Portrait of Paulette Tull

February marks Black History Month, a time set aside to recognize and honor the achievements and legacy of Black Americans across U.S. history and society.

At the Office of Indian Energy, one way we are paying tribute is by spotlighting our friend and colleague Paulette Tull, who recently retired after 38 years of federal government service. After dedicating 36 of those years to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Paulette capped off her career as a Budget Analyst with the Office of Indian Energy.

Through this blog, we honor her years of service, celebrate her contributions to our office, and wish her smooth sailing as she embarks on the next leg of her journey.

How did your career path lead you to the Office of Indian Energy?

My first 2 years with the federal government were at the Department of the Treasury, and I started my DOE career in 1987 with Office of Conservation and Renewable Energy (now it’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy).

Next, I worked in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer in the Budget Office. After that, I was kind of drafted into the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis (EPSA). They literally handpicked people to start this new office [in 2013]. We mainly worked on the Quadrennial Energy Review.

EPSA turned into the Office of Policy, and that was the last office I worked in prior to my 2 years at Indian Energy. Then-Director Kevin Frost needed assistance in the Office of Indian Energy. Even at that time [2020], I was considering retirement. But renewed energy, renewed strength, different environment, and the promise of a promotion led me to the Office of Indian Energy.

I feel like this was a great office to end my career on because our work is relevant. When you work in a policy office, you may not particularly see progress being made, things that are being helped by what you do.

But in the Office of Indian Energy, our funding has just gradually gone up, up, up. We are being noticed.

The President a few months ago [acknowledged] the Office of Indian Energy, and we are in the newspaper. And you get to see that we’re doing something tangible. Our work is helping people. We're in the field. We're able to do things hands-on. So that does my heart good.

As a Program Analyst, it's mainly business operations. I make sure people get paid. I assist with making sure that when people are hired, they have their computer equipment and travel credit cards. When new employees come on board, they talk to Paulette!

What changes have you seen over the course of your career that have made a difference for you?

I have noticed we have a woman Secretary of Energy now, and there are a lot more women in leadership roles these days. Definitely very noticeable, and I like it.

As more women and more people of color have moved into leadership positions, has the vibe changed a bit, where there's just a different feel or a different way of doing business?

It's definitely more inclusive, and you feel more accepted. I think about my start in 1985, [and] I was literally in a typing pool in a small area where I could almost reach over and touch my other cubby person. We were in cubicles before cubicles were cool. And we only saw each other, and it was an office made up almost entirely of Black women. And work was doled out via a mail slot.

There was a supervisor at the head of the office that received our work. “OK, Paulette, here—type up this chart.” And there was not very much interaction with the analysts that actually did the work. We just typed it up.

And now it's more like you're part of the whole team and part of the whole body of work?

For sure, even though we are spaced out, you know, because we have people in Golden [Colorado], we have people in Alaska, we have one person that's even in Arizona. We all come together on Zoom, and it definitely forms more of a camaraderie when you can see people.

What has been the most inspiring or enjoyable aspect of your work supporting Indian Energy?

Making a difference. Just to even think about it, it's like, wow. When you know that your funding is definitely going towards changing people's lives directly, that is very inspiring. Just one of the definite highlights of working in this office.

Looking back, are there particular highlights of your time at Indian Energy?

In April last year we actually flew to Denver and had an off-site/team-building meeting with everyone in Colorado. And just to actually for-real see and for-real hug your counterparts and like, “Ohh, I'm so happy to see you finally!”

When you look back, what brings a sense of accomplishment?

I mean, I started the federal government as a GS2. On the general service scale for federal employees, that's your grade scale. It goes up to 15 as far as the numbering (and then you get the senior executive service labels). When my 42-year-old son was in the second grade, I was a GS2. When he was in the third grade, I was a GS3. I'm currently a GS12.

Some people are saying, “How are you retiring?” But if you manage your money and you manage your priorities, you can do it too. I don't live above my means. I'm a single lady, a homeowner, with a kitty cat. So, I made it.

Congratulations!

Thank you. I manage, you know. And I will be just fine in retirement. Everything is not always roses. You get a few bumps. Here lately, as I invite people to come to my [retirement celebration], it makes me definitely think about those who are no longer with us. Through my working career, my sister has passed, my dad has passed. I carpooled with someone for years and years, and she passed.

I'm getting ready to have a phone call to someone who was one of my mentors [who is now retired and in her 80s].  She just did not let me do things wrong. “Oh no, Paulette. You’re better than that.” Oh, she would get on me. But 38 years later, I still appreciate it very much. I’m going to be overjoyed when she answers the phone!

When you think about the impact of your work generally, and in particular, the mission you've supported over the past 2 years, what makes you proud?

That I can see the work that we're doing. That definitely makes me proud. And our budgets have increased because they realize our work is real and we need money to perform our work.

When you think about the longevity of your career, what gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction?

You know, DOE has only been around since 1977. So that makes me pretty proud that I've been at an agency for most of its existence. That definitely makes me feel good, and to end my career at a place that I fully feel this team. We're a smaller team. I can call everybody by name. I don't have to look at the roster and say, “Oh, what room is that person, in what sector?”

So that’s the closeness of this office. Once they take you in, you're in. You're part of that family. And I have felt very, very appreciated and welcomed while I've worked here. And that's why it's very bittersweet for me, my retiring.

But as I told the staff when I had to break it to them that I’m retiring, I said “Guys, I'm sorry, but it's just about me right now. I wanna enjoy my life. I want to get out and do things—without having to request leave.”

Paulette Tull on vacation on a boat.

What do you love to do outside of work that you're excited about having more time for?

Cruising, cruising, cruising! I went on my first cruise after the pandemic in November. And that is what actually sealed the—"Yep, I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna retire.” I mean, it's like it's like a floating city, and 6,000 people are there all eating, all dancing, all enjoying themselves.

When I was on the cruise, I had the opportunity to stay on the ship—pay an additional $500 and do another week. And you know what I had to say? “No. I gotta get back to work.”

Right. But not next time! So where do you want to go?

I have never been to Alaska. So, I definitely want to do Alaska. I want to go further in the Caribbean, like start from Puerto Rico and get further down. I mean, for now, you hit Haiti, Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and those are great.

But I've been there, done that. The cruise in November was number 14. So yeah, I'm tired of asking permission to be able to go on a cruise. I just want to enjoy myself.

Karen Petersen
Karen Petersen is a communications strategist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Communications & Public Affairs Office.
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