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Moving from one military post to another with her parents, this federal employee has always been nomadic. She said it was moving in those different directions that helped her find her place.
On this episode of Women of Washington, Gigi Schumm welcomed Shelley Finlayson, chief of staff and program counsel at the Office of Government Ethics. OGE serves to ensure that the more than 3 million federal employees are held accountable for their decisions on behalf of the public.
Finlayson said it is her job to lead those efforts and provide guidance, oversight and accountability for programs across the federal government. She also helps support the agency IGs in areas where prevention, investigation or enforcement is necessary.
Like people, regulation doesn’t always fit inside a box
“We don’t do investigations [though]. There’s often confusion about that,” Finlayson said. “We are the prevention piece. We are trying to keep people on the right side of the line.”
It is common for federal employees to go from private to public sector. Finlayson didn’t stop there though, as she’s also worked in the different branches of government on both the federal and state level — such as working as a staffer on Capitol Hill and for the Congressional Budget Office.
What ultimately landed her in her current position was the pull to do something more with her law and public policy degrees than settle for a mundane job on the Hill or as a policy analyst. She found that she just didn’t want to have to choose for whom to work, but instead to follow a mission of serving the public. OGE gave her a chance to interact with all the branches of government, and the different agencies, while being a spokewoman for the public interest.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to lead a program currently that touches every executive branch agency. All 137 agencies have ethics programs,” she said. “And to realize that our work supports their mission. All of the important work that happens at the executive branch can’t happen without integrity in government decision-making.”
Finlayson said in her current role three of her top priorities are:
Assisting during presidential and other political transitions in terms of financial disclosures and conflict resolution.
Ensuring ethical systems are in place at the federal level that will ensure integrity within agencies and across government
Helping the public understand better the role they play in holding their government accountable and teaching them how to do so through tools on the OGE website and social media.
“Well, I continue to believe in putting my all into our mission,” she said. “And making sure that as our nation faces an array of challenges, that our democratic form of government stays secure and that the public continue to be served by their government and that the interest of the public rises above other interests that may be competing for attention within our government.”
Working in public service is just something that runs in her family, and she said she pretty much always knew that’s where she would end up. But why Washington? Why politics?
Finlayson said she knew that while there is a variety of different ways a person can do public service, she knew she wanted to be part of the process of how decisions are made that affect the public. She said she spent time in college exploring exactly what that meant and how she could influence that process.
From analysis to legal issues, working for the federal government made the most sense. She has been able to use the techniques she learned in graduate school and in law school to fulfill her mission. Finlayson said she would most likely be working for a nonprofit in D.C. if not for the federal government.
She said it’s not about getting a degree itself, it’s about knowing what you will do with it.
“Be kind to yourself. It’s good to hold yourself to high expectations, but make them fair expectations of yourself and realize that doing your best is good enough,” she said. “The path won’t be a straight on and than’s okay, because the journey and the unexpected surprises are part of what make it really interesting and the way you really learn a lot about yourself.”
Gigi Schumm welcomes Washington's most ambitious and influential female executives to share their secrets to success. Contact Gigi at email@example.com. Subscribe to Women of Washington’s audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.