Modernizing the Asylum Process Experience 
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Modernizing the Asylum Process Experience 

Michael Boyce is a leading innovator at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, heading up a team that spearheads groundbreaking technological advancements related to asylum filing and overseas refugee cases. In this episode, he is joined by Arianna Miller and Kimberly Odom, two asylum officers working for USCIS who discuss their core responsibilities, the new innovations that are transforming the asylum process, and how federal leaders like Boyce use technology, customer feedback and more to improve the experiences of those seeking refuge in the U.S. 

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Rachel Klein-Kircher: 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, and others 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 your host, Rachel Klein Kercher.  

Mark Lerner: And I’m Mark Lerner. Rachel’s guest host for today’s episode and a director on our technology and innovation team. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: This season, we’ve been bringing listeners on a journey filled with stories of federal service and community impact. Our current series of episodes includes both public servants and those who have directly benefited from their leadership and innovation to demonstrate what it takes for our federal government and its wide network of regional partners to effectively serve the people. 

Mark Lerner: Today we welcome Michael Boyce from the Refugee Asylum and International Operations Directorate, where he oversees technology, analytics and innovation for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, humanitarian immigration programs. Michael’s innovation and design team has launched major technological advancements in the immigration space around asylum filing and overseas refugee cases. 

Mark Lerner: Previously, he worked as a refugee officer in Damascus, Syria, and for the International Refugee Assistance Project in Amman, Jordan. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: We also have the privilege of hearing from two dedicated public servants, Arianna Miller and Kimberly Odom, who are currently asylum officers for USCIS in Arlington, Virginia. Arianna and Kim share their perspectives on how federal leaders like Michael and his colleagues are leveraging technology, customer feedback, and design-based methods to improve the experiences of those seeking refuge in asylum, and to support the officers who work with these individuals. 

Mark Lerner: Let’s turn now to this wonderful conversation. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Michael, Kim, and Ariana, welcome. We are so happy to have you with us today. And Michael, I’m going to start with you. When I look at your educational and volunteer and career story, there’s a theme that emerges of helping others, and I’d love for you to share what it was that shaped you and inspired you to pursue public service and work for the federal government. 

Michael Boyce: Well thanks so much Rachel, for having us on today.  

You know, I think my story is, as with many people, a sort of non-linear one and one where you sort of go from opportunity to opportunity and try to figure out where you can have impact. But you know, in short, I was in college, pretty burnt out from doing computer science, which I had done earlier in my education. And so found my way into Middle East work where I, you know, spent a number of years living and working large, actually with Iraqi refugees in countries like Syria and Jordan. And then ultimately finding myself as a refugee officer where I would travel to different countries and determine which refugees could come to, to the United States. 

And I think what I found there and sort of what led me to, to do the work that I did was, it was plainly obvious to me that it was actually our technology and our technology systems that was in many ways preventing us from doing a lot of the work that at least I cared about in achieving a lot of the goals that I thought would help allow me to help other people. 

And so, so that actually led me to work for the United States Digital Service for a while, and then ultimately to come back to USCIS, US citizenship and, and immigration Services where I’ve been working as the Chief of Innovation and Design to try to make sure that our technology lives up to the promise of our programs for refugee and asylum seekers. 

And so, it’s really gone from that sort of refugee, you know, asylum work in the Middle East to federal technology today. It’s been pretty interesting. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love that for someone who gets burnt out by computers, turns to Middle East work, which sounds so easy. And I’ll, I’ll turn it to Mark to ask about the current projects that you’re working on. 

Mark Lerner: Michael. You’re currently among other things, as you mentioned at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services as the chief of innovation and design for RAIO, for the Refugee Asylum and International Operations Directorate. You’ve launched tech advances in in areas such as online asylum filing, newly expedited processes for Southwest border processing new case management systems for overseas refugee cases. I just want to know a little bit about how you went about doing all of that. What were some of the challenges that went into all that kind of work? 

Michael Boyce: I think I would be not, it’s not only polite, but I frankly would be remiss to, to point out that all of those accomplishments, which I do think happened, were, happened not only from my team that I’ve been lucky enough to have work for me, but so many partners we would, we would take the rest of this podcast just listing off every single person who’s worked and collaborated on, on all these pieces. 

