Since joining HUD three weeks ago, I’ve been busy trying to absorb as much as possible about what we do and how we do it. So when I was invited to have “Coffee with the Secretary,” I was thrilled. These gatherings were started after an employee survey found employees wanted more direct and personal communication with senior leadership, including Secretary Donovan.
The meeting began with about 15 employees from all over HUD milling about, chatting and waiting for the Secretary to arrive. It was a casual, serve-yourself affair. Soon, the Secretary walked in and took his place among our group for the photo, before proceeding to greet us personally. “I want some coffee!” Secretary Donovan said, grabbing a cup and joining us at the table. Those around me included a range of newbies (like me) to 23-year HUD veterans from a wide cross-section of the department.
The conversation started off with a topic on everyone’s mind: the 2012 budget and how it will affect HUD operations and the staff. Secretary Donovan assured us that President Obama “gets” and cares deeply about housing and HUD’s mission. While difficult decisions were made about some program areas (CDBG, HOME, Section 202/811), the budget still focuses on creating strong communities and affordable housing for all, maintaining services for 5.5 million public housing residents and serving 86,000 new people.
Some of those in attendance told the Secretary that thinking of ourselves as public servants rather than just federal employees may be key to keeping our mission alive on a daily basis. Considering how many HUD employees are eligible to retire, others suggested HUD adopt a more formal mentoring system to help pass along the institutional knowledge so important in our work. Rotating between departments was also discussed, since employees could learn what happens in other components and it would keep us learning new skills. Also, a management training program is in the works, Secretary Donovan said. And, everyone agreed that more social events would be a great way for employees to network and bond over our common mission.
The hour flew by, and the Secretary said his goodbyes as we sipped the last of our coffee: “Let me finish where I began, which is to say thank you for all your great work.”