intersection with the work that you do and that it’s taken to this next level of thinking about the procurement process, how you engage with partners, how you address internal processes and so on. This is really a high impact way that is going to change the way the organization works. But with all of that, all of those three P’s and everything else that you’re doing, could you talk about something that is a recent accomplishment for you or for your team that you all are either really proud of or thinking that’s really going to make a difference in the work that you all do?  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  Thanks so much. I would say on top of those initiatives that you’ve flagged so thoughtfully; you know, those take a lot of cultural change and so I’m just so proud of this institution, of our staff for really digging in and, you know, really just acknowledging where we’re sort of imposing challenges in ourselves and how we’re holding ourselves up and trying to free ourselves. So that I consider honestly, an accomplishment. Even though we are not remotely there yet, we’re working hard on it.  

I would say one that’s both an accomplishment and a challenge was the process of figuring out how to get our domestic workforce back physically into the office as the pandemic was winding down, but still with us after two years of working predominantly remotely and managing and a heavy load of just crises, international crises, on top of international crises, on top of humanitarian crises, on top of domestic challenges. The process of figuring out how to help transition the workforce back to the physical workspace, but not to how we used to do business, but to what the Biden administration refers to as the future of work, which is what we’re no longer in the future. Living in it with a more hybrid, flexible, inclusive approach to working that recognizes that we have personal lives, we have other passions, we are also committed to our own work, and how do we balance all of that. That was a herculean effort. I mean, that truly was, it took a whole of agency push to sort of design how we would do this to figure out the change management plan, to figure out all the policies that need to be in place to support the workforce, but also to make sure that the work gets done to ensure accountability. 

So we are still in it. We did manage to get to a place where our workforce is back in the physical workplace and hopefully in a posture that is helping us deliver on our mission and is also good for them and their families. It’s a balancing act, so I’m working through it. So, I would flag that as an accomplishment and a challenge.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  Just to build on that because I think that’s something every federal agency and so many other institutions are going through but what was really striking to me about thinking about the federal workforce in the return to the office or to the next step of the hybrid environment is that so much of the work that the federal workforce does, you couldn’t really put on pause until we figure this out, like, “hold on and we’ll just wait over here while we figure out like, what do we use Teams or Google,” or anything like that or “hold on until we figure out like how to operate remotely.” It had to keep going every day, and then had to keep going even as people were dealing with, last year, the Omicron or everything else that was going on.  

What were some of the key ingredients you think that helped this ongoing accomplishment and challenge, I would say, be successful? What were some of the things that you did to listen to staff or to reflect some of the diverse needs that they have?  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  I’ll give credit to the team that was here before I even started. They started a range of listening sessions globally, not only with our domestic workforce, so we have sort of control over our domestic workforce and our overseas workforce, which is, you know, 5,000 or so, 6,000 or so folks, they work at the embassies around the world. But the domestic workforce, you know, the folks who were working on this prior to me arriving, spent a lot of time doing listening sessions, months and months of listening sessions to surface what folks were concerned about, get a sense of what policies we need to put in place. So, they did a fair amount of work before I got here.  

And then when I arrived, you know, we were very conservative about how quickly to return. It was clear that one of the challenges to your earlier point is that USAID, not only our staff, had to survive, right, COVID in the U.S. and around the world and had losses in our own families and all of this, but we also were responding to addressing COVID. So, we are all on the global health side and global health security side. We’re also supporting these huge global efforts that provide vaccines to support local systems. So, when I tell you that our workforce is really tired, navigating it domestically and overseas. So, we were quite conservative about how quickly to return.  