You know, not only from within USCIS, but really across the Department of Homeland Security, across the government. But as I think about some of them and some specific examples you sort of see the seeds that you almost sort of stumble into to make some of these projects successful. You know, I think a really great example is, as you mentioned, Mark, the, the pre-processing initiative. So, since November 2021 for the first time individuals applying for affirmative asylum, which is sort of the standard sort of type of asylum individuals apply for when they’re here in the United States. It is online and we made it so that people could apply for it online. That was not only creating an online web form. But it was actually imagining that whole process front to beginning a digital process where, you know, all of our cases, up until then, there was a paper file that sort of traveled around with the individual. 

And now when an asylum seeker applies online, they have a digital file that they can access at any point. And since we soft launched it and then eventually really publicized it in late November 2021, we’ve had over 150,000 filings. I mean, it goes up. And so, it’s been, you know, for a sense of scale that’s around as many filings as we’d normally expect to have in a year. So, it’s been you know, it’s been pretty well received. And so, to go back to your question of, you know, what were the pieces that made that work? There was really a number. 

I mean, I think with any technology project, you know, it’s been interesting. I think hiring is really at the core of it and as a former US Digital Service employee USCIS has, its, has its values. One of them is find and empower great people. I mean, that is really at the core of it. 

And I would say one thing that we definitely did was, was we both created a business team that is my direct team. The team that normally, and I don’t usually like to use this language, but normally gives requirements to the technology teams. In our situation, I created this, this innovation and design for enhanced adjudication team, the idea team at RAO, where we really took SMEs, people like Ariana and Kim, but who had a, but who had a knack for thinking about technology and processes and really enabling them to work with our technology counterparts so we could actually unlock the different technologies and tools. 

And at the same time, I worked hand in hand with my sort of technology counterparts, we have a great case management system called global and a number of other teams to actually support them in hiring too. You know, many folks said that we wouldn’t be able to hire a great technology team in the federal government, sort of in the depths of USCIS, you know, a component of a major agency. 

But, but you know, we’ve recruited over 30 federal IT positions, you know, rank engineers, designers, product managers into these slots. We’ve also brought on some great contract partners as well to help support that work too. And the way that we did it was we recruited and, and I, and I think so often you see that people think that building these teams is, you know, you put a job up on USA jobs and then if you don’t find someone good, you sort of wring your hands by how it’s impossible to hire for the federal government. 

We were out there, both myself, but also many of my partners actively, you know, going to local meetups, talking to people, letting them know about these jobs and opportunities. The wild thing is it wasn’t that hard. It was not that hard to find great people. It took it to take some time. But it was, I, I think it was no more difficult than it, than it would be for any normal organization to recruit really talented people. So, the hiring was number one. The, the next piece is because I had-I built this great organization to help connect our technology counterparts to the, to the field. My team did really great work, I think, to help unlock and ensure that our technology counterparts, the designers, the product managers, the engineers and my team itself, could work with people like Ariana and Kim, whenever and wherever they needed. 

We did not have, you know, one SME that you needed to talk to confirm that all the requirements were right. The-our technology partners who were building these online systems could talk with the offices, people in the field whenever they needed to. And we really worked with many of our colleagues to make sure that that was possible. And then I think the last piece is that, and I think the last piece that really led to our design is, is, you know, we really try to I think agile on some of these things can be a bit of a buzzword, but we really try to small, incremental, valuable pieces as quickly as they offer value. 

So, I think there is a tendency very often in the federal government to, you know, federal governments like plans because it helps ensure costs. It helps ensure controls; it gives people good oversight. But when you’re doing technology, you need to deliver that value to make sure that you’re getting active feedback. And so, I think Ariana and Kim will may even talk about some of those examples or I’ll be sure to fill the blanks if we don’t quite get to it. But in many cases, we released technology where we didn’t have all the bells and whistles built in, but we had small bite-sized pieces of things that we really knew we needed to get live and start to get feedback on make sure that when all the pieces came together, it really worked. 

