She also led an effort to improve morale by changing the internal culture through better communication about the agency’s critical role in the crisis.
Kea instilled a “can-do spirit” in the people around her and, as a result, “the whole agency really rallied around the need to be innovative and to look at different ways of doing its job and different ways of providing resources,” said Glen Bjorklund, her former deputy, who retired this year.
The improvement was dramatic. The FDIC ranked first in 2011 in the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, up from 21st in 2007.
For her role in doubling the agency’s staff and improving its work environment, Kea has been nominated for a 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. The Partnership for Public Service, which administers the awards, will announce winners in nine categories next month.
A native of Schulenburg, Tex., a small city known for its German culture, Kea, 55, has spent most of her professional career at the FDIC, which was created by Congress to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system.
She joined the FDIC as a member of the legal staff in 1985 and spent a few years chasing bankers who cheated their institutions. She then became the agency’s second ombudsman, serving as a liaison to banks and an intermediary for the agency’s employees.
In her current role, which she has held for more than a decade, she is responsible for the FDIC’s recruitment, training facilities and workplace safety, among other duties.
Over the years, she has advocated for streamlining the hiring process, an automated hiring process and incorporating teleworking options in the agency.
Kea, who declined to be interviewed, described a telecommuting program at the FDIC as “an extraordinary benefit” and said in an interview with Employee Benefit News that it had improved productivity and led to savings in office leasing.
In recent years, her success expanding the workforce has been attributed by co-workers in part to lessons learned from past expansions and contractions. During the banking crises of the 1980s and early 1990s, the FDIC’s staff grew from about 4,000 to a peak of more than 23,000 in the early 1990s.
After the crisis, the agency was left with too many employees and implemented a lengthy and painful downsizing, which included buyouts and office closings, and reduced the workforce to less than 5,000 by the mid-2000s.
That downsizing led to internal tensions and Kea’s belief that a culture change initiative was in order.