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Posted 8/8/2018

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By Joan Kibler , U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division

Leaders in the Transatlantic Division’s leadership development program recently broadened their exposure to Congressional affairs and the operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters.

These leaders – Daryl Puffinburger and Peter DeMattei, both program managers with the Middle East District – spent three days in April on Capitol Hill and another day with senior military and civilian leaders at USACE headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Government Affairs Institute sponsored the USACE Congressional briefing.

LDP is a USACE program designed to provide a progressive avenue to develop and train leaders at all levels as part of “building the bench,” according to Elaine Lawson, management analyst, TAD Business Integration Division. DeMattei and Puffinburger are in Tier III of the program which is led at the Division level.

The event provided a first-hand understanding not only of congressional process and procedure, but also the culture that is the United States Congress. Participants heard from – and were afforded the opportunity to ask questions of – members of Congress, the congressional staff, academia, special interest groups, and the news media. Leaders also attended committee hearings and observed floor action.

Puffinburger said she never thought she “would have the opportunity to attend this training and be headed to Capitol Hill. It was truly an eye-opening experience.”

Puffinburger said that guest speakers provided insight on how Congress works within their authorities to govern the nation. She said they attended a hearing on a bill advancing in Congress, heard from a reporter who covers the White House, listened to discussions about the national debt and legislative liaison, and attended a hearing for the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget for the Civil Works program.

After the civil works hearing, Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, USACE Commanding General, spoke to USACE’s leadership development program participants. “He thanked us for our role in stepping up to become a leader,” Puffinburger said.

In addition to staff from the Transatlantic Division, other USACE attendees were from the South Atlantic Division, Mississippi Valley Division, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, South Pacific Division, and the Engineering and Support Center Huntsville. A few non-USACE entities also participated, such as Department of Interior and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“One thing I really enjoyed about the daily briefings was that each speaker, from a former Senator to a lobbyist, brought different historical insight and perspective of the way the U.S. government system was meant to work, how it really works, and the way it should work,” DeMattei said. “And they did so in a non-partisan way. We were able to ask probing questions, and the speakers gave candid responses.”

Lawson said that the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill is important because it contributes to the goals of the leadership development program. “We must train our leaders to be agile, have broad perspectives, and be successful results-oriented change agents,” she said. 

LDP is designed in four successive tiers, each building on the fundamentals of the previous tier. Tiers I and II are executed at the District level. Tier III is executed at the Division level, with TAD offering two phases at this level – each one-year long. Tier VI is accomplished at the USACE headquarters level.

“Participants will gain the most by starting at Tier I and progressing sequentially through each tier,” Lawson continued.

For the Tier III program, TAD provides GS-11 through GS-13 employees with the opportunity to experience a regional perspective on leadership, identify and develop their own leadership qualities, and participate in various senior-level USACE activities within the Transatlantic Division. “Our program includes access to the region’s senior leaders, leadership philosophies and practices, and participation in and exposure to regional governance bodies,” Lawson said.

Participants in the third tier also address self-development and leadership needs through shadowing senior leaders, serving in developmental assignments, and completing educational components.  

Leadership development supports the overarching USACE goals of preparing for tomorrow, shaping our workforce, and preparing our leaders for a dynamic, competitive, technical future, Lawson said.