And there was numerous examples of that. So, for this digital process that was like, or electronic signature and ways that we did this special thing called form review and ways that we, ways that we reviewed documents and on and on and on. We tried to release those in small bite-sized chunks and put what we call the riskiest, not risky from a sense of actual, you know, exposure to harm, but riskiest that we weren’t quite sure if we’d get it right. We tried to put those things earliest into the process and that involved a lot of hard conversations with our policy colleagues and some of our legal colleagues who I think they wanted all the bells and whistles and we had to have, you know, a lot of tough conversations about, okay, what’s, what really here is the, you know, It’s necessary. What really here is nice to have. And I think we came to a good place that really let us deliver on this project, and I think that we’ve done that across the board, and that’s a testament not only to my team, but so many of the partner IT teams I was mentioning, as well as folks like Arian and Kim in the field who are our most important partners. 

Mark Lerner: That’s great. So, I heard a number of different great elements. One about building the team, one about connecting with folks out that are actually going to be using this work, and it seems like the last bit was making sure that you’re, you’re working iteratively and, and developing things with the riskiest stuff as you defined it upfront so that you know that you’re learning along the way. I’m really excited to hear more about Arianna and Kim’s engagement and involvement as well. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, we do have with us today two asylum officers from Arlington, Virginia, and for our audience, may be the first time that we get to delve in and learn what this means. I’m very excited. So, I will start with you, Ariana, and then Kim, the same. What inspired you to pursue public service work for the federal and how did you end up doing this work that you’re doing now as an asylum officer? 

Arianna Miller: Okay. Well For me. So, I’m originally from Tennessee, so way back in undergrad, I actually served as an intern at the Tennessee State General Assembly. And when I was there, I did some pretty interesting projects and things, but honestly, that was the moment that I was like, I don’t think this is a big enough impact for me. I also felt like I was a little removed from the work. I dealt a lot with like different policies, plans, procedures, and I really wanted to have a direct impact on the people that, that I serve as a public servant. So, from that experience at the state level, I knew that after gra-after undergrad, that I wanted to go pursue a, a federal position. 

So. That’s kind of what I did. But similar to Michael, you know your career takes, its different like twists and turns. So, I ended up in the private sector for a little bit. I then decided, let me do AmeriCorps Vista. So, I already had started my career a little bit and I became an AmeriCorps Vista at the DC Housing Authority actually doing digital inclusion work. And that was really great, and it actually then from that, because some people don’t know this, but similar to like with Peace Corps, you get non-competitive eligibility, you also get that with AmeriCorps Vista. So that propelled me to then be able to more easily navigate the hiring system that is known as USA jobs and become an asylum officer.  

Kimberly Odom: Well, so for me. Straight out of law school. Well, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to go, but I was kind of one of those people that-you know, I started my day watching Washington Journal and CSPAN in the morning and, we’re in DC so federal employment seemed like a really obvious choice. And then the asylum officer job opened up and I think always one of a very unique opportunity. This one specific job and any of these ones where you get to actually interact with people that are trying to get the benefits every day and so that I would be able to get to see the impact I made every day, and so that’s kind of what led me into where I am. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And it sounds similar, so when Ariana was saying she wanted to have something closer and with more impact and not to feel as removed, can you give a snapshot for those who may not know, what is the core job of the asylum officer? 

Kimberly Odom: So, most days we’re interviewing people that have applied for asylum if you are on the affirmative portfolio, and then they’re also credible fear interviews or reasonable fear interviews if you’re on the APSO  portfolio which maybe Arianna might be better at explaining that- 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I think I heard an acronym in there. 

Arianna Miller: So that’s the asylum pre-screening what APSO is. And these are people who more recently, like they crossed the border, or they may have been detained while in the United States 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, this is very real time. Somebody’s, yeah, go ahead, Michael. 

Michael Boyce: I mean, they can definitely describe it better than me, but to, to really step back, you know, in, in its most simple form is they are either A. determining, does somebody get asylum protection, which leads you assuming, you know, you, you know, there’s, you know there’s no extraneous factors to eventually get permanent residency in citizenship or they’re determining does someone get the opportunity to present their asylum case to immigration judge. But actually, in many cases, it doesn’t even need to go that far. In many cases, Ariana and Kim, depending on which of the portfolios they mentioned they’re on, they can grant somebody asylum in in, the United States directly. Frankly it’s a pretty powerful, powerful role that they’re in.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, that’s definitely what I’m, I’m hearing. Now, yeah, I’ll turn it to, to Mark for-I know he’s got additional questions for both of you. 

