Jomar Maldonado MPM ’03 has worked in the federal government for nearly two decades, with his career spanning from FEMA to Federal Highway Administration to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. Throughout his varied career, Maldonado’s passion for environmental sustainability policy has remained consistent.
“When I took environmental law and policy courses, I thought, ‘Now, that’s what I want to do,’” says Maldonado. “I wanted to be able to use my science background to shape policy and influence decisions and behavior in the environmental realm.”
Through his federal career, Maldonado has first-hand experience with the benefits and challenges of public sector work. For those working on priority issues for the presidential administration, there is significant momentum behind policy development. However, working in the federal government requires a long-term commitment to your policy area, since most issues are merely “simmering” in comparison to the administration’s priorities.
“You have to understand administration dynamics and not get too frustrated with your job because something is not moving quickly enough or something that you’re passionate about is not being picked up,” explains Maldonado. “It’s important to understand when the right moment to actually influence is in the policy setting.”
Maldonado has faced many similar issues working in environmental policy as well. When he’s developing policies, he must manage many conflicting interests. He’s found that he must investigate the potential impacts of policies to mitigate risks while achieving the primary policy goals.
“Right now, there’s a lot of focus on decarbonization, trying to move us away from fossil fuels and carbon-intensive energy usage,” says Maldonado. “Some of the renewable sources, like offshore wind, are great from a decarbonization perspective, but they may present other issues or challenges. You have to figure out if there’s a balance that you can reach to help the environment but minimize some of these impacts.”
As he navigated these challenges of working in national environmental policy, Maldonado has found that his SPP coursework helped teach him how to evaluate and understand the social and economic impacts of policy. In particular, SPP raised his awareness of the federal budgeting process and how to implement policy around it.
“Understanding statistics, microeconomics and macroeconomics were key to helping me become a better policymaker and a great lawyer,” explains Maldonado. “It’s key to understanding where I can influence policy, where I can take an agency, and strategies for implementation.”
Maldonado's advice for current students? Take advantage of internship opportunities, work to build relationships within federal agencies, and consider what unique perspectives they can bring to the table.
“Don’t confine yourself to a particular area,” suggests Maldonado. “Be aware that there’s a lot of opportunities out there, even outside of your particular niche. Don’t pass on opportunities that come along that can take you to where you want to go, just through a different path.”