A conflicted teen visits a Marine recruiting office after 9/11 in the movie Choice.

A conflicted teen visits a Marine recruiting office after 9/11 in the movie Choice. Michael Chan

Around Government

GI films, STEMM jobs, David Walker on waste.

Films About War

Iraq War veteran Michael Chan pursued two dreams—the military and movies.

By Susan Fourney

High on the list of risky career moves are fighting wars and making movies, and Michael Chan took a chance on both. The 27-year-old Iraq War veteran, who served two tours with the Marines in Fallujah, was honored at the 2013 GI Film Festival in May. The nonprofit’s annual showcase highlights films about military service and veterans issues. 

Chan’s award-winning documentary, Choice, is based on his wrenching decision to enlist in the military as a teen. “I wanted to do something bigger with my life,” says Chan, who was raised in New York’s Lower East Side. After the nearby World Trade Center towers fell to terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, he found himself on the doorstep of a Marine Corps recruiting office. Knowing his family would not approve, he enlisted on his 18th birthday.

In Fallujah, Chan filmed parodies with his digital camera to take the edge off. He made his comrades laugh. “At that point I knew I wanted to tell stories,” he says. 

Breaking into the movie business hasn’t been easy for Chan. “My first year back home I was rejected from every film school you could possibly name,” he says. Finally, he was accepted to the University of Southern California, where he received a degree in 2012. Chan now is a production assistant on the upcoming movie Thor: The Dark World at Marvel, where he was paired with a mentor through American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit that helps vets gain a foothold in their field. 

Chan also is working on a full-length script that he hopes will help counter the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder. “This is the type of story I want to tell” he says. “Whether it’s good or not is for people to judge when it comes out.” 

Tracking Tech Talent

The push is on to attract skilled professionals to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical jobs at federal agencies. In 2012, 28 percent of federal workers were in STEMM fields, compared with 25 percent a decade earlier. 

The Furlough Five-Miler

Federal employees are sequestering their own exercise. 

Defense Department employees Beth Flores and Christel Fonzo-Eberhard organized a fun run to help their colleagues stay positive during what they call a “really bad period.” Civilian workers could give up as much as 20 percent of their pay thanks to furloughs required by budget cuts. The Furlough Five-Mile Fun Run—from the Pentagon to the Capitol—took place on July 12, the department’s first furlough day. 

Unbeknownst to the 50 participants, the finish line was at the four-mile marker, where a banner read: “This is what 80 percent looks like.” The shortened work window, in this case, was meant as a welcome relief.

“They tell you to ‘Do the best you can four days a week, and oh, by the way, you’re getting a pay cut,’” says Fonzo-Eberhard. “So that starts to have a really serious impact on morale.” 

Other event plans include a charity outing, possibly with the Wounded Warrior Project. “By doing something like this, you really get to take some ownership over your fate and not feel like a pawn,” she adds. “And that was really the goal.”

- Eric Katz

Weeding Out Waste

David Walker takes his federal efficiency campaign to Capitol Hill.

David Walker, the former comptroller general, has spent the past five years heading nonprofits focused on tackling the fiscal crisis and streamlining government. With bills introduced in Congress, his latest project, the Government Transformation Initiative, has moved closer to its goal of creating a bipartisan commission to eliminate wasteful programs. 

GE: What motivated you to take on the Government Transformation Initiative?

Walker: I was motivated by my 15 years of federal government experience, where I saw what worked and did not work . . . I believe there is a need for a Government Transformation Commission that would make specific and actionable recommendations to the Congress relating to the organization and operations of government . . . No matter what you believe the size and scope of the federal government should be, it should do its work in an economical, efficient and effective manner. There is a lot of room for improvement.

GE: Is management reform sexy enough to win attention from Congress?

Walker: It is virtually certain that the Senate and House will not be able to reach agreement on a budget . . . A Government Transformation Commission combined with biennial budgeting and much more substantive “No Budget: No Pay” legislation would be positive steps that could resonate with the public. 

GE: Does corporate funding bias the initiative toward fiscal austerity?

Walker: GTI is not about austerity, it is all about efficiency and effectiveness. A Government Transformation Commission would make recommendations that result in cost savings. It could also make recommendations to invest more in areas that are effective. 

Daring Deliveries 

You need a little extra spring in your step to deliver mail to the houses around Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva. A practice dating back more than a century involves jumping off and back on a moving passenger boat to drop mail at some 70 piers. Lake Geneva Cruise Line has been hiring summer workers to uphold this tradition for more than 50 years. The U.S. Postal Service pays the cruise line $1 a year to make the deliveries.

- Rebecca Carroll

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