Mark Lerner: Yeah absolutely. Yeah, I, I know that it’s such important role and, and such a challenging one and before going on just want to thank you both all of you for doing the work that you’re doing both for ensuring people that need safety get it and making sure you are protecting our country as well. So, I I’d love to hear a little bit about, you know, we’re talking to Michael about the technology tools that he’s implemented, the work that you’re doing in the field talking to these people that are applying for asylum. Could you share, from your perspective, the impact that the innovation and design work has had on your offices ability to do your work, to serve the community you serve? 

Kimberly Odom: I mean it’s had a huge impact much more than I expected it to. But especially with the, the e-filing has made just a massive impact on kind of our day-to-day work and like we’ve noticed how much more comfortable applicants are. They don’t seem as intimidated with the whole process since they can file online, they can kind of see all of these things. It doesn’t seem as mysterious or like you really, desperately need an attorney to help you through the process. So, it’s made a big impact, I think, on people.  

Mark Lerner: Oh wow. 

Arianna Miller: Yeah I would agree with Kim I’ve definitely seen as well like, a lot of people doing e-filing and not having attorneys because it is so much more accessible it seems more friendly whereas like during an interview I often ask depending, you know, when the person may have filed-hey it, it looks like in the United States the law is though you need to file within one, one year of entering and sometimes people do file a little bit after that and I may ask them you know why, why did you not file? And people are-there’s some that are saying because “I didn’t have an attorney” and “I was nervous” and this-that and the third. And I feel like when I say the, the e-filing process, people aren’t using that as an excuse because as Kim said it is definitely more accessible. Also, it just makes people feel like they’re in control. The Arlington asylum office is open once a week and just for about five hours.  

They know what a document requested of them and is there some sort of follow-up that they need to be doing or if they want to change their address or change their attorney information. If they can do all that within their portal there’s no need to, you know, take off work and you know come all the way down to the Arlington asylum office It, it does give them some more control of their application. 

Mark Lerner: That’s incredible and I know that for, for some it might sound simple to apply online and to have control of your application and to be able to ask some questions. But it really matters so much, these people who are applying for asylum in a country that they’re no longer welcome in that they’re trying to escape from and, and where every day can be a stressful day to have that element of control. I can imagine that being such a huge relief.  

Is there any particular, memorable experience or story that you might like to share that demonstrates this kind of impact you’ve seen maybe on a person or, or a group in the community? 

Kimberly Odom: I always find it-I’ve seen whole lot recently where…so older applicants have kids that have been in United States longer, speak English, and they are just so excited that their kids put together their asylum application and helped them through the process. They, they brag about how their kid knows how it all works. 

Mark Lerner:  Wow. 

Kimberly Odom: And we’re able to help them. And its always kind of fun to see or nice to see that they felt more comfortable having, like you know, their son or daughter kind of talk them through applying for asylum instead of being kind of uncomfortable. Sometimes you see that. Be it themselves or any, any of the other routes they could take. Sometimes it’s hard to get an attorney or they don’t…they’re not sure if they’re able to afford one. But it’s always fun when they’re you know like “oh yeah no my son did it all for me I know he got it all exactly right”. That always makes me happy. 

Arianna Miller: I just co-sign on what Kim just said you know kind of-one thing that I like to do is build rapport in in the interview office and interview space. And I think you know even those little technology things and it kind of helps build rapport, it makes things less tense when there’s a little bit of laughter, so yeah. 

Mark Lerner:  That’s great to hear. That’s incredible.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Ariana, I’ll ask you first and then Kim. Has anything surprised you in your interactions as you know the field component of a large agency when you’re working with the headquarters of USCIS.  

Arianna Miller: I think for me it’s just the growth. I’ve been an asylum officer since 2019 and just seeing honestly, specifically even during the pandemic how quickly we were able to scale up because I-before in, in 2019 you know both sides of both portfolios. The affirmative and also the APSO that Kim mentioned earlier. Both of which were mainly paper but APSO was already making those progresses to have electronic procedures, and then affirmative where, where the e-filing now falls under, that was still lagging behind. And I’ve been really impressed to see like just how quickly that the, the partners at HQ have been able to innovate the technology.  

