Humans of NCEI: Sarah Morison

Source: US National Oceanographic Data Center

Here at NCEI, we aren’t just data—we are people. In our Humans of NCEI series, meet the awesome minds that manage one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research in the world. Get to know Sarah Morison, the Finance and Acquisition Branch (FAB) Acquisition and Grants Section Chief. 

Image courtesy of Sarah Morison, NOAA NCEI.

What is your job title?

Finance and Acquisition Branch (FAB) Acquisition and Grants Section Chief. 

What is your specific area of expertise?

I focus on NCEI contracting – getting NCEI the services and items that are needed to meet its mission. I’m also responsible for grants and agreements, which are other means of meeting NCEI and its partners’ goals. 

What was your first job? How did it prepare you for your current position?

I worked for my dad at his hardware store. The most applicable skill learned was using a calculator without needing to look at the keys.

How did you end up at NCEI?

I applied for a job announcement while I was on maternity leave. I was working at the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) as a Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) and occasional Chief of Staff in Maryland and my parents had retired to Asheville, so I had an alert set on USAJobs for positions there.

What does a usual workday look like for you?

Meetings and emails, lots of quality time in NCEI’s Electronic NCEI Routing System (eNRS), and explaining to people what they can and cannot do with contracts and purchasing. I also talk a lot to contract Project Managers and Task Managers to make sure the work we have contracted for is meeting Government requirements. I read lots of emails to maintain situational awareness, in case one of my colleagues wins the lottery and I’m suddenly called to do something I understand only in theory. I’ve only been a supervisor for three months, so I’m also trying to figure out how that needs to change my daily activities. And then there are always those random questions that nobody has an answer for – I enjoy chasing down an answer.  

What question are you asked most often when someone finds out what you do? How do you respond??

I tell people I work in acquisitions for the federal government and nobody ever asks a follow-up question. 

What sort of training and education would one need for your job?

I have no idea. I stumbled into acquisitions as “other duties as assigned” when I was working in the National Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration. As I was looking for other opportunities, it became quite obvious that being a Contracting Officer’s Representative and understanding acquisitions is a much more transferable skill set than marine policy. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in your field?

I thought the international diplomacy involved in ocean use was really interesting.  

What projects are you working on now? Are there any upcoming projects that you are excited about?

Most of my work is cyclical based on the government fiscal year and contract acquisition timelines and need dates, not project-specific.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

I like helping people get their jobs done, and for those who need to learn the execution side of money, making the training as entertaining as possible.

Who are you outside of your career?

Mom, daughter, gardener, book reader (to myself and out loud to others), friend, cleaner, washerwoman, sister, cousin, TV-watcher, fixer, and long long ago, when all my free hours were my own, I wove tapestries.