While most MBA graduates head directly for the corporate world, one idealist took a decidedly different turn. He’s happily blending his business acumen with his yen for public service—at the FBI.
A member of the FBI’s Special Advisor Program, Jonathan Spielman, a graduate of Yeshiva University and Georgetown University, applies his business expertise to help improve the bureau’s field office operations. He operates very much like a management consultant in the corporate world, providing advice with the aim of creating value, maximizing growth and improving performance. “I identify the issues that need addressing and help find solutions,” says Spielman. “Unlike in the corporate world, finding intelligence gaps [for the FBI] or discovering better methods not only saves money, it also could save lives.”
The FBI—Post 9/11
One doesn’t typically picture a team of business management specialists working for a US government agency, but 9/11 dramatically changed things.
According to a Time magazine cover story (“Is the FBI Up to the Job 10 Years After 9/11?,” May 9, 2011), the tragedy represented “the worst hour in the FBI’s ninety-three-year history.” The article goes on to say that field offices in Phoenix and Minneapolis had gleaned important clues about the terror plot long before 9/11; however, as both locations were unaware of what the other one knew, they couldn’t put the pieces together.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI doubled its agent force on national security and tripled its number of analysts. “They were looking to be more proactive and more intelligence-driven, as opposed to investigating crime after the fact,” says Spielman. “The organization went through a major growth and mission readjustment. They were looking to improve the internal processes, the strategic planning, and business and performance management.” In order to best accomplish its new objectives, the FBI recruited the nation’s top MBA and public policy graduates.
In his three years with the FBI, Spielman has worked to improve various departments at the FBI, including human resources, information technology, and critical records management. Currently, he is overseeing a performance management process. His expertise enables the FBI executives at headquarters and the leaders of local field offices to determine how well each branch knows its territory and to identify each branch’s investigative strengths and weaknesses.
Spielman views his yeshivah education at Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts, Yeshivat Sha’alavim in Israel, and Yeshiva University, as an asset to his career. “I bring an approach from Torah study to my work,” says Spielman, who is a member of the Kemp Mill Synagogue, an OU-member shul in Silver Spring, Maryland. “I realize that there is often greater complexity to an issue which superficially appears straightforward. My analytical perspective is enhanced by my experience in assessing all sides of a sugya or differing commentaries on a pasuk.”
In turn, his work has inspired his Judaism. “I have more kavanah when saying the tefillah for the government and military,” he says. “My exposure to the FBI workforce and broader government has enabled me to meet some of the thousands of people working around the clock to help support the safety and security of the American people. They make daily sacrifices and deserve our consideration and prayers for continued success.”
Spielman’s introduction to the FBI came while attending Georgetown University. Intrigued by an FBI recruiter’s pitch, he joined the program. Spielman values his role in supporting the FBI’s efforts and helping the bureau run cost-efficient, optimally effective programs. “I am contributing to something I believe in,” he says.
From Boy Scout to the FBI
Spielman cultivated his sense of patriotism early on. An active member of a shomer Shabbat Boy Scout troop from ages eleven to eighteen, he attended a kosher Boy Scout camp each summer, toured Washington, DC, and met President Clinton at the 1997 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A. P. Hill, Virginia. Spielman quickly ascended the ranks, earning the twenty-one merit badges and completing a community service project required to become an Eagle Scout. He continues his involvement as an adult leader of the troop.
Spielman’s family has been very supportive and excited about his government position. “The FBI came up in a book during story time at my daughter’s kindergarten class,” he says. “My daughter told her teacher, ‘My Abba works there!’ [My family’s] very proud of me.”
Ironically, Spielman’s friends who pursued MBAs and took the more traditional path of seeking careers in the corporate sector, had trouble finding jobs. “Perhaps the compensation [in government work] is not as high, but I find what I do rewarding,” he says. “The more effective and efficient the FBI operates, the better it can protect the American people.”
Bayla Sheva Brenner is a senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.