I’ve worked a few times with just different development groups at HQ that have different…that have different roles with, you know like, a system that we call Global which allows us to see our different cases, and having conversations with them to say like you know this is what I’m looking for when I go into this system. As an asylum officer, this is what will be very beneficial. And these are things that although, like, my supervisor gave me permission to participate in these conversations, my supervisor isn’t necessarily, like, present. This is a real conversation I get to have with the development team on the needs of an asylum officer, and then seeing that implemented, sometimes just a few short months later, has been really awesome. And I would say like that has been kind of surprising like, you know, because sometimes people say the federal government is slow. But the changes that I’ve personally seen since becoming an asylum officer and then seeing the, the desire to innovate has been like pretty tremendous.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, I’m hearing quick, innovative, and that attention to user experience-which is so key. 

How about for you, Kim? 

Kimberly Odom: Oh, no I have to entirely agree. I just-my first interview was supposed to be the week we all locked down for Covid. So, I never got like the kind of old school experience of how it worked. So, I just saw how quickly-there were a couple weeks where there was a little bit of confusion, but then it moved really quickly into being able to get people in for interviews using, you know, multiple offices. There were a lot of ways that things were changed to make it possible to get these people these interviews and get them benefits and working through all of that, which really surprised me of how quickly that could move. 

And I worked on the remote to office pilot programs where they had officers working from home and having the applicants in the office. And that got off to a bit of a bumpy start in the beginning, but when we kind of-they moved really quickly when we expressed there were some issues with the iPad’s and people not being familiar on how they work. HQ just really came through very quickly to make that work.  

Mark Lerner Wow. It’s been great hearing both of your stories and I really appreciate you sharing them with us, I wanted to ask you both-Oh, go ahead. 

Michael Boyce: Mark, sorry if I can just add just, just very briefly. I don’t mean to-there’s almost nothing more I could have said over Ariana and Kim but I, but, but I think there’s just two pieces of color that I just wanna highlight really quickly. One is I think Ariana and Kim are, are being very nice here. But I think part of it too, and I think Kim was even alluding to this too, is that we get-asylum officers are not bashful about when things are not working great. And so-and, and I think it’s critical, and I think that the e-sign was a great example of that. Where, frankly, when we first rolled out the application, you know, we- there’s certain limitations in whether you can actually test with asylum seekers-because of course, asylum seekers are going through a, you know, a very stressful process. You don’t want to ask someone going through this process to test an iPad for you as, as they’re doing it. 

So, the first information we got where we put in a lot of backups to make sure that it wouldn’t affect their interviews was with the iPads. One thing that we realized that very interesting is that asylum seekers had never used an iPad before. And things that we thought that would be very simple and straightforward, like navigating a home screen on an iPad was actually quite difficult for, for many people. And so, we got lot of that feedback back from people like Kim. And we actually totally rewrote our signature application so that the officer could actually control what the applicant was, you know, what the asylum seeker was seeing at any given time. So, we can make sure that they didn’t have to do as much navigation or as much fiddling with the iPad on their end as possible, while still, of course, giving them control over what they signed. So, that was a, you know, a great example of a situation where we didn’t get it exactly right at first, but we got great feedback from, from from our colleagues in the field.  

And I just wanted to add that color ’cause I thought it was such a, you know, a nice example there.  

Mark Lerner: That’s a, a great bit of color and really the need for this, sort of, collaboration between the field and headquarters. And I think it’s also a good example of what you were mentioning before Michael, as well, of being able to iterate quickly. Arianna, Kim, it’s been great to hear both of your stories. We really, really appreciate you sharing those with us. I wanted to ask what you think for the audience listening here.  

What was something about the impact that you’ve had in your role so far that you think would be important for folks to know about and for them to then understand what impact can be had in the federal government? 

Arianna Miller: You know honestly…I think about ,like,  how people just think that the federal government is just this big slow bureaucracy and that sometimes like, like that the bureaucracy itself doesn’t care about the individuals that we’re impacting right? But, when we have different projects and procedures like, you know,  the e-filing, when we take the feedback from asylum officers and other people in the field for different initiatives that are trying to be launched, I think it really does speak to, like, how much individuals within this big bureaucracy truly do care. We’re always putting, you know, the immigrants first, we’re always thinking about them, and how can we make the process of they’re having to file applications and different things-how can we make that easier for them. How can we be supportive, and I think that is very important to know because I think sometimes , like I said with the, the bureaucracy of it all and sometimes things lagging that people think “oh no one’s-no one cares” or “no one’s looking at my application” when that’s not, that’s not necessarily the case. So that’s what I would say. 

