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Nides: The federal government must treat new parents better

Nides: The federal government must treat new parents better

Something unique has been going on in the office of Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides: nearly a dozen of his staffers have had babies over the last two years. Nides’ unique policies for new parents in his office may have had something to do with it.

Nides, who began his last week at the State Department Monday, sat down with several of his employees’ young children (pictured above) for an exclusive interview with The Cable. Coming from the private sector, Nides said he couldn’t believe how little flexibility and accommodation the federal government gave to new parents when he came into government, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

"There’s so much excitement working for the deputy secretary, it translates into children," Nides joked. "Seriously though, the government does not have a great family leave policy, which is outrageous in my view. In the corporate world, you get three months of paid maternity leave. In the government, you get nothing."

Federal employees can take their own accumulated sick leave and vacation days to spend some time with their newborns, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 says that new parents working for the government can take 12 weeks of leave, but all unpaid.

"I understand the rules, but for us to be behind where corporate America is in giving people the time to spend those first couple of months with their kids and have to worry about how they are going to pay their bills. In my personal view, I think it’s ridiculous and we should try to figure it out," he said.

The State Department did rank 3rd in the 2012 list of best places to work in the federal government and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was widely admired inside the department for proactively addressing the issue of work-life balance during her tenure.

But the maternity leave rules across the government are still substandard, so Nides created his own family leave policy in his office, which included allowing staffers to create a bank of leave and share it with their colleagues. He also urged new parents not to rush back to work and made sure to give them schedules upon their return that eased their transition.

"My view was, I’ve got two kids and a working wife, and I really feel like these guys have got to have a break to do the work. I was very liberal," he said. "It’s hard enough to balance making money, having a career, and trying to be a decent parent. It’s hard as shit, quite frankly."

Since Nides took over as deputy secretary for resources and management from Jack Lew in January 2011, he has taken on an extensive list of issues. In addition to being the lead State Department official in charge of the budget, economic statecraft, and tourism, he also played a key role dealing with the frontline states of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, traveling to those countries 10 times.

Nides has also been the lead official in charge of "rightsizing" the mammoth U.S. Embassy in Iraq, which had swelled to over 16,000 personnel since 2003 and is now slowly tapering down in numbers. He led the administration’s negotiations with Pakistan last year to reopen the NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, which had been shut down since U.S. pilots accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border in November 2011. Nides is also currently the lead official implementing the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board that looked into the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

For now, all of those responsibilities will go to the other deputy secretary of state, Bill Burns, Nides said, while the search for his replacement continues. If Nides has any idea of who that might be, he isn’t saying.

After this week, Nides will return to the private sector, probably returning to Wall Street, he said. Asked if he had any advice for his successor, he said the trick was to exert leadership as a political appointee while bringing along the professionals.

"You can push, but you need to embrace," he said. "There’s a huge amount of talent in this institution. If you embrace it and you work with it, you can accomplish a lot. If you come in with the attitude that you know better than everybody else, you will fail."

He was thrilled to be part of the State Department for the last two years.

"You could never have an experience like this," Nides added. "Plus I like the people here."