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Humans of NCEI: Thelma Johnson

Humans of NCEI
Courtesy of NOAA NCEI

Here at NCEI, we aren’t just data—we are people. In our Humans of NCEI series, meet the awesome minds that manage one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research in the world. Get to know Thelma Johnson, a program specialist under the Finance and Acquisitions Branch. 

Photo courtesy of Thelma Johnson.

What is your specific area of expertise?

My expertise is in acquisitions and procurements. I started my career in budget because I love the work of balancing and calculating. Even in acquisitions and procurements, there can be challenges that make what I do rewarding. I enjoy being able to serve my customers in purchases whether it is training, supplies, software renewals, registrations, or processing contracts. At the end of the day, if I am able to utilize my knowledge and skills to accomplish the tasks of procurements for my staff and I am able to have trust and they know they can depend on me, that is all I need to make my day.

What was your first job? How did it prepare you for your current position?

My first job was as a customer service representative at First American Bank in Maryland. 

I was the one who helped you settle your accounts when it was overdrawn, opened and closed your account, took you to the safe deposit box, helped you purchase Savings Bonds, and assisted the tellers to settle their drawers at the end of the day. Little did I know that it would prepare me for making purchases for the Federal Government, assist me in solving challenging acquisition procurement problems and teach me the value of customer service.

How did you end up at NCEI?

I transitioned from NOAA’s National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) to NCEI in 2015. I worked as the Administrative Management Assistant for the Office of Education processing Time & Attendance, bankcard purchases, contracts, travel, personnel actions, and grants. After 12 years, it was time to get back to my first love: budget. So I completed a NOAA Rotational Assignment Program (NRAP) as Budget Assistant for the Department of Commerce Office of the Chief Financial Officer and the Office of General Counsel. I was hired by NODC and I was loving it. Once we transitioned to NCEI,  my field changed but I am still loving what I do.

What does a usual workday look like for you?

A normal day usually can start off peacefully accomplishing what I didn't complete the day before but then goes wham! There are many things to do in a single day where I have to multitask while also attending meetings. My days are never boring. It can be challenging, stressful, and diverse yet I wouldn't have it any other way.

What question are you asked most often when someone finds out what you do? How do you respond?

The question that I would think is most often asked is “Do you need anything?” and comes from my staff when they find out I have their procurement. I generally keep communication open with them and if I need something from them I let them know. Once I have completed the task I let them know by email with an “All done!” and an emoji.

What sort of training and education would one need for your job?

In my field, you would have to be well educated in the Department of Commerce and NOAA policies and procedures of Acquisition, contracts, and bankcard. You would also have to be well knowledgeable in computer literacy,  be able to multitask, and have customer service.

What projects are you working on now? Are there any upcoming projects that you are excited about?

The projects that I am currently working on are the NCEI Maryland office refurbishment and the processing of an interim American Meteorological Society, Blanket Purchase Agreement (AMS BPA) for NESDIS including NCEI and the Center for Satellite Applications and Research (NOAA STAR).

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

It might seem crazy, but my favorite aspect of my job is helping my staff get what they need and want within the guidelines. The word "Love thy neighbor as thyself" follows me. I try to give 110 percent. I may fall sometimes, but I think most of the time my staff can depend on me.

Who are you outside of your career?

Outside of my career, I love to go to church and sing in the choir. I am also a member of the Anchor of Hope Homeless Ministry where we give clothing, toiletries, shoes, and food to shelters and the community. This foundation keeps me grounded. I also love being a grandmother of a now 2021 high school graduate, a middle schooler, and a new 8-month-old.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?

I currently live with two furry cat roommates, Pumpkin and Midnight. They seem to just own the house even though they don't pay the mortgage or buy groceries.