Kimberly Odom: And I’ll go ahead and definitely agree with that because I know everybody in our office or everybody I’ve dealt with, especially in asylum, cares just so deeply about the applicants. And that’s always our, like, first-the thing that we deal with first, that we care about first. Then you get to see the impact that you make everyday. And I think that is something that is super unique to this position, is really dealing with that first hand. Then you get to see how, like, these different changes with the e-filing, how it can affect applicants, how it improves things for applicants. And you actually get responses from people about when things-where there are issues. And you get a response and they fix it and it moves things forward and everything gets better every day. You kind of thought things might’ve gone slower but its been great.  

Mark Lerner: That’s great. Thank you so much for sharing that. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And Michael, we’re hearing from both Arianna and Kim about, you know, the busting of the stereotype that bureaucracy doesn’t care. So, when you hear this, how do you hope to either continue the success or improve upon it with all of the collaboration that you’re doing as a way to build that trust in the federal government? 

Michael Boyce: Yeah, I think it’s, I, you know, I think it’s such a great question. I mean, I almost want to, you know, I almost want to, to, to almost turn that on the listener or the other folks who are involved. I mean, I think the way that we, we build that trust is, is by delivering, is by delivering and by people showing up and participate, participating and being part of the government. 

Michael Boyce: Because ultimately that’s, that’s what the government is. It’s, it’s, it, it’s us It’s, it’s the citizens. It’s, it’s the people I mean I think you’re hearing here also Ariana and Kim who are two great examples of folks who, who-and I was an officer too. I mean, you know, I think you’re hearing that every day they talk to people who, who, who fled their countries because they were afraid of, of dying. And, and, you know, I’ve always thought that’s the most impactful work. You know, it’s not, I don’t know, maybe there’s cooler places to work but its, it’s hard to imagine more impactful places to work. 

And, and then I think you’re hearing the care as well that you know, colleagues who not only care about the people that they’re serving, who care about the quality of the work that they’re doing. Again, I think Arianna and Kim are being nice and pretty generous here, but we get a lot of feedback from asylum officers because they really want to do their jobs well, and they know how important the tools that we’re making are for their ability to do so.  

And they are not, bashful in letting us know because they really, they really care about that. I mean, I would, but I would also, you know, in some ways, turn that back on the listener right. Which is that the way that we build the trust is by having people show up by having people work. And I assume if you’re listening to this podcast, you probably already care about that to a certain extent. But, but that being said I think it is that culture and the more we can build it the closer we can get there. 

Mark Lerner: And for the folks that are listening that are themselves at other government agencies who are, are in awe of the kind of work that you all have been doing and, and the improvements that you’ve seen across your processes. Is there maybe something that you would tell them about something you’ve learned throughout the years of working on all these different projects and innovations of something that they could take into their own federal agencies? 

Michael Boyce: I mean, Mark, it’s, it, it’s really a great question. You know, I, I almost wanna go back to some, some of the pieces that made this project and frankly, others that we aren’t even getting into. And first of all, I’d love to chat with them. I’m sure that they have their own set of problems and I would encourage them, frankly, just to reach out on LinkedIn. I, you know, if they’ve spent 30 minutes listening to this podcast, I’m happy to schedule a call. But you know, I think that there’s a few things I think, again, on the hiring front, I would just really, the things that we did to hire and bring on great people to do this delivery, we did very little that was special. Mostly we just talked to people and, and, and said, hey, here are the opportunities. You know, made sure to get the word out about our positions and also describe very clearly what those positions were, like, what type of work you’d be working on. That was extremely successful. 

I think we also really committed to, it will be okay. You can, you know, talk openly with the field. And it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything the field says, which I think is something sometimes that’s a concern, that if you, you know, if you sort of let folks really engage and, and, and talk to users in that way, you’ll get incorrect information. And I think as long as you have good controls in place to make sure that ultimately, you know, once that bubbles back up, you know, you’re abiding by policy and you’re abiding by proper operation, that conversation you can actually learn a lot from. And so, I think that that’s a really key part. And then, and then, I think the last part that, you know, I think again in sort of the government style of always wanting to have a plan, always wanting to move things forward and sort of a project or that sort of status sort of acknowledging that things won’t work perfectly the first time and sort of being open about that ultimately actually leads you to hit those projects and those milestones more quickly. 

