My PSC Story: Seeking Challenges and Opportunities to Grow
From the Air Force, health care, to the U.S. Department of Interior, Program Support Center, and leading a major U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program, Lori Ruderman has sought out new challenges in her career.
As part of our Program Support Center (PSC) workforce engagement program, Dr. Russell Robinson, Senior Training and Engagement Advisor, interviewed Lori Ruderman, Service Director, Transportation Services, to share her story of how she’s navigated her federal career, and help strengthen our culture.
Ruderman has been with PSC for four years, and before that, served eight years at the U.S. Department of Interior in their shared services organization.
Russell: Tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Lori: I started my career as a marriage/family and child therapist in the late 80s and early 90s. I spent four years in the Air Force. Then I worked in mental health services for about 15 years in the outpatient community and child protective services, and a variety of different programs.
I ran a group of programs in Delaware for a couple of years. We had outpatient community services, group homes, partial hospitalization, and day clinics. I moved to northern Virginia and started to work in the hospital systems. I worked for NOVA Health Systems and Adventists Health Care as a hospital administrator.
However, I frequently heard my husband, at that time, talking about all of the problems his office was having, and I would often offer suggestions. One day, he suggested that I come to work for his agency, and I entered the federal space at the Department of Interior as the administrative officer. That's where I got introduced to the federal space. I like shared services, and have done that my whole career.
When I heard about the opportunity to join PSC, I found it intriguing. The service director position at that time was a rotational position where you worked in one service line for two years and then rotated to another. I saw that as a great developmental opportunity, and a great way to have variety in my career. So, I was pleased to be hired by PSC in 2016, and here I am today.
Russell: What do you think facilitated the need to change jobs from the Department of Interior to the Program Support Center?
Lori: In my case, I had been there too long. When I look across my resume, my best work is the first three-to-four years in any job I work. I find that I need to shift every now and then and get new creative energy and enthusiasm. So, I had been at the same job at Interior for eight years, and found I was in a rut. I was bored and didn't feel challenged anymore. For me, I have to move on to a new challenge every four years, or so.
Russell: When did you realize that about yourself?
Lori: I should have realized that sooner than Interior (laughs). That was about the time I realized my work pattern was about four years at each role or project. I got comfortable at Interior. I had a nice commute and a nice boss, and no real challenge. It was easy to coast for a little while. When I came over to PSC, I realized that I had become stagnated, and I need to move to keep my energy fresh.
Russell: Looking at your time at Interior, what triggered your decision to make a change career-wise?
Lori: Interior was going through some organizational changes. They had a recent change in all of their leadership. It was not that I didn't get along with the new leadership, but the values were shifting, and I didn't feel that the new values were aligned with my mine. That is very important to me. My values have to match the organization or I am not comfortable.
Russell: What was the most intriguing aspect to coming to work at PSC in 2016?
Lori: I liked the idea of the service director rotations and the ability to touch various parts of PSC. One of the most interesting aspects — and I haven't had the opportunity to do this — was the connection with the uniform health service and Federal Occupational Health. Having such a strong health care background, at Interior I felt removed from the health mission and service. Coming to PSC, back in the health industry, and potentially having a rotation there was intriguing.
Russell: What roles have you had in the past four years at PSC?
Lori: When I first got here, I was in charge of FedResponse, which is the federal customer contact center (Customer Contact Center) and, at the time, the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) organization, which divested about nine months later. After that, I worked at the Contact Center, and got a little bored and asked my supervisor for additional work and responsibilities.
He gave me the opportunity to work on Feds Feeds Families (federal food drive). I was able to spend that whole summer immersed in that program. The Contact Center was self-running and did not need a lot of attention. About a month in, my supervisor said, “I know you are not bored, but I have something else for you.”
It wasn't BUYSMARTER at that time, but a piecemeal of six intermingled projects that ultimately became HHS ReImagine and the BUYSMARTER program. When I first became involved, my eyes were very big, and I was overwhelmed by the scope of what I was being asked to do, but I was excited by the opportunity. It was the luckiest project I ever worked on. All the resources landed in my lap. If I needed something, it was right there for me. PSC was generous in the resources they provided. The ReImagine structure gave us the license to be creative.
