Monique Doute’ Ferrell is the quintessential 21st century-woman juggling a career with marriage and family. A woman for whom the glass was always half full, her optimism, dedication, and exceptional talents resulted in her appointment to the Senior Executive Service just shy of two years ago.
In her new role, she has joined the growing number of professionals transforming the federal government. Mrs. Ferrell is the first African American woman to be appointed to the Senior Executive Service in the United States Army Audit Agency’s 67 year history, and only the fourth female.
Leaders chosen to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions share a broad perspective of government and a commitment to the highest standards of public service. SES personnel serve in key positions just below top Presidential appointees, and as such, are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the federal workforce. They oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 federal agencies. Today’s SES personnel lead the continuing transformation of the federal government.
"I am proud of this accomplishment not for myself, but for what it says for women, particularly young women of color,” Ferrell said. “I hail from the tiny and beautiful island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where I received my primary and secondary education," she reflected.
"I graduated from a small Catholic school in a class of 72 students. I must admit that as a child I don't remember seeing or meeting executive-level, professional women. But my story clearly shows that no matter where you come from, no matter your social or economic background, nothing is impossible.”
As deputy auditor general for Manpower, Reserve Affairs and Training Audits, Ms. Ferrell serves as the principal advisor to the auditor general of the Army for auditing human capital, force protection, force structure, and training.
Her responsibilities also include directing Army-wide audit coverage of high-risk areas that focus on Southwest Asia deployments and sustainment functions (logistics, transportation, equipment storage and disposal, and combat service support activities), along with contingency contracting and contractors on the battlefield.
The U.S. Army Audit Agency (USAAA) serves the army's evolving needs by helping senior leaders assess and mitigate risk, and by providing solutions through independent auditing services for the benefit of the American Soldier. USAAA’s vision is to be a world-class audit organization of professionals that anticipates change and exceeds client expectations. As an integral part of the Army, they work to provide value-added services and foster innovation, accountability, and employee growth.
On December 13, 2012, the Partnership for Public Service announced USAAA as one of the Best Places to Work in the federal government rankings. It was the third consecutive year that the agency had placed in the top three. The agency’s headquarters is located on Fort Belvoir, Virginia and has 20 field offices in the U.S., Germany, and the Republic of Korea. The agency also has personnel deployed to Southwest Asia and Monique Ferrell has often been one of those.
“Over an approximately 23-month period I led a team of 30–40 Army Audit Agency auditors deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “We performed audits in a combat environment; functions vital to the success of the operations in the theater such as contracting, logistics, transportation, retrograde of equipment and supplies, and financial management.”
During this period, Ferrell deployed to Southwest Asia numerous times.
“I lived and worked alongside brave men and women who protect our nation. It was rewarding to have senior Army leaders request the services of Army Audit because of the reputation my agency has earned for providing solutions to Army challenges," Ferrell said.
"My time in Southwest Asia was also a period of tremendous personal growth. My experiences caused me to recognize that I am stronger than I had thought; that I have what it takes to accomplish anything I put my mind to, and that I must trust my instinct, make a decision, and move out to execute. I am now a more confident and effective leader."
A career federal employee, Ferrell has served the army for over 27 years, all with the Army Audit Agency. Some of her previous assignments include director of Strategic Planning and Special Studies Division, director of the Contract Audits Division, and prior to her current assignment, director of the Expeditionary Audits Division.
Ferrell says she could write a book on lessons learned throughout her career.
“The most important is that you should always be prepared,” adding, “Just as important as being prepared is trust and integrity¯you can’t buy either, but they are both easily lost. So you must always do the right things, and make sure your actions match your words.”
Ferrell has also found written and oral communication skills are critical.
"The more you do it, the better you get.”
She also cautions against creating a risk-averse environment where employees won’t take chances because they’re afraid to make a mistake.
“Everyone makes mistakes, the important thing is to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake and immediately take action to correct it. I have yet to see a mistake that could not be corrected. At the time you're in the ‘middle of the storm’ it may not seem that way, but trust me, everything is fixable.”
Over the course of her career, Ferrell has seen the relationship between Army Auditors and their clients swing from an adversarial one, to a more collaborative relationship. The role of auditors in the U.S. Department of Army, Department of Defense, and across the federal government is becoming more important, she observed.
