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Federal News Network: Success comes from embracing the unknown

WWT's Susan McHugh-Polley talks with Women in Washington's Gigi Schumm about her career in the public sector.

Posted by Federal News Network, April 18, 2019:

What needs to be done to influence change? Susan McHugh-Polley said making the right decision, even when it’s unpopular, is vital.

On this week’s episode of Women of Washington, host Gigi Schumm welcomed McHugh-Polley, a 31-year veteran of the federal workforce. Polley recently retired from government after working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now she serves in the private sector as a strategic advisor covering the federal market at World Wide Technology (WWT).

Her first federal job was with the Justice Department after the passage of the Immigration and Control Act of 1988.

After the Sept. 11 attacks just before the Oklahoma City Bombings, Polley helped the government stand up the Department of Homeland Security and its 22 agencies. At the time, she said the world was on high alert and the government faced many challenges. It could no longer rely on legacy data or systems.

“People are very passionate about what they have and what they know. When you’re going into the unknown, such as standing up DHS, I looked at it differently … We could design and create this as an opportunity to lean forward and change,” Polley said. “But working on the 22 agencies and getting it right, it took some time. But there were definitely culture changes. There were definite power changes. People didn’t want to give up what they knew. But it [also took some] leaning forward in an uncomfortable moment to embrace the unknown.”

She said she learned in that situation how to work together with other leaders to try new things and go from there. It was that experience within DHS that helped her transition into VA.

When she started her position at the VA Polley said she noticed a lot of disconnect between the offices. One of the biggest challenges came from rules that were stood up decades before. She was able to help stand up practices there that essentially “right-sized” the agency and allowed the different offices to work together and address issues quicker.

Read the full article and listen to the interview.