And by, you know, getting, going back to that kind of concept of risk, putting those riskiest pieces first. Lets you, when you inevitably make a little mistake here and there, lets you correct for it and, and ultimately actually achieve those milestones and, and, and those project plans better. So again, it goes back to the same things. I’m sorry to be a broken record, but I think that those were some of the, the key things that I think we, we kind of grapple with and learn from and keep trying to do. And it’s, and by the way, I shouldn’t-we, we don’t do all of those things perfectly. Either we’re also still learning and we’re still iterating. We’re still getting feedback from people like Arianna and Kim all time. In fact, I should say this, when, when Arianna and Kim and I were chatting about this, you know, I learned, I learned from both of them a couple things that we need to fix in some of our systems. And it was great. It was great. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Michael, why might you suggest that someone pursue a career in public service? And for anyone who’s either, really ,earlier in their career, maybe they’re still a student or someone mid-career who’s thinking about switching, what advice would you give them? 

Michael Boyce: Sure, sure. I think for why public service. You heard it. You heard it right here. You know, it is hard to imagine work that’s more impactful than what Arianna and Kim do every single day. It’s so, so not doing government service to me means that you do less impactful work. And so, I would encourage people to do impactful work. If you spend a lot of time at work and, and, and, and having it be meaningful and important it’s both great for you and great for others. But I think the bigger question I think that folks have is, is the how that I’ve heard. You know, I think that there are a lot of really, you know, I think first of all, USCIS is, I, I, I should put the plug in there. USCIS is always hiring. We always need folks like Arianna and Kim to come on board. There’s a range of talents. You don’t, though we love if you are, you don’t need to be an attorney or something like that. There’s a range of talents both for our asylum officers and our refugee officers and other positions where folks determine who gets naturalization and who can get permanent residency. 

And there’s a whole range of different opportunities there. And then, you know, I, I, I know that there’s a lot of technologists and, and sort of policy wonks who are on this. You know, I think that there’s a lot of great for those mid-career folks, you know, a lot of great agencies that Mark and I have worked in that we’ve worked with all the time, whether that be US Digital Service or, or 18F. But more and more there’s lots of other teams like that, that are really targeted to those mid-career professionals, you know, across, across the federal government. Whether that’s at, you know, I’m just on the top of my head, USDA or NASA, or so on and so forth.  

And, and I think the other thing is I’d really encourage you to reach out. I already gave a, an invite on this podcast to chat with other folks and other agencies, but I would also give that, I would, I would extend that same offer to folks who are listening and thinking about how to try to get into the government, either early career or mid-career. I’m really always happy to talk with folks about the different strategies there or help connect them if I have the right connections to, to, to, to, to, to, to the areas of interest. So, there’s a whole plethora of different ways that I think people can get into the government, but I do think a lot of it’s about talking to people and about that connection. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Oh, thank you for that generous offer and I hope people will take you up on that. Is there anything before we close, for any of the three of you that we have not asked that you would love to, to share or add? Of the conversation. 

Arianna Miller: No, this has been really wonderful. I, I appreciate you guys allowing us to come and share our stories. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, it’s always fascinating for us to hear about slices of the government that we don’t have that, that front row seat. And so, for you, it’s what you do every day and you don’t know that it stands out. And for us, it absolutely does. And you know, as Mark said earlier, I just wanna thank all three of you so much for your service and for your 

Michael Boyce: You know, thank you all for highlighting it.  

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Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Mark, thank you for joining me today in this conversation. What a rare opportunity to hear from asylum officers. I think this is my first conversation as such. 

Mark Lerner: It was great. I, I have had the pleasure and honor of working with some asylum officers and refugee officers in the past, and their work really is so impactful. They talk to people when they’re at their most vulnerable. When they are looking for safety and to hear that there is an effort to improve the experiences, not just through better processes, but using technology and innovative and design-based methods is really heartening. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I really appreciate it too when Michael said, given that these are very vulnerable, serious, literally life and death for some people moments, it’s not the time to test tech with someone and like how kind that is to take that into consideration. And then on the other side of things, so heartwarming to hear Kim talk about you know, the, those who may be older and less comfortable with tech. 

