Courtney McCathern, a legal instruments examiner in the Regulatory Branch of the Operations Division for nearly four years, recently received the Distinguished Government Service Award from the New York City Federal Executive Board for her dedication and commitment to public service at a formal ceremony in Lower Manhattan. The Federal Executive Board provides opportunities for federal agencies to collaborate and share information on key issues, and has 28 offices across the U.S.
In a letter of recommendation, Jodi McDonald, deputy chief, Operations Division, said, “Courtney has been a key member of the Regulatory Branch’s efforts to digitize over 100 years of permit decision files,” adding, “She [Courtney] uses her desire to exceed the deadlines to complete the many Freedom of Information Act requests with enthusiasm.”
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
One aspect of Courtney’s work is handling FOIA requests from private citizens, outside agencies, and news outlets. Working directly with the Office of Counsel, over 200 requests have been submitted this year alone with Courtney handling the majority of them. Common requests include maps, drawings, depth charts, project specifications, etc., which she locates and returns to Counsel within a week’s time.
Another part of her work involves permits, which applicants seek when they plan to build something in, on, under or through federally-regulated waters or wetlands. Her job is to ensure applications comply with regulations and contain no errors. This is accomplished through detailed research and fact-checking, tasks she’s well-suited for with a background in library science. Ms. McCathern receives permit requests from the Regulatory Branch which are then returned for a decision. Generally, applicants are notified of a decision 45-60 days after a file is deemed complete.
While the digitization effort has made her job easier, in an interview, she praised her supervisor, Chris Mallery, acting chief of the Regulatory Branch, saying he “has a photographic memory” when searching for and identifying intricate details from past files, some more than 10 years old.
In an interview, Courtney said the most challenging part of her position is the high volume of work — meeting deadlines for permits. What she finds most interesting is permits for aquaculture (the cultivation of aquatic animals or plants for food), as she has a strong interest in the environment. Such applications often come from private individuals looking to start new businesses harvesting, cultivating and selling shellfish, which positively impact the environment. Ms. McCathern’s interest in aquaculture extends beyond the workplace: Every summer she hosts a clamfest for family, friends and co-workers. This year, nearly 30 people attended.
Ms. McCathern holds a B.A. in international affairs from George Washington University, and an M.L.S. in library science from Queens College. Outside work, she employs her skills as a certified pastry chef, making specialties such as Crème BrÛlèe, pumpkin pie, and assorted cakes and cookies. Several years ago she received an award for her vegetarian chili at a District cook-off.