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Spotlight Interview: Jessica Bensel, CHRO, U.S. Department of Commerce – Federal HR Insights

By Public Sector Network | March 23, 2022

The Public Sector Network team is thrilled to be welcoming U.S. Department of Commerce CHRO Jessica Bensel as a featured guest speaker at the virtual Federal HR Insights event on April 27!

Before the event kicks off, we had the opportunity to interview Jessica in an intimate conversation on her unique career path, perspectives on the industry landscape, and her latest HR transformation project at the DOC.


Please tell us a bit about what you do, how you got there, and what you love about your work?

I am the Director for the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) and the Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) for the Department of Commerce.  I inform the Deputy Secretary of Commerce on all things Human Capital.  My office is the strategic arm for the Department – working in Learning and Development, ER/LR, talent services, accountability, risk, safety, health, executive resources, succession planning, and more.  I also teach undergraduate classes for UMGC in HR – have for over ten years now.

I came to DOC in September.  Prior to being at DOC, I was at DHS/USCIS and before that at the NDU.  I began my government career with the DON at NAVAIR. 

I am so happy to be at DOC.  I love the work that I am doing and the opportunity to function in a strategic HCM role.  I like looking at the future needs of the organization and planning for success in our outyears.  I like to use data and predictive analytics in how we lead our organization.

What do you consider to be your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment is watching the individuals I have mentored and led taking leadership roles and succeeding in their careers.  I am a firm believer in succession planning and ensuring organization continue to be set up for success long after an individual’s departure.  I feel successful when I see my employees rising to new levels in their careers and knowing the organization is in safe hands when it is time for me to step away.  I am happy to be able to train and teach and see individuals within the organizations I lead grow and mature.  I provide the same opportunities for everyone to take full advantage of if they desire that path for themselves.

What made you gravitate towards Human Resources within the public sector? What continues to drive your passion for this and how does that manifest itself?

I started in information systems very early in my career – I was programming systems like PeopleSoft while working as a contractor.  I could talk IT, but I couldn’t talk HR.  I went on to get a Masters in HR to understand my subject matter – and ended going government and working in HRIT for many years.  Working in HRIT – you see the full life cycle of HR – it is one of the few positions outside of policy that affords you the opportunity to have your hands in every pot.  It set me up to be a great HR leader who leads with data.  Innovation and customer service excellence is what drove my career then, and it does now.  Seeing customer success, seeing organization success, knowing that my work directly impacted over 55,000 people.

Who has been a strong role model for you in your career? Can you explain why, and how, they inspired you or helped you succeed?

I have had several strong role models – but I will say strong doesn’t always equal positive.  I have had individuals who I want to emulate, who give advice, who are unselfish with their time and ability to help.  I have had individuals who taught me many lessons on what leadership is and is not, and let me see how I would or would not want to lead.  For the positive role models – those that were understanding, those that were continuously supportive even in a misstep, those that backed creativity and innovation and even risk.  When you don’t hear “we’ve tried that before” or even worse “no.”

What advice would you give to the younger generation in this field and more broadly within public service? What is one piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you when you were just beginning your career?

  1. Grow a thick skin 🙂
  2. Take every single opportunity that comes your way.
  3. Have multiple goals – do not focus on one goal – look for multiple avenues and paths for yourself.

What is the biggest area for learning that attendees can look forward to regarding your speaking session at the Federal HR event?

I am currently working on Transformation of our HR office.  Our office had been a mix of transactional, operational, and strategic.  We are divesting of all transactional/tactical work and moving solely to strategic.  This comes with a formal reorganization, change in deliverables, changes in expectations.  There is a lot of uncertainty in our future, but the vision is clear on where we are headed.  My entire staff gets a voice in how we get there.

Join Jessica for her exciting Government Keynote session at Public Sector Network’s Federal HR Insights virtual event on April 27th – as she walks us through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s pillars of HR success and the journey of overcoming the traditional mindset when building their organization of excellence!