Not to mention this is not their first language. And to say, oh, my children have mastered this, and they were able to do this for me. With me, it’s so personal and what, what a great component of all of this. 

Mark Lerner: Yeah, it feels to me like it also centers the fact that it’s not just about using the sort of latest and greatest technology, right? Yes. They had the iPads there to be able to leverage that technology. But it’s also about designing the services, designing the process in a way that really centers the humanity of the people involved and makes it so that, for instance, as you’re filing online, They could have designed that in a way where you still needed a lawyer by your side, but they designed it in such a way where people could feel comfortable doing it themselves, and they understood via the clarity of it all what was happening. 

And that feels to me like it really provides folks with the autonomy that they need and the power that they need in a moment, which is, is so critical. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And not having to track the literal paper file with you everywhere you go, that in and of itself has to be kind of stressful, I would imagine. 

Mark Lerner: No kidding. Absolutely. It was also particularly stunning to me to hear from Arianna and Kim about the rapid shift that USCIS had. Right at the start of the pandemic, we heard from Kim that she started interviewing the week that everything shut down and how quickly they had to change everything to be able to adapt to that environment.  An organization like that can’t shut down its processes, so. It’s great to hear that about the nimbleness there and, and, and you know, that follows through with Michael’s own point about being able to adapt and and iterate and learn as you go along. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And, you know, are they so nimble? Because he was also very smart in the way that he hired. And you know, he first talked about it, you know, earlier in the, in the conversation about having, you know, meetups and finding people where they were and not just rely on USA jobs. And then at the end, I don’t know if you recall, he said, we did little that was special. We just talked to people. It’s like, you know what Michael? Not everybody actually talks to people like you are. That’s great that you did that and. Like what a simple, pure notion and what it, what it leads to. It can be amazing. 

Mark Lerner: That’s right. Yeah. There’s, there’s a saying that we love to, to say, which is don’t post and pray. Right. You’re not gonna find your greatest talent by just posting the job and helping people show up. You got to have to go out and grate that. I get that. Great talent. I’ll, I’ll note it was also fascinating to hear from Arianna and Kim, given that they’re both so in the weeds of it all, in terms of working directly on asylum processes. 

They mentioned the innovations being applied both to-you know, there’s two different kinds of asylum processing, affirmative asylum, which is when someone who is in the United States already applies for asylum and, and defensive asylum, which they called APSO in this case, which is when someone is in removal proceedings, they’re, they’re in process to be removed from the country and they apply for asylum in that case. And to hear that the technology innovations, the design innovations here can apply across the board and that they’re looking across the board was really fascinating. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And you know, you are definitely more in the know when it comes to technology and what’s new and, and you even said, you know, not everything has to be the latest and greatest. Was there something, given the, the world that you are very familiar with, that stands out to you about the processes or the tech that Michael helped bring about that you want to make sure our listeners walk away with? 

Mark Lerner: Yeah, actually I do. I think that what’s incredible to highlight here, is actually the lack of fancy brand new technology. I think that, again, I’ll, I’ll highlight, you know, this wasn’t a conversation though, these are important things, it wasn’t a conversation about how artificial intelligence changed the way that asylum was processed. 

There’s no doubt that there’s opportunities there, but this was a conversation about how do we take technologies and tools that are available to folks across the globe. That can be used in this particular business case and application and design it well and intentionally and thoughtfully and, and iteratively. Such that it supplies massive benefits to the asylum officers, to the asylum applicants. The fact that yes, it was about technology, but it was more about the collaboration, it was more about the teams. That’s the thing that we really love to see, that we try and center here because. At the end of the day, a lot of the technology, that’s the easy part. 

It’s the people. That’s the hard part. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And it was a technology focused on the people and the user experience, which is what we want to see. Yeah. 

Mark Lerner: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Mark, thank you so much for being part of this one. I think you were absolutely the right, right person to join me and have this conversation. So, thank you. Yeah. 

Mark Lerner: Rachel, it was a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.  

Transition Music 

Abigail Alpern Fisch: 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.  

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 I’m Abigail Alpern Fisch, our writer and producer for today’s episode. 

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