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Engaging new employees to improve HUD’s workplace and operations


(HUD)

By day, Anthony Soriano is a management analyst at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), engaged in strategic planning and looking for opportunities to strengthen acquisition and contracting processes.

In his spare time, Soriano has another job that is making waves and producing results— that of co-founder and leader of Under 5, a volunteer organization of HUD employees with less than five years of service who are devoted to improving the work experience and finding solutions to challenges facing the department.

“Under 5 is a grassroots network of employees with an interest in making the new employee experience as terrific as possible,” said Soriano. “It also is a way to meet other people who have similar interests and a way for employees to come together to solve problems and learn from each other.”

Since 2011, Soriano and his Under 5 colleagues have been working with department leaders to improve the orientation process for new employees and to institute a progressive parental leave policy. They led the way for a policy that allows employees to rotate to a different position in the department on a short-term basis, and are in the midst of developing a survey that will allow employees to provide regular feedback to their managers.

Much of this work has been initiated in what Soriano calls “innovation time,” four hours a week during the work day that selected employees have been given to develop and implement the ideas that will help HUD operate more effectively. Soriano said 70 HUD employees submitted proposals, and 30 projects are currently under way in two separate program offices.

One project involves a mobile smartphone and tablet application to help the public connect with housing assistance programs nationwide, including the location of available subsidized housing across the country. Another involves a training program for employees for ensure the continuity of essential operations during emergencies.

Soriano came to HUD in 2009 after working in the private sector and said he was struck by the inadequate orientation procedures that often left employees adrift without the tools or sufficient guidance to get started on the right foot. He also said it was unsettling to see HUD’s low ratings on the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey and to watch many relatively new and talented young employees leave the department every year after becoming disillusioned with the job. “We wanted to understand why and help make HUD an employer of choice for new professionals seeking a meaningful public service mission,” said Soriano.

Soriano and his colleagues were able to obtain support from department leaders to form the Under 5 organization, and today it has grown to more than 300 members. The group holds regular meetings to brainstorm, discuss issues and network, and has eight chapters in field offices outside Washington.

“Under 5 has some really amazing people who just want to make a change in our agency,” said Soriano. “The future of the group is to continue being innovative and build and develop the next generation of leaders at HUD.”

Patricia Hoban-Moore, the director of HUD’s Office of Field Policy and Management and a strong supporter of Under 5, said Soriano personifies the best of public service, and is dedicated to “keeping HUD vital and alive and maintaining the enthusiasm of people who come into the department.

“Anthony saw there were a number of problems at HUD, and turned those issues into a challenge and an opportunity,” said Hoban-Moore.

Soriano said he originally came to HUD because of his longstanding interest in real estate, and wanted to learn how the federal government operates in relation to housing, home lending and federal regulations. He soon began to fully understand and appreciate HUD’s public impact, and realized how his work inside the agency to improve management processes and through the Under 5 group is helping further HUD’s mission.

“My job on a daily basis as management analyst helps the people in the program offices do their jobs better,” said Soriano. “I may be a couple levels removed from the workers in the field, but I am helping them to better carry out the department’s mission of creating strong, sustainable communities, quality of affordable homes and helping strengthen the housing markets to boost the economy.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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