When I first arrived, I sort of had this timeline in mind. Like the team thought we could go back in a couple of months and it became clear that the workforce was not there. We just needed to give people a lot more time. And we need to spend a lot more time in, you know, information sessions, listening sessions and office hours before designing the rollout. And then we did a very phased rollout. So, a couple of months of voluntary come in, test out the systems, make sure our computers work, make sure you can access your offices. We transitioned very slowly. So, I hope that was the right way to do it. You know, and then of course Omicron started and then had to backtrack, and we said, folks, go home, stay safe. Lots of fits and starts, but just being flexible and iterating a little bit as needed and really trying to center the most vulnerable people as we were going through that process.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  And I think it’s very clear listening to you, Paloma, that this people priority is such a strong force for you and for the organization. So I’d like to go back to something you had said earlier about with the focus on DEIA and trying to tap into new diverse talent pools. I would love to know some specific successes and what steps your agency is taking and where are you finding this new talent.  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  In terms of successes, I would say we have signed, I think five to six now maybe, MOUs –memorandum of understandings – particularly with minority serving institutions. So, what we are looking at is being very thoughtful about which institutions currently are not well-represented among our staff, right, if you look at the educational backgrounds of our staff, for instance. And what is the most strategic and thoughtful way to get to the most diverse set of passionate young people getting excellent educations? And so we have signed and will use with a series of historically black colleges and universities. The administrator just two weeks ago now, maybe it was last week, signed an MOU with Morehouse college and we have signed MOUs with Alcorn State, with Hispanic serving institutions, Florida International University. We’re in the process of engaging institutions, tribal colleges, for instance. We haven’t signed anything yet, but we’re in conversations with tribal colleges, with other minority institutions, or Asian and Pacific Islanders.  

So really being thoughtful about making sure that all of these institutions have access to us. So, laying the groundwork through these new agreements. But we don’t just want these agreements to be sources of students or professionals coming to USAID. We also want the institutions themselves, who have incredible capacity in terms of their own professors, the expertise that they have, to be partners of ours in implementation. So, looking at both the programming and policy side, as well as the human side. I would say that’s one of the big successes, thinking beyond just tapping into the people.  

We are also looking at making sure that the federal government, for instance, has some special authorities to recruit and bring on diverse populations, for instance people with disabilities. We have Schedule A authority to hire disabled people including disabled veterans, and these are non-competitive authorities we could use. So being more thoughtful when we’ve looked, for instance, at the diversity of our workforce, we are quite underrepresented in terms of people with disabilities. So, we are taking advantage of those resources and our goal is to get to 12% of our workforce. We are not there yet, we’re quite low, but this is something we’re focused on over the next couple of years. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  And specifically, for our listeners who may not know when you say you’re giving access to students at these various universities, are you showing them what it means to work at USAID, the jobs that are possible, how to apply? What are some of the concrete things that are being shared? 

Paloma Adams-Allen:  Yes. So I just did, I think two weeks ago or so, our second outreach conference for Hispanic Serving Institutions. We partnered with FIU to do a hybrid, an in-person and a virtual conference, for three or so days, where we shared day one what is USAID. What are the opportunities to work at USAID? What do we do? What are the opportunities to work at USAID and engage with staff? Day two, we held a case competition where students from these Hispanic Serving Institutions. They got a problem set and they would do what we do at USAID every day, which is figure out what the problem is, design a response, figure out your budget. They pitched their ideas to us, and they got cash prizes for that to work on any projects that they would like to work on. Then day three was, you know, connecting them with USAID staff who they could really ask questions to.  

And what I found really so valuable and also telling in these engagements is I went down, and I met with all these students, and I met with administrators and professors, and they have a perception of what the skillset and what the needs are for USAID, and they think they have to be development specialists or to be global health specialists. And I was like, absolutely not. We need communications people, we need digital specialists, we need architects, we need geologists, we need everybody. So, debunking the myths around you need to be some sort of development expert to work in a place like USAID, just understanding that it takes all of the skills.  

So anyway, that’s a long-winded way of saying we really try to make sure that we are exposing them to how one accesses USAID, making sure they have the channels through our DEIA office and other technical offices to access USAID. We had our folks from the human capital shop there to talk to them about internships, our Payne fellowships, and other resources. So, trying to be much more present as opposed to having them dig through our website to try to find the opportunities.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  This is amazing for me because I know I’ve seen when we talk to students how they just light up when they hear things like this “oh, I can go to USAID and I can work in comms, or I can be the accountant, or I can be an architect.” It’s not, “Oh, I have to be the policy expert and not today,” and that there’s a varied path. That kind of access to information that some of us might take for granted is terrific. So, thank you for sharing that example.  

And then my next question for you and maybe this one is a little more complicated: we want to bring in a more diverse workforce. And then what happens on their journey? They’re here. They’re in the environment. And then what efforts is your agency doing to really retain and recognize this diverse talent?  

