My PSC Story: Michellee Edwards
Michellee Edwards is a procurement analyst in the Program Support Center (PSC) Acquisition Management Services (AMS) Division of Quality Assurance. She has been with the PSC since the organization was established in 1995 and previously with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). She has served more than 30 years for the same office.
Tell me about your background.
I started at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) right after my senior year in high school as a GS-2 clerk/typist. It was a long time ago. I started out in the 5600 Fishers Lane building typing contracts and supporting documentation, which was a great way to begin my acquisition career.
It gave me the foundation and background, as well as more information to progress through my career than what people get today. That's my professional background. I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland and now live in Frederick County. My husband and I have an 18-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son.
What was HHS like as a GS-2 clerk/typist?
I absolutely loved it. I think the reason I have stayed in the office for so long is because of the relationships that everyone in Acquisitions had built in the very beginning, whether we were OASH or PSC or AMS. It didn't matter. There was always a really good mutual respect between the management, the Head of Contracting Activity (HCA), and the staff. During those days, people stuck around for a long time because they were happy and worked hard. That's why I stayed — mainly the relationships.
How long were you in the first job and what was your next progression?
I am pretty sure I was a clerk/typist for one to two years. My manager at that time, saw some promise and promoted me to a procurement clerk, then to a procurement assistant, and then to a contract specialist. I kept getting promoted in the office, and that's how I am in the procurement analyst role I am in today.
Did you have a predisposed interest or desire in acquisition and procurement?
When I first started, I had no idea what acquisitions was. I had no interest at first, and then developed an interest in it. I really enjoyed research. In fact, at one time in my life, I wanted to be a lawyer. I love researching contract and appropriations law. I enjoy reading the regulations and delving into things. I think I learned to like the job and that is another reason I stayed. I was very interested in that.
Have you had any inkling or desire to leave HHS and go to another agency or civil service?
Yes and no. I didn't finish getting my college degree, and I am unable to transfer to another agency and keep my grade. I am grandfathered in at HHS at my grade, which I am not willing to lose.
Any thoughts about going back and finishing school?
It is a regret. I went to night school for a long time while I worked at HHS. I got close to finishing my degree. I think I have 87 credits. But at that point, I started having children. My mother, who needed assistance, moved in with us. I couldn't work full time and take care of my kids and my mother, so it stopped being a priority. At this point in my life, now that my kids are grown and my mother is now gone, I am within 5-10 years to retirement, I probably won't do it. I think about it occasionally, I look at online schools, but it is not a priority anymore.
How has PSC evolved or changed throughout your tenure?
For a very long time the focus in PSC was on getting things done quickly, and growing our services and customer base. Our focus now is squarely on quality and doing things the right way.
What would you describe as your best federal career work experience?
Looking back on my career, I think about some of the contracts I did. One example, in 1994, I was recognized by President Clinton as a contributor to an idea that resulted in the purchase card program, as we know it today. It was a long time ago, but use of the purchase card has expanded greatly. Yes, it was an old Act and contribution, but it is something that is used widely today, and is a huge savings for the government. (Michellee was recognized by President Bill Clinton on October 13, 1994 during an event at the White House Rose Garden for the signing of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994. Video of the event is here. If the video won't display, copy and paste the URL into another internet browser like Chrome. Vice President Gore and President Clinton mention Michellee (whose maiden name was Craddock) at about 14:02 and 28:21 respectively).
How did that come about?
The Director of the Office of Procurement Policy, Steve Kellman, wanted to talk to people in the trenches — the ground-level contract specialists, to see what he could do to improve the procurement process. My HCA at the time, Christie Goodman, recommended that he speak to me.
He came to my desk at the 5600 Fishers Lane building and I showed him a hard-copy requisition for a $200 purchase. He counted all of the signatures on it, and it had to go through seven levels of approval to buy a $200 item. He wanted to have a purchase card program where other people could make small purchases.
I told him that it sounded like a good idea, but we have existing regulations and laws, which is why we have contracting people. No matter the dollar value, there are set-asides for small businesses, mandatory programs, and other laws and regulations that apply. That fact had never dawned on him that a purchase card would not be useful unless we exempted purchase cards from existing laws and regulations.
It was a big deal for a couple of years afterwards. I was in some articles in publications such as: The Washington Post (which President Clinton held up during the ceremony), Government Computer News; Federal Computer Week, and The Washington Times. I also was interviewed and featured by National Public Radio and WTOP. I went to some ceremonies. The White House ceremony on the signing of the law was one of them.
How did that make you feel?
It was exciting. The senior procurement executive from HHS and our HCA got to go with me. President Clinton called me by name and I was able to meet him and Vice President Gore. It was very exciting.
As you have navigated your career, how much has been luck vs. intentionality?
I think landing the job right out of high school was pure luck. Everything after that has been completely intentional. I have worked hard and done research. I have done more than what was required at my job. That's how I got promoted. Eventually it led to becoming a procurement analyst.
When you look back on your career, what would you say are your core values that you bring into the workplace?
My core values are working hard and researching. Some contracting officers look to other people to tell them what to do. They want to go to legal or my division, the Division of Quality Assurance, to tell them what to do. As a contracting officer, I think it is important to understand that the contract you sign is your responsibility.
It is a tough job that requires research, reading, and analysis. This is not an easy job. That's why there are GS-13s and GS-14s doing it. It requires some research and some knowledge. I think those are the core values — understanding that you have to work hard and research things. And, being accountable for the contracts that you sign. It usually requires being willing to put in some off time.
Is there a part of Acquisitions that you are interested in touching at this point in your career?
I think I am where my interest lies in AMS, and that's with the Division of Quality Assurance in the procurement analyst role. And, really helping to answer questions of the staff and review their contracts for compliance issues and that sort of thing. I am where my interest lies.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of President Clinton's Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. But I also thought about the contracts that I worked on. All of them seem to be contracts that helped people. Years ago, we used to do contracting for the D.C. Government Department of Human Resources, when they lost their authority to contract for a while. I worked on a contract for residential treatment services for emotionally disturbed children, which provided residential care, educational, and medical services.
Another proud moment was when they were building the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, and needed someone to do the contract for the telecommunications system for the entire medical center, which was a big hospital being built. I handled that contract and got to go to Alaska to see the construction site and test out some of the telecommunications systems that were being bid.
There are other ones that helped people, such as a contract I did for rescuing victims of human trafficking. It had never been done before. A gentlemen in the Administration for Children and Families contacted me based on a previous contract, and he picked my brain on this new contract. We ended up in litigation for years over the contract, but I think it was a successful contract, and we eventually won the litigation. More recently, helping out with contracts for providing unaccompanied children with shelter services. I have done thousands of contracts and those were the ones that stick with me.
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