Greg Walton (J.D. ’18) arrived at Georgia State College of Law without much of an idea on what type of law he’d eventually practice. In his second year, the freedom of his schedule allowed him to find his path. Walton says nutrition and health were always a hobby growing up, but once he landed in Professor Todres’ Public Health Law course, he was introduced to the work that agencies like the FDA and CDC do in food law and was able to connect his hobbies to his career.
Knowing his heart was in public service, Walton applied for the Presidential Management Fellowship during his 3L year as a path into government. While the two-year program is extremely competitive, Walton credits determination, luck and the strength provided to him by his professors, specifically Professor Timothy Lytton and Professor Patti Zettler with getting accepted as a finalist.
Now, Walton serves as a policy analyst in the Food Distributions Division’s Policy branch at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also recently completed a six-month rotation at the Centers for Disease Control’s Office of the General Counsel. Here, he discusses his experience in public service and his career goals moving forward.
What was valuable about participating in the Presidential Management Fellowship program?
Once selected, PMFs have a two-year program with 160 hours of formal training and a four to six-month developmental rotation to another agency. At most agencies, PMFs are converted to permanent employees after their two years and if not, the PMF Office helps the few non-converted PMFs to find a home in another agency. The PMF is extremely valuable as a way into the government, but on top of that, the networking provided, and the natural community of other newly minted public servants helped me find my sense of “home”. Being able to train with and befriend PMFs from other agencies helped me come into my own as a professional.
What does your job entail at the USDA?
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), I work for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the Food Distribution Division’s Policy Branch. The mission of the FNS is to increase food security and reduce hunger by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence. Within my division, I help run the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, providing USDA foods to income-eligible households on Indian reservations, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which works to improve the health of low-income persons at least 60 years old with a supplemental USDA Food package.
What did you learn during your six-month rotation at the CDC?
My rotation began normally, where I provided my supervisor with help in her grant work and other legal issues, while planning to help mentor the Office of the General Counsel’s spring interns and help teach a legal course at Emory. But soon enough, COVID-19 came to the forefront of OGC’s focus. As the world struggled to contain the virus, I was asked to aid the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) in writing orders of quarantine and isolation for individuals stuck on cruise ships, as they moved to various military bases around the country and to hospitals whenever necessary. When my two weeks with DGMQ was over, I moved back into general legal work while serving on the OGC’s Coronavirus Response Team. What I learned the most at CDC is how to stay calm and remain diligent during the 24/7 work that is needed to combat the pandemic. I was able to adjust to the “new normal” of teleworking while still collaborating with teammates, and I will forever be grateful and in awe of the determination of CDC (and other Federal Agency) employees that must work in high-stress environments, especially in a world of disinformation. The impact of this one-in-a-lifetime pandemic is severe, and public servants at every level of government are working with everything they are given to remain focused on the health and safety of Americans.
What are your career goals going forward?
While I enjoy working in the Federal Government, I still envy my Georgia State College of Law Professors and hope to teach at a law school before my career is over. In the meantime, I am improving my skill in legal and policy analysis and look forward to being able to practice law full time, whenever the time comes. My ideal career would be a mixture of policy and law, both federally and for private entities, before learning enough to be able to teach the law to the next generations of lawyers.
Interview by Mara Thompson