Paloma Adams-Allen: Listen, this is the hardest part of this puzzle.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah.  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  From my perspective, having been a diverse human, if that’s what we’re calling ourselves nowadays, in development, it’s really challenging, as you say. Folks love the mission; they want to be a part of it. And then you get into an institution and it’s very difficult to work and you have to navigate, you know, a range of micro-aggressions, macro-aggressions, cultural challenges. 

So, I would say the cultural evolution that I’ve seen coming back to USAID in this job is just much more of a recognition that not because we do great work means that we ourselves are sort of the perfect place to work. And so really being thoughtful about anybody who works with me will tell you that I’m on the question of equity. I want to know how every policy, every program impacts the most vulnerable, how we offset any negative impacts. So just to sort of name and acknowledge that we are not perfect at this, and that we have to do better at being a respectful workplace, an inclusive workplace, a safe workplace, right, free from harassment, sexual harassment, assault, et cetera.  

One of the things that predates me, but it’s a fantastic effort, is our flagship DEIA platform called the Respectful, Inclusive, and Safe Environment Platform, which is a training center, I would say. And it offers training on how to work in a diverse workplace, how to work, engage respectfully, and how to deal with any workplace challenges. We have supervisors who receive training through this. We have employees all around the world. All of our employees – domestic and overseas – have access and I would say the uptake is incredible. Since February 2021, nearly 6,000 individual USAID employees of all stripes have done some sort of training through this model. So training is not the solution to all things, but just recognizing that we had this unmet need to acknowledge these kinds of challenges internally and to start making sure that our culture is really intentionally embracing the values of diversity, of equity, of inclusion, of accessibility, of respect.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  I love that blend of intentionality that you closed with, but that opening piece of acknowledging we have had challenges in the past, we have challenges now. We are learning. This is an ongoing process and we are not at the place where we should be. I think that that is something that is very often very difficult for leaders to do, and particularly for leaders in government to do work. It’s so much and so often a forward-looking institution. I very much appreciate that answer.  

Paloma Adams-Allen: It’s tough. It’s tough.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And particularly to have to live in that nuance every day with so many different audiences. My final question is something we ask everyone. You’ve already given a partial great answer to this and that is what advice do you have for students or young professionals and leaders of color who are interested in working in public service or working in the federal government, but aren’t quite sure for some reason? Maybe they don’t see themselves, or they’re just not really sure what the next thing is for them.  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  Yeah, I would say absolutely do it. By any means necessary. Try to work for the federal government. For all the challenges, when I first joined USAID for instance in 2010, I was just struck, even though we have this big push now around diversity, equity, inclusion, the federal government was the most diverse place I’d ever worked, ever hands down. Just of not only racial diversity, ethnic diversity, religious diversity, you know, skills and capabilities.  

It was such an incredible representation of our country already, that I was just grateful every single day to be able to work here. So, I would say by any means necessary, try to work for the federal government. 

The other piece is just in terms of the impact that you can have in the federal government, having gone back and forth, the stakes are so much higher in the federal government and the work is so challenging, but you truly can have, even if it’s the memo that you cleared on, that 98 other people cleared on, you added three other words right, you’ve made it better. So, the impact that you can have working in public service and working in the government, I’ve just found it is just so much bigger than anywhere else I have worked personally.   

In terms of advice, I would say, whether you’re in government or not, one of the things that I have found engaging, particularly with young professionals, I would say millennials and maybe Gen Z, is, you know, there’s no perfect path. Folks want you to give them to like the roadmap for you do this and then that, and then you do that, and then you get to USAID or then you get to wherever you want to get to. And I would just say follow your passion. Whether it’s a personal reason that you care about it, or it’s a family reason that you care about the issue. Follow your passion. Take all the opportunities if you can afford to do so, recognizing that not everyone can afford to take the opportunities that are out there. Take all the opportunities that you can find and hold onto them, but make sure that you’re pursuing your passion.  

The other is I tell people, Folks will approach me and say, would you be my mentor? Most folks don’t need a mentor. They need a champion, right. A champion opens doors. A champion writes letters of recommendation for you, a champion puts themselves on the line to say, give Paloma chance she’s exceptional, X, Y, Z. [Champions] really try to think through versus mentors who can help you navigate a process or explain how you could do something. But champions are really what people of color need. That’s who we don’t necessarily have, those networks, I will speak for myself, not necessarily have those professional networks or educational networks that you can tap into. And champions really are the ones who have kicked down the doors to at least give me the chance to get an interview or to present, to make my own case.  