“Federal agencies are facing tremendous fiscal pressure and have to find ways to accomplish missions (that are not going away or not being reduced) within constrained resources,” she noted.
"As auditors, we have the responsibility to help leaders and managers. We can recommend internal controls that could prevent or minimize the opportunities for fraud, waste and abuse. And because we have an independent eye, we can identify efficiencies and process improvements that help our organization accomplish its mission within a resource-constrained environment. Many Army leaders have recognized what their team of internal auditors brings to the table, and that we help them find solutions to the challenges they are facing.”
As a young auditor, her goal, she said, was always to be the best.
“I wanted supervisors to consider me the “go-to” person that was technically competent and could be relied on to get the job done. As I came up in the ranks and assumed leadership positions, my focus became doing everything I could to take care of those I had the privilege to lead; make sure they were trained and resourced to perform their jobs; and work hard every minute of every day to be worthy of their trust and confidence as their leader. I truly believe that if you concentrate on these things, then 'getting ahead' will take care of itself," she advised.
In her role as coach/teacher/mentor, Ferrell said she shares the following lessons she has gleaned from the exceptional civilian and military leaders she has worked with.
- Commit yourself to life-long learning in your functional area. Just as important, learn about yourself—what you do well and the areas where you have opportunities to develop and improve. Because no matter how good you are, there’s always some room for improvement or growth, personally and professionally.
- Make the best of every opportunity, especially those assignments you may not have wanted. Don’t be afraid to take on the hard jobs, because nothing earns you respect and provides more valuable experience than taking on difficult challenges and giving them your best shot.
Married to Major General Robert Ferrell, who serves as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, for 29 years, the couple have two adult children, Robert II, a graphic designer at Goucher College in Maryland, and Michael, a sergeant in the Army, assigned to the White House Communications Agency. Michael represents the third generation of his family to serve in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
"I am a living example that military spouses can have successful careers alongside their active duty service member, “Ferrell said. “I’m not saying it’s easy. As a military spouse I have faced unique challenges to include frequent moves to accompany my husband in his assignments. And as we both progressed, we’ve faced the other side of the coin that involved sacrifices and separations so that we could both take advantage of opportunities and meet our career goals. My husband inspires me daily, encourages me, and even picks me up when needed. He and our two amazing sons have been the mechanism that creates the necessary balance in my life,” she said.
Ferrell also said she has had the privilege of seeing the great opportunities that exist in the STEM field through association with Aberdeen Proving Ground, where her husband is senior commander.
“I believe the key to increasing female participation in STEM education is outreach. Corporate America as well as STEM-related activities in the federal government should partner with elementary, middle and high schools to expose students to STEM. Women engineers, scientists and technology professionals should visit schools so that young, eager students can see successful women in these fields.”
The same is true for the finance field, Ferrell said.
“Whether a young woman is interested in working as a financial executive in corporate America, or she desires to dedicate herself to public service like I have, there are plenty of opportunities out there. And I’m proud to say that the landscape looks very different than it did almost 30 years ago when I entered federal service. There are more women in these fields than ever, and they’re making it to the top! So I advise young women to follow their passion into whatever area of STEM or other professional field most excites them. Take advantage of every opportunity¯whether it's an internship, part-time employment or a full-time position- to gain experience.
Less than a year ago, Ferrell’s mother retired from a company where she worked for 42 years. “My Dad, at 71 years, is still serving the Government of the Virgin Islands. Both of my parents taught me the value of hard work and never settling for less than my best. And by watching them and how they progressed in their careers, I learned that the only real limits that exist are the ones I put on myself.”
When it comes to her approach to living life fully, Ferrell said she must give credit to her deceased sister.
“Renee’ was only 24 years old when she passed away 27 years ago. But her 24 years on earth were truly lived. Renee was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia when she was only 17 and she fought a courageous battle. She never asked “why me” and was always positive, even in her most sickly and grueling days from chemotherapy.
From Renee’ I learned that:
Tomorrow isn’t promised so live each day fully and with no regrets.
You don’t know how strong you really are until you have to be.
Love unconditionally; give everything you have without expecting something in return; and laugh until your stomach hurts!