Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to building a middle class economy in honor of Black History Month
Guest blog post by Cecelia V. Royster, Director, Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management, Bureau Procurement Official, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Black history month has a special place in my heart. When I began my federal government career 30 years ago with the U.S. Coast Guard, it was when I learned of the many inspiring accomplishments of African Americans. There was Captain Richard Etheridge, who became the first African-American to command a Life-Saving station in North Carolina in 1880, and Captain Michael Healy or “Hell Roaring Mike”, who took command of the revenue cutter Chandler in 1877. During his 20-year career, Captain Healy was the United States Government in most of Alaska where he acted as judge, doctor, and policeman to Alaskan natives, merchant seamen and whaling crews. And more recently, Admiral Stephen Rochon, the first African-American to serve as Chief Usher of the White House, was a good friend and mentor to me during my Coast Guard career. Black History month allowed me to cherish my heritage, and appreciate the contributions of these great men.
So I’m especially honored to share my own story of a career in public service this month.
I was born in Washington, D.C. of parents from the mountains south of Lynchburg, Va., who believed in and demonstrated the values of integrity, attention to detail and above all, a strong work ethic. Both of my parents worked and retired from lifetime careers in the federal government and my father, a decorated Korean War Veteran and U.S Army retiree, insisted that our home stress the values of family accountability and devotion to duty and country.
I grew up singing in the choir and being a member of the junior usher board at our family African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. As a young teen, I attended Kittrell College, which was a part of the AME church, every summer for a one week summer session which provided young African American students with an introduction to African art, poetry and highlighted the careers of successful African American entrepreneurs, physicians, scientist and educators.
Currently, I am the Director of the Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management (OAAM), and the Bureau Procurement Official (BPO) for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) where I oversee the full range of the $1 billion acquisition and financial assistance activities awarded for NIST and seven client Bureaus under the Department of Commerce to support ongoing programs, operations and mission objectives. NIST technological research activities - cover an incredibly diverse range of disciplines including bioscience, health care, chemistry, neutron research, nanotechnology, information technology, , manufacturing, public safety, energy, physics, cybersecurity and computer technology laboratory practices for all aspects of advanced science.
NIST is a renowned scientific research facility, and I have the oversight responsibility to ensure the delivery of world-class services and products required to meet mission goals. I supervise approximately 150 employees located in Gaithersburg, Md., Boulder, Colo. and Washington, DC. I also oversee the provision of acquisition services for seven of the DOC client bureaus.
OAAM is responsible for the award of contracts, grants, cooperative agreements, other fellowships and reimbursable and payable agreements in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations and Departmental policies and regulations. As the BPO, I work with the NIST laboratory and program units to ensure implementation of innovative business models, processes and practices related to acquisition, grants and agreements management.
The ultimate reward for me is knowing that by supporting NIST’s mission of advancing science and technology, my office is helping in its own way to ensure U.S. industry can create innovative products and new jobs for all Americans.
I began working in acquisition (it was then called “procurement”) as a high school student at the Naval Research Laboratory. I was accepted into the Department of Commerce (NOAA) Upward Mobility Finance Program.
However, I found my passion, in government contracting, when I accepted a position as a contract specialist for the Coast Guard in 1985. My twenty plus years of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) experience was intense, fast-paced and demanding. I continually advanced thru the ranks to positions of higher contract management responsibility. I also had the opportunity to travel both in the U.S. and abroad negotiating complex contracts.
I received an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Averett University, a Master’s Certificate in Government Contracting from George Washington University, and a Master’s of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF). I am also a Council for Excellence in Government Alumnus.
In 2004, I was selected to represent the Coast Guard at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF). ICAF is a United States military educational institution tasked with preparing selected military officers and civilians for leadership positions. Upon completion of ICAF in 2005, I was assigned as the Contracting Officer to lead a U.S. Coast Guard Deepwater Air Domain project team and had the responsibility to award a $117.5 million dollar Lockheed Martin contract to equip and integrate the Coast Guard's six C-130 J-model aircraft. Six months later I was selected as the Chief of the Contracting Office at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration where I managed a $379 million dollar budget of acquisitions and grants.
In 2008, I was appointed the NIST Deputy Chief of Acquisition. While performing these duties I served a collateral duty as NIST Small Business Broker. I was selected as the Chief of the Acquisition Management Division in 2010 and served as the Acting Chief of the Grants Management Division for 15 months. I became the first NIST African American female in the Senior Executive Service (SES) when I was selected for my current position as the Director of the Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management (OAAM).
I am a member of several professional organizations including the National Contract Management Association (NCMA)and the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW). I also serve as an Advisory Board member to the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. I am an alumnus of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and an active member of the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Links, Inc.
My husband of 26 years and I have three children and one grandchild. Our oldest two daughters have both received their Master’s degrees and our son graduated from the Naval Academy in 2013.
The three most influential people in my life have been my father, James Robert Austin, my mentor during my Coast Guard career, Captain Richard B. Cook (USCG, Ret.) and my husband, Charles. My father lived and demonstrated the principles of hard work and dedication and above all, a laser focus on devotion to family. Captain Cook mentored and coached me thru the labyrinth of professional education, skills and knowledge required to become the acquisition professional that I am today. And my husband, Charles, lives and demonstrates the effects and rewards of a life of teamwork, sharing and unselfishness.
I enjoy mentoring young professionals aspiring to enter into the world of Federal contracting. For me, it has been an exciting field offering endless opportunities to learn, travel, be innovative and expand my horizons. I tell them that in the field of contracting you are part of a team that working together can reach goals and accomplish great things that even our most heroic forefathers could only dream of.