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Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office Contracting Officer Tyler Hicks.
Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office Contracting Officer Tyler Hicks.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Growing up in Kentucky’s capital of Frankfort, Tyler Hicks knew a lot of state employees.

But he didn't think civil service was for him, so he enrolled at the University of Kentucky in Lexington to study business and finance. By 2008, he had earned his bachelor’s degree, but job opportunities were scarce under the worst recession in a generation. So Hicks stayed at the university another year, earned a master’s degree, and met an Air Force representative at a campus job fair.

“I showed up for free pizza,” Hicks remembered recently from his desk at EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO) in Lexington.

Although most of the graduates that day weren’t planning on government careers, a dozen of them decided to pursue internships as civilian contract specialists at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Hicks said the base offered good entry opportunities at respectable pay grades.

After his first three years at Wright-Patterson, Hicks joined the F-35 Joint Program Office in Arlington, Virginia. In 2014, knowing that PPPO was hiring, he stopped by Lexington to introduce himself at the PPPO office while visiting relatives in Kentucky.

Now in his sixth year as a PPPO contracting officer, Hicks oversees more than $4 billion worth of contracts guiding the safe execution of deactivation and decommissioning work at EM’s Portsmouth Site in southern Ohio. The site was home to one of the nation’s three large Cold-War-era uranium-enrichment plants for 50 years.

“Working myself out of a job,” as he describes it, Hicks anticipates the Portsmouth cleanup will be finished before he reaches retirement age.

With more than 10 years of federal service, the 33-year-old has had a successful career even though it’s not exactly what he once planned on doing. And with PPPO anticipating the first massive uranium-enrichment process building’s demolition starting late this year, Hicks said he and his colleagues are gratified to see the results of their efforts.

“It’s exciting to get to see the fruition of all the work,” he said.