Written by: Tom Mesenbourg
August 1, 2013 was a very special day for me. The retirement ceremony was extremely touching to both myself and my family. The speakers – Nancy Potok, Bob Groves, Steve Murdock, Johnny Zuagar, Mark Doms, Bill Bostic and Steve Landefeld were all fantastic, and I will always treasure your friendship. I also want to thank all the staff and visitors who I was able to greet and thank for their contributions. It was great fun to reconnect with folks who have retired, meet some employees who have only been at the Census Bureau a week or two, as well as friends from the federal statistical community. I was so happy Claire Kincannon, her daughter, Alexandra, and their grandchildren were able to attend.
In my last blog as Acting Director of the Census Bureau, I wanted to share my farewell remarks. August 2, 2013, is my last day at the Census Bureau and the timing could not be more perfect – John Thompson was confirmed by the Senate on August 1 as the new Census Bureau Director. I leave pleased that the Census Bureau has a leader who knows the organization, the challenges we face, and is committed to making the Census Bureau an even more effective organization.
August 1, 2013
First, let me start by thanking all of the speakers for their kind words. I respect each and every one of them and I am thankful for their support, friendship, the opportunities they provided me, and their enduring contributions to the Census Bureau.
I also want to thank my wonderful wife, Faith, my daughters, Alina and Erika, my son-in-law, Jamey, Erika’s beau, Hector Velez and, of course, my two grandchildren – Trey and Alexandra Graydon. The sacrifices, patience, and unwavering support my family provided me over the past four decades contributed greatly to any success I may have had. I have to be honest and admit I never quite got the work and life balance thing quite right. But you make choices, you live with them, and fortunately for me my family always supported those choices.
I also want to thank all of the Census Bureau employees that I have had the honor to work with over the last four decades, all of my colleagues and friends in the federal statistical community, and all the census data users, stakeholders, associations and organizations that have helped make the Census Bureau a better organization.
It seems difficult to believe that 41 years ago, Roger Bugenhagen called me at Penn State and told me about all the interesting things that were going on in the Economic Surveys Division and asked me to join the Census Bureau. Since I had no other job offers, I, of course, accepted and started work in October 1972.
I have been fortunate to work with federal employees who inspired me and continually demonstrated the importance and rewards of public service. As we all know, the financial rewards are modest, but the opportunities to do important work and make a significant enduring contribution are there if we seize the opportunity.
I am especially appreciative that Roger Bugenhagen, the person that hired me and mentored me over much of my career is here today. From Roger, I learned that common sense is truly uncommon, that you lead by example, and that every job and every person, no matter how junior, can and must contribute to the mission.
From Shirley Kallek, a Census legend, I learned the importance of challenging the status quo, understanding the budget, and that embracing big ideas can lead to big results.
From Knick Knickerbocker, I learned the importance of civility, the knack of clear communication, and the incredible things that can be accomplished when you are empowered to lead, and you, in turn, empower staff.
From Steve Murdock, I learned the need to get out of your comfort zone by taking on a scary assignment or scary job. 2008 and 2009 were plenty scary, but the opportunity to see first-hand how this organization responded to incredible challenges and a sea of skepticism about whether we could conduct a successful 2010 Census was the most rewarding experience of my career.
I was lucky enough to work three years with Bob Groves, our former director and the single-most effective leader I have ever had the honor to work with. Bob is the consummate multi-tasker, and the change agenda he established was sometimes exhausting but always energizing. Over the past year, we have institutionalized the change agenda and even expanded it. I remain more convinced than ever that we must transform the way we do business, and I know we will.
I have been a federal employee for 40 years, and I have never regretted my career choice. I have had the opportunity to do important work – developing, producing, and directing statistical programs that influence financial markets and inform public and private decision makers.
Democracies require statistics that are credible, trusted, nonpartisan, and relevant. It has been my good fortune to spend my entire career at the Census Bureau, a great institution. Carrying out our mission as “fact finder” for the nation has been exciting, sometimes challenging, but always fulfilling. My fervent wish is that my career may, in some small way, inspire more young people to heed the call of public service.
I am really humbled and honored by the turn out today and the numerous messages and conversations I have had with staff thanking me for my service and contributions. But the real thanks should go to the thousands of Census Bureau employees who I have worked with over the past 40 years. Without your dedication, creativity, and contributions, I could not have accomplished anything.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope this organization will be bold – I encourage you to embrace the big ideas that can truly transform the way we do business. Second, I encourage you to guard against insular thinking, look outwardly for new ideas and innovations and steal shamelessly. Third, find ways to reduce the metawork – far too many resources are being expended on responding to multiple, duplicative reviews and second-guessing. We need to focus on value-added activities that contribute to the mission. And finally, focus on finding ways to grow, engage, and empower every one in the Census Bureau regardless of grade or occupation.
So, I leave this organization feeling confident in the future and thankful for having had the opportunity of working with such a great group of people both inside and outside the Census Bureau.