The other is, you know, and again, this is speaking from the perspective of a black woman, a woman of color, just recognize that you have to be excellent at everything that you do. And it’s a lot of stress but embrace the opportunity to be excellent and to have mastery of something and prepare, prepare, prepare. It can feel burdensome, but it really opens so many doors that I just encourage people and I have two daughters, so I spent all my time saying, are you prepared? Prepare, prepare, prepare. Because when the opportunity arrives, which are so rare, then you can jump on them.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Yeah.  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  And then, you know, in terms of how one sort of gets noticed, say once you’ve come into the federal service, is I always tell people, and this is something that I’ve done: take the projects that nobody else wants. Take the jobs that nobody else may want or be interested in and do it incredibly well. Because every one of these is an opportunity for you to shine, an opportunity for you to learn, an opportunity for you to build networks. Don’t be worrying about the perfect job and should you be in this meeting, should you be doing policy versus this. Take the thing, the opportunity that’s in front of you and just really do well at it. So those are my top three. I guess if there are four, I would say learn as many foreign languages as you can. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  So, with all of this, Paloma, is there anything that you haven’t had the opportunity to share with us that you would like to in closing?  

Paloma Adams-Allen:  Yeah, I mean, I guess I would just say that this is the most difficult job I’ve ever had in my life, and I always take difficult jobs, always. It’s my rule. If it’s not difficult, I probably won’t do it, because they’re just the most meaningful. It’s the most difficult job I’ve ever had in my life, but I have never gotten up one morning to say, ‘ugh, I’m not going to do it.’ Not one. Right. I bounce out of bed and for me, it just demonstrates like, do what you love, take on challenges that you care about and where you can have an impact and be grateful for the opportunity to do so.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  Well, thank you from us for all that you do and that you’re willing to take this on. It’s incredible and we appreciate your service and your time today. Thank you.  

Paloma Adams-Allen: Thank you guys so much. That was really fun.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: It was wonderful to have you.  

Paloma Adams-Allen: Thanks.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Rachel, I confess, something I did not say in our interview with Paloma is that when I was in grad school, I really, really, really, really wanted to work at the U.S. Agency for International Development and never quite find my way in. In large part because it was the point in time where they were not doing a lot of direct hires. That’s something they’ve changed now. But just listening to her talk about the behind-the-scenes things that they’re doing now to improve the effectiveness and the equity of the work that they deliver, it’s making me think, maybe I can just go back to my grad school self. Maybe I can reapply.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: It’s never too late as we’re learning.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Right.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  And for those in grad school or those who are students, you know, Paloma talked about that very hands-on career day or a series of days that they were doing on college campuses. That just sounded so exciting and so in-depth and detailed to really give aspiring federal servants an idea of what it would mean to come work at USAID.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  It’s something that we talk about here at the Partnership. We say that the federal government should not be just posting and praying, just putting jobs on USA jobs and hoping that people apply to it. And we keep hearing so many incredible stories of agencies that are not doing that. Yes, there’s a lot of jobs that just end up on the internet and people apply through USA jobs. 

