Coworking with Peter Sursi

Head of financial processing and modernization in the finance division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation
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· 4 min read

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Peter Sursi is the head of financial processing and modernization in the finance division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was previously the head of talent acquisition at the FBI, responsible for running the bureau’s recruitment strategy. Sursi recently told HR Brew how the FBI stays ahead of job openings and handles recruitment challenges.

How would you describe your specific job to someone who doesn’t work in HR? I’m still an HR guy even while I’m in finance, so I’m bringing those skills to the table as I help the FBI’s financial payments team modernize, deal with tons of change, and create a culture of transparency and communication. It’s amazing to me how relevant HR skills are [to] leading a non-HR division. Run-of-the-mill issues for us—dealing with performance, creating a healthy culture, emotional labor, creating a hiring strategy, putting structure around promotions, etc.—are very relevant outside of HR. Though, leading a team of 200 accountants and financial analysts is super different than leading my HR team, that is for sure. I’m still getting used to that.

What’s the best change you’ve made at a place you’ve worked? Since my team is in 14 locations around the country, people were feeling very disconnected and out of touch. I changed our communication and meeting strategy from “meet/communicate when you have something to say/something you need” to a structured cadence of video leadership meetings, all-hands, and virtual one-on-ones with my team.

What’s the biggest misconception people might have about your job? It’s all special agents, all the time. Nope! The FBI has a huge finance workforce, both on the case analysis side with our forensic accounting program, but also on the business side with commercial payments, case-related payments, and travel/transfer functions. As cool as the work is, it’s still a large government bureaucracy with the normal challenges of IT debt, process stagnation, and hiring difficulties.

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What’s the most fulfilling aspect of your job? I love seeing great people get hired and then fly high to awesome leadership roles in the organization. My first intern is now the special agent in charge of the Kansas City office, which is wild!

What’s a unique recruitment challenge for the FBI? Every person who walks in the door requires an obscure clearance, which the bureau [has] to grant…That’s going to be a 12-month process…So we really have to work off of attrition modeling to say, okay, nine months from now, nine to 12 months from now, what does the vacancy rate look like in your part of the organization by job title? 

And then times three, because statistically two-thirds [of] people fall in the background process…So, nine months from now, you think you’re gonna have 12 vacancies, then I need you to find 36 people to say yes. Today. And put them into background to try to fill these 12 theoretical vacancies, nine months from now. So, of course, 10,000 things can go wrong with that…And so, that is fundamentally I think our biggest TA [talent acquisition] challenge…trying to negotiate all the complexities of forecasting and trying to be flexible.

What trend in HR are you least optimistic about? Why? The “Let’s get back to normal” trend, as if we haven’t spent the last two years helping our folks deal with the collective trauma of sheltering from a global pandemic that’s killed millions. Things are going to be different now.

Tell us one new or old HR tech product or platform that’s made your life easier, and why. LinkedIn is an oldie but goodie for us. We’re conservative, and adopting new IT platforms rapidly is difficult for us, given the complex federal acquisition process, as well as the security implications of purchasing off-the-shelf software or SaaS.

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HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.