I have a confession to make. Before I began working in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), I had no idea what it did. I was placed in the office as part of the Washington Leadership Program, a nonprofit organization that since 1995 has been dedicated to building the next generation of leadership from within the South Asian community. I was excited to work at OFCCP, but the fact remained: I had not even heard of it.
Which is a shame, because as I learned quickly enough, OFCCP is filled with incredible, dedicated, bright people who truly are making a difference in the lives of America’s workers — protecting over a quarter of the labor force, ensuring taxpayer dollars are never used for discrimination.
My lack of awareness about OFCCP’s efforts is perhaps emblematic of a truth that plagues government work. You can craft the greatest policy in the world, but if you do not get the word out, if people outside of the government do not understand what is going on, it does you no good.
That is why I have valued my time as an intern with OFCCP’s communication team. Though I will be a senior economics major at Seattle University in the fall, writing is my true passion, and the public sector is where I hope to make a career. I consider myself truly fortunate to be immersed in an environment where communication is key.
Here, communication is about much more than putting spin on a press release. It’s about establishing values and principles, constructing cultures and identities.
June was LGBT Pride Month. That month, the department’s elevator poster series featured Bayard Rustin, a labor leader, prominent civil rights advocate and openly gay man.
At some point, the posters were vandalized. The act could easily have been ignored by simply putting up new posters to replace the damaged ones, but my boss saw it differently. She explained that this is what our work is about.
It’s true. Defacing those posters, well, it is exactly the sort of thing that OFCCP was created to stop: discrimination, prejudice, inequality; all anathemas to what our country stands for.
My boss gave the interns in our office a task: come up with some sort of response. She suggested taking the extra posters and adding to them to make it clear that our office is in full support of the LGBT community, of equality.
By that evening, we were finished. Posters affixed with OFCCP’s logo and a message of support ribboned the OFCCP office doors on the third floor.
Communications in government can be a lot of things—cut and dry press releases and memos typically come to mind—but it can also serve as a powerful opportunity to embody the values we so readily espouse, to see the hallowed principles that define our nation made concrete. Words matter. That, is a lesson worth learning.
Editor’s Note: The author, Ashwin Warrior is a summer intern in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.