But there’s so many efforts Paloma was describing. Working with minority serving institutions or other colleges to go and, not just like putting up a booth and say, ‘Hey, come apply to us,’ but to really give a good idea of what their work is and what their paths are to possibly come into it. In a way that, you know, the federal government’s never going to be Google, but like that gives so much more of a hand to students who might have been interested but had no idea. It’s such a joy to hear about those initiatives.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  And sometimes it just takes that one conversation. It could be five minutes with somebody saying Hey, this is possible. When she said, you can be an architect, you can be in communications, there is a place for you. If that would never have occurred to somebody, how do you know unless you know and to go meet the students literally where they are. I think that’s fantastic, and I toured the people and what people need. Heard it loud and clear from Paloma also, with respect to her workforce and all of the changes and the initiatives that they’re doing, especially through the pandemic. And this is again one of those classic, we have our day job and we’re also responding in an emergency situation and having to wear two hats 24/7. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  It was honestly really refreshing to hear her talk about some of the struggles that USAID has, and here are some of the things that we have not done as well that we are working on right now. Taking the mandate that has been given to them by some of the executive orders around equity, around diversity, equity, inclusion, around customer experience and trying to create a better, I mean, they would say experience for their employees, but really what that results in is better outcomes for all of the populations that they’re working with. So you have a workforce who can do their job better, faster, with greater incentives and rewards, and greater understanding of their impact. Well, at the same time, being able to do so in the middle of a pandemic and get resources at the door and to solve problems that they’ve never had to do before. You don’t often hear about federal leaders talking openly about that because saying things about, you know, here’s some challenges we’ve had and here’s how we want to make experience better for federal employees, is usually not like this politically salient talking point, but it’s so critical to actually have strong impact.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  She was so honest about that and you could hear how genuine she was like; “we have a really tired workforce.” And she felt it. And then I loved the anti-bureaucratic response to it for an agency to say, you know what, we thought coming back to work in the workplace, everyone’s still working but returning to the physical space, maybe that’s not going to happen as quickly as we thought. Because here’s the reality. And to have that flexibility to pause and look around and say, this is what our people are telling us. This is what they’re feeling. This is what we’re all feeling. And as you said, Lauren, this is how it’s impacting those who we are delivering services to. So maybe we should adjust, which I think is fantastic. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  It’s amazing that almost everyone we’re interviewing has these fascinating personal stories of how they got to government, and you might think that it is just because like we’re selecting the people with the fascinating personal stories, but I feel like it’s really true. Like people who are attracted to public service, their journey of getting there is very relevant to the work that they’re doing on a day-to-day basis. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  Right, when she spoke about getting to see that firsthand, that contrast between her upbringing and where her mom lived and where her dad lived, and you’ve got New England and you’ve got Jamaica and you have all of these resources and how different that is and the access to things and she said, you know what? 

That’s not right and I want to figure this out. Why is there this lack of opportunity in some places and why aren’t people investing equally and what can I do about that? And that’s how I want to spend my career. That was a very significant story and experience that she shared. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  What I love about the arc of her career in the role that she’s in right now, the deputy administrator for management and resources, like that sounds like a very, to use a term, very bureaucratic role. But what I see in it is a recognition that in order to deliver on what she wanted to do, her vision for her career, you’ve got to create institutions that are capable and that have talent and that are not burdened by red tape or not kept away from the work that they’re wanting to do. 

You’ve got to build an institution that can succeed, and that’s what her job is. She talked about the people, process, policy and other things that you have to be able to move and redesign in order to actually deliver on the mission. I think that’s such a great recognition that government can’t just be like policies written on paper. It’s got to be all of those behind-the-scenes things that cause it to succeed.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  Right. And one of the thoughts she left us with reminded me of our conversation about presidential transitions before it really became a known thing in the public sphere, when we spoke with a former general services administration leader. And that was: take the jobs that nobody else wants and do it well. And I remember that conversation we had, it may have been last year, with this quagmire of, you know, here is this enormous issue. Who’s going to figure it out? How do you even start? And I absolutely agree with Paloma. You know, on paper, maybe that wouldn’t have been the job you applied to, but once you’re there and these opportunities open themselves up to you, just absolutely go for it. It’s the opportunity in what is hard and challenging and so vital.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman:  And in that case, Paloma taking this job that she’s in right now, the deputy administrator for management and resources, it is very much a behind the scenes job that is having tremendous impact. And it’s not in any way a job that nobody else would want to do, but it is the sort of job where you look at the title and it completely undersells the impact that it could possibly have. 

I’m reminded of advice that a mentor of mine gave me one time that was like when you get the chance to be the person who writes up the meeting notes and like shares them at the end of it. Yes, it’s kind of a pain, but you were then in control of the narrative of what actually happened then. And there’s so many things like that, that you can do like that to take a role that, yes, doesn’t sound like the most amazing on the planet, but you are then ultimately shaping what the outcome is, shaping the impact. As always, I was so excited to talk to her overall, but not surprisingly, was even more thrilled to hear about the stories that she is able to share and then the incredible work that she’s doing at USAID.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, she was absolutely inspiring, so thank you, Lauren. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Thank you. 

Transition Music 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic, and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: “Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher:  Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch. 

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.  

Loren DeJonge Schulman: See you next time!