After more than 41 years of federal service, Susan Lewis, chief of Real Estate Division, is retiring. Lewis began her career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December 1979 and has been with the Baltimore District during her entire tenure.
Starting as a GS-2 realty clerk, she supported the recruiting program, coordinated contract requirements for janitorial services at Armed Forces recruiting offices, processed invoices and handled issues and complaints, all while attending college classes in the evenings.
“I never intended for this to be my career,” Lewis said. “I planned to get my degree and move on, but the more I learned, the more I wanted to stay.”
Lewis quickly began taking on new roles and progressing in her career. She was accepted into the Realty Specialist Intern Program in 1984 and had the opportunity to work in all the programs that Baltimore District supports. Lewis started out in the Joint Forces Recruiting Program, leasing operating space for recruiters. She then moved to the Civil Works Support Branch, assisting that program for both Baltimore and Philadelphia districts. In this role, she was responsible for preparing real estate planning reports, working on real estate acquisition and managing property at USACE Civil Works sites. After that, she moved to the Special Projects Branch where she supported the International and Interagency Support mission. In this role, her greatest achievement was working to obtain new office space for the Federal Republic of Germany.
In 1994, Lewis became a supervisor as the Chief of Civil Projects and Support Branch where she managed a team that provided support for cost-shared projects and managed real estate at Civil Works projects for both Baltimore and Philadelphia districts. In 2001, she became the Real Estate Environmental Program Manager, in which she managed a team that provided real estate acquisition and relocation support to the USACE Formerly Used Defense Site program, EPA Regions II and III, Customs and Border Protection, NASA and other agencies. In 2011, Lewis became Deputy Chief of Real Estate Division, and, in 2014, she took over as Chief. During this time, she also served as the leader of the USACE Real Estate Relocations Sub-Community of Practice from 2004 to 2014.
“When I became Chief of Real Estate, my focus was on helping position our organization for the future, making sure our team had the right organizational structure, resources and business processes to execute our mission,” Lewis explained.
Every project begins and ends with real estate. Looking at the vast number of interesting projects the District has accomplished, it’s important to recognize none of them would have been possible without the Real Estate Division having some part in it.
Lewis has spent her career in all facets of real estate and has been involved in many unique projects. She has managed projects for many high-profile agencies, acquiring residential and commercial properties and relocating residents and businesses from those properties into new spaces. The largest single relocation her team handled was for a concrete form manufacturing plant in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which took three years and $5 million to complete.
“I’ve stayed with the Corps all of this time because there’s always a new challenge or an exciting new project. People may wonder how one can stay with the same organization for 41 years, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been bored. When I considered other opportunities, they didn’t offer the same diversity of mission,” Lewis said.
Lewis looks back on her time in Baltimore District and recalls the District Headquarters move to be the most rewarding project that she was a part of. The four-year process included the solicitation and award of the new lease, and the move from the City Crescent Building to the current location at 2 Hopkins Plaza in Baltimore in 2018. The move required coordination with many different stakeholders and was completed on time and within budget and has produced real benefits to the District.
The District Headquarters move was considered a huge success by both the General Services Administration and USACE, and the processes and specifications used have since been shared as a model for other districts who are undertaking similar efforts. This project changed the way spaces are used by reducing the sizes of offices and cubicles, adding more collaborative spaces, augmenting access to natural light, and reducing the utilization rate, culminating in a more efficient environment.
Although she is excited to start a new chapter, she will miss the people, but knows she leaves the division in good hands.
“My favorite part about Real Estate Division, no question, is the people and the comradery. Our folks are quick to step up and help each other,” she explained. “There are many of us who have a long history of shared personal and professional experiences, while others are new and bring a lot of great energy and ideas. We have a strong team that can take on the most complex real estate challenges.”
Lewis refers to herself as being a planner in most cases, but she’s letting the next chapter of her life unfold on its own. She looks forward to having the time to pursue other interests and do some volunteer work. She plans to travel, especially to Europe, spend some time on the beach, kayak and enjoy time outdoors with her family and two grandchildren.