Jamie Bence

From the Seat of Power: Ann Navaro

Ann Navaro is an Assistant Division Counsel with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in Latin American Studies. Ann attended the University of  Cincinnati College of Law. Ann previously served as a Trial Attorney in the General Litigation Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the US Department of Justice from 1992 until 2006.

How did you select your law school? What factors initially influenced your career trajectory?  My interest in environmental issues was rooted in personal experience up through law school. I had spent a lot of time in the Canadian wilderness and was active in outdoor activities in high school and college. My interest in human rights was linked to my major at Wellesley, which was Latin American Studies.   I originally moved back to Cincinnati to see if I wanted to live there permanently, and also because the Cincinnati College of Law had a human rights institute. As happens with many people, I met my husband while I was in law school. He talked me into moving to Washington, D.C., because he wanted to work as a lobbyist. I thought that, given my interest in environmental and human rights issues, I could probably find something to do in the legal field there.  Also, Cincinnati wasn't quite right for us at that stage in our lives.

How did you find your first job at the Department of Justice? What did your work entail there?  When we first moved, neither of us had jobs yet, so it was an interesting time. It's not necessarily the career path I would recommend, but I took a job as a contract attorney through a firm that did support work for the U.S. Department of Justice.  The job ad asked for someone with an interest in wetlands. I had done an internship with the City of Truro on Cape Cod, working on their wetlands issues. So that was the hook. It was kind of luck and an accident-- I was in the right place at the right time. I started working in one of the Environmental Division offices at DOJ, and I loved the litigation work. I was eventually hired as a regular DOJ attorney, where I remained as a litigator in the environmental division for 14 years. I became a senior trial attorney handling high profile, national environmental cases.

What factors led you to work for the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division?  Family demands mounted over time while I was working at DOJ. My mother became very sick in Cincinnati. I decided it was going to be too difficult to manage a 24/7 job with two small children in D.C. So, we decided to move home in early 2006. I took a job as an Assistant Division Counsel in the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. We oversee work in all or parts of 13 or 14 states, and I work mostly on environmental issues. We work on litigation very closely with my former office at DOJ, so I am able to maintain some of my litigation skills. In terms of family/life balance, it's still a job that is of interest to me but leaves free time and free brain power to deal with everything else.

How does your workload now compare with your time in Washington?  People in my office work extremely hard.  For me, however, it doesn't compare to the workload at DOJ. I think it was more the change in job versus the change in environment. High profile litigation at DOJ tends to be very intense. Even at this regional level, we are considered to be a part of headquarters, dealing with a lot of Washington issues such as Congressional inquiries, drafting legislation, and supervising high profile litigation.

How do you feel your work/life balance has changed?  I think in terms of work/life balance, it's a very individually directed thing. I think most people have to make a real effort to make sure they have balance in their lives, and I don't think they can trust the management structure that they work in to provide that to them without asking them to take the initiative to make their work family friendly. They can't expect that the job is always going to take that into account. I see many people who don't take initiative. At DOJ, despite the intensity, I felt that I had the flexibility I needed to take the kids to the doctor, and to attend to personal things, as long as I was willing to get things done when I needed to. I think when people feel really overwhelmed, it's mostly because they're not good at managing their time or they are too shy to take advantage of an environment where people are willing to be accommodating. If you prove yourself, people will tend to be more flexible.

Would you like to stay in the public sector in the future?  I would like to stay in the public sector in my career. It's important to me if I am going to do something for minimum 40 hours per week that I am contributing to society. I have that feeling in the public sector, whereas I'm not sure if I would have that same feeling at a law firm. We work on significant issues on a regional level that are important- such as wetlands protection, aging infrastructure, cleanup of hazardous waste, and the issue of Asian carp migration towards the Great Lakes. I feel very personally satisfied in the issues I work on, and I intend to stay for the future.

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