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September 2012

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Volume 1, Issue 2


Message from the Board Room

8th Annual Leadership Conference and Banquet

Did You Know About the Plum Book?

Message from the Board Room

Tommy Hwang, Chairman

As we approach AAGEN’s 20th anniversary, it is fitting that our latest annual leadership conference had record-breaking numbers of participants and sponsors. Thanks to the outstanding dedication and initiative of our volunteers, we were able to:

  • Offer a wide array of professional development sessions,
  • Present an increased number of scholarships to students interested in public service, and
  • Honor Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Brigadier General Fred Wong and Dr. Jeremy Wu as this year’s distinguished banquet award recipients.

Also, we successfully launched our inaugural class of the SES Development Program with the active support of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, OPM and EEOC. Lastly, we are grateful that AAGEN’s membership has now surpassed 300, including over 60 in the senior ranks of SL/ST, SES and Executive corps.

Despite these notable accomplishments, this is not the time for complacency. Looking ahead, there are severe financial pressures on our economy. Federal budgets face possible Congressional sequestration of funding, magnified by the uncertainty of our national elections. We should remember the ancient admonition that we are living in interesting, if not ominous, times.

As public servants, we need to anticipate declining budgets and rising public expectations. The long predicted retirement tsunami amongst the SES corps is finally coming to fruition.  There may also be an impending turnover in political appointees following the election. In the face of such challenges and opportunities, true government leaders emerge. We invite your active participation and involvement in preparing our current and future leaders for serving our nation with intelligence, integrity and courage.

We hope to see you at the various career development events that we will sponsor throughout the year.

8th Annual Leadership Conference & Banquet

Record-breaking attendance and engagement signal desire for knowledge and tools to manage government in austere times


On June 7, 2012, the Asian American Government Executives Network (AAGEN) held its 8th annual Leadership Conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia. Carrying the theme “Leadership in an Austere Environment,” the conference provided a valuable learning and networking opportunity for participants eager to be effective leaders and manage their professional careers.

In his keynote remarks, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry underscored the importance of investing in training, including leadership training such as the AAGEN conference, especially when other areas of the budget are cut. "We can't just throw people into very complicated situations that affect public health and safety without giving them the training to get the job done well," he said. "In fact, training is probably one of the most efficient expenditures you can make."  (Listen to Mr. Berry’s  audio clip here: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/520/2895365/OPM-survey-to-help-agencies-make-tough-budget-decisions)

 “Mr. Berry’s distinguished remarks at our conference send a timely and positive message that diverse leadership is key in our diverse society,” An-Ming “Tommy” Hwang, AAGEN Chair, stated. 

With well over 400 registrants, conference attendance set a record high. Other distinguished speakers included John D. Transviña, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Juan M. Garcia, III, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Manpower and Reserve Affairs; and Teri Takai, Chief Information Officer, Department of Defense. 

More than 120 participants took advantage of AAGEN’s signature Executive Coaching Sessions, provided by 27 senior executive and private coaches. “This event is invaluable,” said Marla Hendriksson, a candidate of AAGEN’s SES Development Program. “Where else can AAPI federal managers get insight into the latest issues and solutions affecting our careers, and gain access to a broad network of professionals who can help us attain our full potential?” 

Following the conference, AAGEN held its annual banquet to recognize the achievements of AAPI leaders such as Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu (Distinguished Lifetime Achievement), Brigadier General Frederick G. Wong (Outstanding Public Service), and Dr. Jeremy Wu (Stanley Suyat Memorial Leadership Award). As role models, the distinguished careers of our honorees exemplify the extraordinary contributions AAPIs make to our nation.  AAGEN is privileged to recognize and honor their outstanding service.

Click here to view the photo gallery.

Additional coverage of the AAGEN Leadership Conference is available courtesy of the Army Research Lab.

Did You Know?

What every SES (and aspiring SES) should know:  The Plum Book is a special publication issued by Congress every four years.  It contains a list of over 9,000 civil service leadership and support positions (filled and vacant) in the Legislative and Executive branches of the federal government that may be subject to noncompetitive appointments.

Visit OPM’s webpage on the Plum Book for more information and a link to the publication online: http://www.opm.gov/ses/facts_and_figures/plumbook.asp. The current publication is circa 2008 but a new version will be released soon after the 2012 Presidential election.

Also, you can order a hardcopy of the Plum Book from the Government Printing Office at: http://bookstore.gpo.gov/actions/GetPublication.do?stocknumber=052-070-07534-1 (please wait for the 2012 version!)

Believe it or not, there is also a “Prune Book” which is published by The Council for Excellence in Government.  This publication is the “unofficial complement” to the Plum Book and is published almost concurrently. According to the Washington Post, The Prune Book “lists approximately 130 of the ‘toughest management and policymaking’ positions it believes a president must fill first. The book's name is a play off the Plum Book, suggesting that the jobs listed are for "wiser and older" plums who mature and become prunes.”

The next version of the Prune Book is not yet available online but be on the look out!   

Reflections: Understanding Life in Public Service

Carson Eoyang, Chair, Communications Committee

One of the many benefits of retirement is having more time and motivation to read widely and selectively.  Who would have guessed that a simple book would help me see my 34 years in public service in a whole new dimension?  

I just finished reading a recent bestseller, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. It is one of the most insightful, illuminating and thought provoking books that I’ve read in a long time.  

Essentially, the book explains how the human mind thinks in both simple and complex situations.  It challenges conventional theory that humans always act rationally, and popular psychology surmising that intuition and instinct are often superior to thoughtful analysis (e.g., Blink by Malcolm Gladwell).  Without getting into all the behavioral concepts and extensive research described in the book, let me cite just the last two chapters that discuss the concept of human happiness.  

In summary, Kahneman proposes that happiness is a combination of “the well-being that people experience as they live their lives and the judgment they make when they evaluate their life.”  In other words, how happy we are is a function of our current mood and feelings and how we assess our lives as a whole.  Each of us may weigh these two components differently and may even change the weights over time.  For example, some of us may be happy working as a Peace Corps volunteer in very primitive and harsh conditions while others may be unhappy working as a golf pro in a luxury resort.

While not all the observations and conclusions in the book are without controversy or dispute, I found the propositions and examples extremely illuminating by explaining a wide variety of human behavior including career choices and job satisfaction.  To be more specific, it helped me understand my own experiences throughout my career.   

I reflected on the daily joys, pleasures, victories, stresses, annoyances, frustrations, and disappointments of each job and weighed them against the value of the long-term goals, objectives and mission that our organization was trying to achieve.  Frequently, the former outweighed the latter but overall the latter sustained my commitment to continue.  I now realize that whenever I made a major career change, it was because the next opportunity offered a better blend of daily work satisfaction and life purpose than the one I was leaving. Admittedly, I am fortunate that most of my choices turned out happily than not.

When finishing the book, I remembered the classic fable of the scholar who encountered a work crew laboring at a rock quarry.  He noticed visible differences in the happiness of the various workers.  He asked each in turn “What are you doing?”  The first answered, “I’m breaking rocks.”  The second said, “I’m making a living.”  The third said, “I’m feeding my family.”  The fourth said, “I’m learning to be a stone mason.”  And the last person said, “I’m building a cathedral.” 

We in public service spend a lot of time breaking rocks (e.g., attending meetings, fighting bureaucratic rules, engaging in petty politics) but we also work in our various cathedrals to serve the nation and that can often make the difference between happiness and misery.

Why are you in public service? 

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