One of the important functions of the Federal Government is to communicate with the public concerning the programs administered and activities engaged in by various Federal agencies . This communication is provided by the public affairs specialist (GS-1035) and serves the dual purpose of: 1) informing the broad spectrum of individuals and groups affected by agency programs of the benefits, services, or requirements of such programs; and 2) assessing the degree of understanding or interest the public has in these programs and activities. The public affairs specialist salary ranges from $90,823.00 to $118,069.00 / Per Year.
The federal government employs 5,519 public affairs specialists. The Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force are the largest employers of this group with 2,052 civilian employees. The Department of the Interior employs 312 followed by the VA with 297. Positions are available in all cabinet level and large federal agencies.
Valerie Fellows is a public affairs specialist working at the US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters Ecological Services Program in Falls Church, VA.
Q&A with Valerie Fellows
Why did you decide to become a Public Affairs Specialist?
My background was in wildlife management, biology and toxicology, so I always dreamed I would one day work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But I never really “loved” the notion of daily field work: schlepping through remote areas day after day, fighting off mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds, taking Dramamine just to be able to get through the day on the boat, etc. I loved it every now and then, but not every day. Our field biologists are really amazing for loving that type of hard labor!
Plus, I’m an extrovert and I’m pretty good at communicating!
Combine those factors and it came very naturally for me to support the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by communicating to the media and the public about the work we do and why it’s important for the public. I am able to combine my strengths for communication with my passion for wildlife, and I absolutely love my job.
What is your greatest challenge as a Public Affairs Specialist?
Staying relevant with the public. Our field offices are involved in managing really complex environmental issues that can’t be fixed overnight, and trying to tell the story of what they are doing and making it relevant to the issues the American public cares about is challenging. Science and technology is advancing at an extremely fast pace, but if we don’t deliver our messages about why people should care and keep it pertinent to the issues important to them, then eventually science could lose support.
What is most interesting about being a Public Affairs Specialist?
No two days are the same. Every day is a different topic or issue and it’s always something new to learn about.
What is the most unique aspect about being a Public Affairs Specialist?
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with some monumental announcements for my agency – including the recovery of the bald eagle and its removal from the Endangered Species Act – which was 5 decades in the making and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birth. To have just a sliver of the public engagement on those pieces of conservation history is extremely fulfilling, and I was so grateful for it.
Would you recommend the Public Affairs Specialist job occupation?
Yes! I’ve loved my jobs in this series at all levels. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them, but I love the excitement and results that our agency gets from connecting to the public on conservation issues!
Public Affairs Specialist Duties
In addition to the general public, Federal agencies communicate with many specialized segments of the population, e.g., farmers, taxpayers, military personnel, educators, State and local government officials, manufacturers, and so on. Federal agencies communicate with the general public and these other pertinent publics in a variety of ways, for many different purposes, and in countless organizational settings across the country, and around the world.
Public Affairs includes positions responsible for administering, supervising, or performing work involved in establishing and maintaining mutual communication between Federal agencies and the general public. They also communicate with various other pertinent entities including internal or external, foreign or domestic audiences.
Positions in this series advise agency management on policy formulation and the potential public reaction to proposed policy, and identify and carry out the public communication requirements inherent in disseminating policy decisions. The work involves identifying communication needs and developing informational materials that inform appropriate publics of the agency’s policies, programs, services and activities, and plan, execute, and evaluate the effectiveness of information and communication programs in furthering agency goals. Work in the series requires skills in written and oral communication, analysis, and interpersonal relations.
Positions in the Public Affairs Series are primarily concerned with advising management on the formulation and articulation of agency policy and designing, executing, and evaluating the information programs that communicate agency policies, programs, and actions to various pertinent publics.
Public affairs positions work in and contribute to a variety of functional programs. The term functional program refers to the basic objectives of a Federal agency and its operations and activities in achieving them. A functional program may include the entire mission of an agency or any one of many programs administered by the department or agency. Positions in this series require a practical understanding and knowledge of functional programs to facilitate communication between an agency and its publics on program-related problems, activities, or issues. Much of this program knowledge is obtained from specialists in the functional program areas or through review of agency developed material, interviewing program specialists, or reading professional and trade publications.
- Must be a U.S. citizen to apply.
- Identifying internal and external target audiences for various issues, programs and activities and independently developing the full suite of communication tools and products to reach those audiences.
- Preparing and/or overseeing the development of news releases, feature articles, publications, speeches for program and management officials, fact sheets, briefing papers, radio and television scripts and other public informational.
- Advising on personal appearances and interviews, sets up news conferences in support of a public affairs plan or directed to specific audiences.
- Establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with representative of appropriate media and national organizations or public interest groups, as well as counterparts in other Federal, State or local government agencies.
- Determining the form, extent and timing of media information programs which will maximize the education of information to the public.Conducting complex and exhaustive research and assist in providing comprehensive data to media representatives.Skill in making oral presentations; analyzing the effectiveness of crisis communication plans. Maintaining a network of subject matter experts for use as quality information sources.
- Skill in setting up and conducting impromptu news conferences and briefings
- Experience managing established social media campaigns and utilizing a diverse array of social media platforms to communicate information about agency, programs, policies, initiatives and other relevant information to the public.
In our next article we will continue with the FWS and our Question and Answer with Samantha Gibbs, a Wildlife Veterinarian (GS-0486).
- Anita Noguera, Manager, BPHC Marketing Communications, Falls Church, VA
- Photos were provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service
- Public Affairs Specialist 
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