This Week's Federal Player

Jesse Tampio: Introducing Uncle Sam, 2.0

  Jesse Tampio
Jesse Tampio (Photo courtesty of Sam Kittner/
From the Partnership for Public Service
Sunday, March 22, 2009; 11:00 PM

By day, Jesse Tampio is a State Department lawyer working on legal issues involving embassy security, counterterrorism and government contractors in hot spots like Iraq.

By night, the 33--year--old attorney is a volunteer troubadour for federal service, visiting college campuses to challenge stereotypes about government and to spread the word among the younger generation that working for Uncle Sam can provide an exciting and rewarding career.

"The main thing is overcoming the myth that working for government is standing in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles," said Tampio. "Many students think being in government is like working for a machine and that there is really no room for creativity and new ideas."

Tampio said he tells students about his personal experiences and offers examples of his work at the State Department, including his time providing legal assistance in Iraq, to show there are opportunities where "you really feel like you are on a mission."

"The students respond when they realize there is something bigger than themselves," he said.

Erica Ong, a 19--year--old sophomore at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, was one of about 100 undergraduates who attended a campus career session last winter with Tampio. She said Tampio put "a personal face" on government and really made her think seriously about public service.

"Initially, your thought of government is something detached from reality and a place where you don't have a personal element or personal development," said Ong. "He really made it real in terms of providing an understanding of what kind of work you could be doing. He made it seem important and provided a sense that you can make a difference."

Tampio did not always envision a career in government for himself. After graduating from the University of North Carolina, he spent four years in New York City with a "dream job" as a publicist for jazz at Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis.

"But then 9/11 occurred, and that caused me to go back to the drawing board and ask whether I was doing as much as I could for the country," said Tampio. "I decided to take it up another notch."

Tampio attended Harvard Law School and received a Heyman Fellowship that has provided him with financial assistance in return for a commitment to spend at least three years in the federal government and to act as a mentor to Harvard law students and graduates interested in federal government work.

Samuel J. Heyman, the benefactor of the Fellowship program, is the founder of the Partnership for Public Service, which enlisted Tampio to help inspire a new generation to serve in the federal government as part of its Annenberg Speakers Bureau campus program. Besides Bates, Tampio has spoken at Adelphi University and next month will do a career session at Catholic University.

Kevin Gleeson, who works with Tampio at the State Department, said his colleague does "interesting work and is excited about it and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the job."

"The kind of effort he shows in trying to get people thinking about a career in government shows up every day in the legal work he does," said Gleeson.

Tampio said a highlight of his two plus years at the State Department was a stint in Baghdad in the fall of 2007 when he helped the U.S Embassy negotiate agreements with the military to improve oversight of security contractors, a difficult and politically volatile area.

"While doing the work, I was very excited about the issues and also intrigued working in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces," said Tampio. "When I went back to the trailer at night, I wanted to go home as soon as possible."

Tampio said he gets a thrill working on issues that impact U.S. foreign policy and finds it rewarding talking to both the younger generation and other federal workers from places like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"It's amazing just to grasp the variety of jobs and how working for government offers so many vastly different opportunities," he said.

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