New GPO Deputy Director has covered a lot of ground

Patricia Collins was the first woman in the Pentagon to complete the Military Free-Fall Jumpster Course -- one of her many, many accomplishments,

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Our guest spent 24 years in the Army, including seven years in special operations and tours to both Iraq and Afghanistan. She was the first woman in the Defense Department to complete the Military Free-Fall Jumpster Course. But wait, there’s more. But I’ll let her tell the story. She’s now the deputy director of the Government Publishing Office, and Patricia Collins joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to discuss.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mrs. Collins, good to have you on.

Patricia Collins: Hi Tom, how are you?

Tom Temin: Alright. So what motivates a 24 year Army veteran to join the Government Printing Office?Just seems like either a long journey or a very short one.

Patricia Collins: Yeah, it was probably circuitous. After I retired from the military, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do and I spent some time in consulting and business development. I missed government service, I missed service to a greater organization. And I happen to know the incoming Deputy Director of the Government Publishing Office and so I started reading up about it and learning more and it just seemed like a fascinating government organization and the opportunity presented itself to you apply for employment. And here I am.

Tom Temin: And of course, besides the many physical accomplishments that you had in your army career, you also have a background in IT and some of those supporting parts of the Army. Tell us some about that.

Patricia Collins: Sure. I spent most of my career doing information technology. So in the early early days as of 56 kilobit dial up and brand new email into certainly where we are today with some of our technology. So I’ve watched the evolution and enjoyed that progress. And so watching that now at the Government Publishing Office is pretty impressive also.

Tom Temin: Yeah, I guess GPO has really itself made the journey from a purely ink on paper with rollers and printers to, they still have output on paper, but it’s totally electronically driven nowadays, isn’t it?

Patricia Collins: We’re increasing that day by day. We’ve actually been publishing online for 26 years. We recently celebrated the 26 year anniversary of doing that last week. So I think the GPO was really on the forefront of digital publishing and that’s a pretty great feather in our cap.

Tom Temin: And I want to just go back to something I mentioned in the lead, and that is the jumpmaster school. What is that all about? And how come you were the first woman, and that’s relatively recently, to complete that course? What is it?

Patricia Collins: Parachuting in the military is essentially two different kinds, static line and then freefall, which means no static line so you’re responsible for pulling your own ripcor. I just had an opportunity to attend the jumpmaster course is actually someone who has some experience and then learns how to give all the jump commands in the aircraft, how to do the inspections of the parachute while obviously the jumpers wearing it, and then determining the location of where they’re dropped outside of the aircraft. So really, it was just an opportunity that someone offered to me and said, “would you like to do this?” And I said, “yes I would.” And I honestly I didn’t know at the time that I went to the school that no woman had gone before. So it’s not that it was particularly physically hard or technically hard — it’s just that I was the first woman given the opportunity. Certainly there are more of us are more of them because that’s not my job anymore.

Tom Temin: And I think the other thing that is interesting to your character that I left out of the lead is that you had an accident in a sport that you love and that changed your life — and you recovered in a way that is remarkable.

Patricia Collins: Yes. In 2006, I had recently returned from a deployment to Iraq. I was a bicycle commuter, and I was riding my bicycle to work and I was struck by a car. About 10 months after that of trying to do limb salvage and get healthy again, I made the decision to amputate my left leg below the knee, and that was in 2007. The Army took wonderful care of me, I still to this day have my prosthetics made at Walter Reed. So I was able to rehabilitate well enough to stay in the military for nine more years deployed to Afghanistan. And then upon retirement I trained for and earned a slot on the 2016 Paralympic team in the sport of triathlon.

Tom Temin: How’d you do?

Patricia Collins: I was a top 10 finisher. So it was it was really a pretty incredible experience. So I was I was completely honored and just in awe that I was given that opportunity, you know, so many years after I had begun sports, so I was a little bit older for an elite athlete, but it was pretty remarkable.

Tom Temin: And what are your goals for GPO now that you’re there? Because I know Hugh Halpern, the director, has some pretty ambitious plans and has been driving pretty hard in the less than the year that he’s been there.

Patricia Collins: Yeah, certainly, Dr. Halperin has shared his vision with me that we are running hard toward becoming a fully digital organization. Of course, we’re always going to have some of our legacy tasks, which is beautiful. You know, I’ve obviously been around the plant and seen some of the incredible work we do with the marbling and the bookbinding. and things of that nature. But we are very much headed down the path of technology, obviously, in the current forefront is, you know, the Government Publishing Office has not closed down because of COVID. We’re certainly at a minimum manning, we’ve certainly are producing products. In the news recently, the State Department said they’re going to begin issuing passports again, well we print those blank passport books. So we are a few weeks away from really ramping up our physical return to work. So that’s on our forefront. And then certainly, we’ve had a very easy go of teleworking for those of us that can. I did all of my onboarding virtually. And our IT department really did a fabulous job of becoming extremely proactive and ensuring that everyone who was telework able could do that. So obviously, our near term goal is let’s get back to work as safely as possible and continue our levels of production that we were pre-COVID. And then long term is let’s really push toward the digital age.

Tom Temin: And how is it different in a civilian organization in the government versus being in a military, especially special operations where you were the CIO, but dealing with people that have a unique sometimes life view and lifestyle and approach to things versus the totally different type of workforce you might find at the GPO?

Patricia Collins: Yeah, I’ve actually found it to be very similar. For example, those that are working on the physical, in the plant working on the printer, they are extremely, extremely talented craftsmen and artists men, which is exactly what you found in the in the military — maybe they weren’t printing press operators, but they were definitely experts in their fields. I’ve also found people to be extremely innovative and problem solvers and not afraid of change and not afraid of progress. So there are many more similarities between the two different worlds that I’ve lived in, then there are differences.

Tom Temin: And how does the duties divide between the director and the deputy director?

Patricia Collins: Well, I have, you know, plant operations certainly falls under my purview, libraries and different things like that. And I think the director is really the visionary. And so I think we’re still figuring out, you know, roles and responsibilities. But I think we’re both super excited to see where we can take the agency with the help of the incredible staff that we have and move forward.

Tom Temin: And by the way, we should mention that you’ve spent a short stint in the world of consulting between the Army and coming back into the government. Sounds like public service is really your ultimate calling.

Patricia Collins: I certainly enjoy public service. Certainly I enjoyed my consulting time as well. I love doing leader development and learning about a lot of different business units. For now at this point in my life, I’m super happy to be back in government service and really excited about how I can help keep America informed.

Tom Temin: Alright, Patricia Collins is Deputy Director of the Government Publishing Office. Thanks so much for joining me.

Patricia Collins: Thanks Tom.

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