I knew I was in over my head. I was fairly new to the Department and didn't have the institutional name to ask the Heads of Contract Activity (HCAs) to do what I wanted. They didn't know who I was. I was lucky to get an initiative lead, who had been in the Department a long time, and had the name recognition, and we were able to get the HCAs involved and get tremendous momentum. When my detail ended in July 2019, I was pleased to see the program was proceeding toward success, and continues to move forward to this day.
Russell: How much of your career has been luck versus intentionality? Also, how do you see those two concepts relating to each other?
Lori: I think a lot of it is both. You don't get lucky unless you have some level of intentionality. You have to prove that you are open, willing, and interested before the opportunities present themselves.
If you sit back and wait for things to land in your lap, they are never going to happen. You have to be intentional and say that “I want to make change and do new things and have new opportunities.” Put that out in the universe, either officially to your leaders or unofficially by volunteering to help out with things, then the luck comes in time.
Projects only come around at certain times, and you have to be in the right place at the right time. Some of it you can create for yourself. There are so many opportunities within the Department for these special projects like Feds Feeds Families and CFC (Combined Federal Campaign). Those types of things are ways to volunteer to get your name out to other parts of the organization. When these great opportunities come up, someone will remember “that person from PSC who was really enthusiastic and willing. I bet he/she would be good at this.” … But it takes both.
Russell: How have your views toward owning your career changed compared to, say, 15 years ago?
Lori: Fifteen years ago, I was in health care services. I was a parent and still had a child in school, and needed to have work/life balance as the number one priority. I was able to take jobs that were demanding and where I could excel, but didn't require after hours and long days. As soon as my son went to college, I became very intentional. I went to my leadership and told them I was at a point in my career where I can give whatever needs to be done. I would like to try for opportunities that will stretch me and let me grow, and see what happens.
Russell: How would you describe your personal brand and values that drive?
Lori: The first one is “example.” I am very mindful of the example I set. I cannot expect others to work a full 40-hour work week, if I am not willing to give more than that. I cannot expect people to have good integrity and ethics, if I am playing in the grey area behind the scenes. As a leader, you have to walk the walk. I make sure that I’m doing it deliberately and obviously at all times, so that other people recognize its importance.
Russell: For the role you are in now, when you get to that four-year point and think about what's next, what impact would you like to have?
Lori: I would like to move away from a crisis model and into a steady state. The role I am in now has a lot of different pieces that have not had the level of attention they could have had because resources were stretched. These were easy things to let simmer for a while. Nothing was exploding or bleeding, but just simmered on the back burner. When I came on board, they needed some attention. I would like to get them to the point where they don't need a lot of attention, but they can run efficiently with the right resources in place.
Russell: Last question. Specific to your federal career, what are you most proud of, and what would you identify as your biggest regret?
Lori: I am most proud of the BUYSMARTER effort. The things that we started, and the things that will be done in that space will change federal government acquisitions in ways that are momentous.
I do think that opportunity is opening doors that have never been opened before. It is putting HHS in front of the federal space for new and emerging technologies, and innovative ways to do acquisitions. It didn't take a lot of resources, just a team of 10 people, and two years to put the foundation together.
It'll take a few years to get all the contracts under this model. But I think there will be a legacy. When I look back and see where they are, I smile because I know that PSC and I had a huge influential piece in the program. Most of the effort was borne out of things that were taking place in PSC, and leveraging the work that OCIO's (Office of the Chief Information Officer) doing with HHS, accelerating the technology and infrastructure there. The partnerships have really paid off.
My biggest regret was that I got too comfortable sometimes. I hit points in my career where I was doing my job well, and didn't look for any type of stretch. Sometimes, I felt like I became a paycheck employee. There is nothing wrong with paycheck employees, they come in, do their job, and go home. I am just not that person, and I shouldn't be that type of employee. I need challenge to be fulfilled. I got into little ruts where day-to-day I wasn't thinking or being challenged. I felt that I lost a little bit of myself and had to regain it.
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