By Thomas Perry
DCMA Public Affairs
Editor's note: A video of the full 2018 Secretary of Defense Awards for Outstanding Service Members and Civilians with Disabilities is available above, or at this link. Elveda Pitts' award occurs around the 44 minute mark.
Elveda Pitts enjoys the property administration field so much she once worked for free.
Hoping to establish the foundational groundwork of a long career and overcome the employment obstacles faced by many individuals with disabilities, the 32-year government professional began her federal service as an unpaid property clerk.
More than three decades later, Pitts earned a 2018 Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Service Members and Civilians with Disabilities. The Pentagon’s annual awards honor individuals who have supported the Department of Defense mission, overseas contingency operations, or whose attributes best epitomize the qualities or core values of their unit or component.
“Today we recognize contributions to the Department of Defense mission of 25 outstanding individuals and four top DoD components,” said Stephanie Miller, the Defense Department’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director. “To our service members and civilians being recognized today, your unique backgrounds, perspectives and expertise are a source of strength for the department. You are critical to the department’s efforts to attain and sustain a force of diverse talent and experience. Thank you for your dedicated service to our nation and commitment to national defense.”
In her current role, Pitts serves as a Defense Contract Management Agency property administrator within the Contracts Directorate’s Business Operations Center. Her property responsibilities fall within the Aircraft Propulsion Group for General Electric Aviation, or GE-A. According to her leaders, GE-A is a massive undertaking that includes multiple Defense Department engine programs across 20 facilities with more than 100,000 property line items valued at more than $595 million.
“Within the past two years, Ms. Pitts has changed GE-A’s corporate culture for property accountability,” read her award nomination. “Her initial disapproval of GE-A’s Property Management System and a $9.6 million payment withhold energized GE-A to recover $1.2 million in lost property and U.S. Treasury payments from a $2.4 million property loss claim. Additionally, Ms. Pitts orchestrated a five-year Memorandum of Agreement between the United States government and GE-A for rental use of government property in support of direct commercial programs, in which the government annually collects 2.5 percent of the total acquisition cost of the rental property, initially receiving $3.5 million in 2018.”
Pitts is quick to thank her current and former agency team members who submitted her for the award: Air Force Lt. Col. Amy Nesbitt, Pitts’ former APG commander; Andrew Obermeyer, the Business Operations Center director; Duke Montgomery, a property supervisor; Jean Huang, a divisional administrative contracting officer; Kelly Pierson, a now retired Integrated Cost Analysis Team pricing work leader; and “anyone else that contributed in nominating me and believing in me.”
Although she takes great pride in her work performance, Pitts was completely surprised to learn of her distinction.
“At first, I felt speechless — which is unusual for me — and then disbelief as this could not be true,” said Pitts. “So I read the email several times over and realized it was legitimate. I was so happy and felt extremely honored to just be nominated but to actual win such a prestigious award was amazing. I definitely felt honored, grateful and blessed in so many ways to have won this award.”
Her excitement is typical. Most employees who are recognized for their performance embrace a level of satisfaction at a job well done, but behind her satisfied smile lays a sense of relief. It is a relief only found at the end of a long, arduous journey.
“It was a huge struggle trying to find a job with a disability back in the mid-1980s,” said Pitts. “I am thankful my parents were understanding and supported me through this time. After hundreds — not even kidding on this number — of resumes and interviews later, I was selected to participate in an unpaid work experience program with Goodwill Industries and the Air Force. Basically it was to get work experience for people with disabilities to make them favorable in the work place.”
She initially worked unpaid for nine months with no promise of future employment. As an additional challenge, the government was operating under a hiring freeze at the time.
“I decided to extend an additional four months to see if the freeze would be lifted the following fiscal year,” said Pitts. “It was, and I was hired immediately as a GS-03 property clerk. So to answer your question of why I decided to dedicate my life to public service, in my mind it chose me. The Air Force was the only one that didn’t worry about the disability and my appearance. They cared about me and that given the chance, I could do the job.”
According to Linda Galimore, DCMA’s Equal Employment Opportunity director, this mindset perfectly aligns with the agency’s hiring practices.
“DCMA is committed to equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment,” said Galimore. “As an organization, we seek the best and brightest performers at every level. This is vital to our warfighter support mission, and individuals with disabilities play a key role in that mission. Hiring officials must consider using various recruitment sources and hiring authorities available to them. A big myth is people with disabilities are not as competent and/or won’t contribute as equally as people without disabilities. This is not true at all. The fact of the matter is that people with disabilities are as productive as people without disabilities, once reasonable accommodation needs are fulfilled. Our diversity is our strength.”
As each new day arrives, Pitts finds strength in patriotism and comfort in knowing her work helps ensure America’s freedoms.
“Our warfighter is our top priority,” she said. “DCMA supports the warfighter by ensuring supplies and services are delivered on time, at the right price and of the highest quality. We directly contribute to military readiness and assist in protecting the nation’s freedom. Every DCMA employee supports this mission as we all have someone that serves our country, whether it’s a family member, friend, or neighbor. It is very important to all of us to keep them safe while on the front lines protecting all of us.”
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