By Dr. April Haynes, OFO, on detail to OPACE

Tamar Khafi, Ph.D., thrives on “digging deep” to identify the source of an issue and innovate solutions. As director of the Data Innovation and Governance Staff in the Office of Planning, Analysis and Risk Management (OPARM), Dr. Khafi leads and coordinates the agency’s data collection, analysis and reporting activities. Through her leadership, Dr. Khafi has empowered her team to overcome hurdles of changing priorities and technology.

Tamar Khafi

Leveraging Education Toward a Nontraditional Career
Khafi attended The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., majoring in international affairs and psychology. She was inspired to pursue an academic career in developmental psychology during a research methods course. After graduating in 2007 with two Bachelor of Arts degrees, she pursued a doctorate in developmental psychology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). Her UCR courses explored study design and analysis, with a focus on statistics and quantitative methods.

After receiving her Ph.D. in 2015, Khafi decided to leverage her research and statistical skills to influence decision making at the federal level. Her desire to have a broader impact on the public brought her to the Social Security Administration (SSA) in November 2015, as a social science research analyst. There, she contributed to the development of a new tool to assess a person’s functional abilities, as well as the collection of new occupational data on work requirements. Her efforts provided critical data to inform policy changes that would impact the disability adjudication process. In September 2018, Dr. Khafi moved to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as an interdisciplinary research psychologist, developing a reporting platform to track outcomes for the Transition Assistance Program for service members transitioning from active duty.

Dr. Khafi began her career with FSIS in May 2020 because of her interest in analyzing scientific data with a public health focus and a desire for supervisory experience. She wanted to use her background in the social sciences to make a tangible impact, stating, “I believe in doing something that has value, and protecting public health certainly qualifies.” She started as branch chief with OPARM and was promoted to director that November.

Empowerment Is Dr. Khafi’s Approach to Leadership
Khafi leads a team of 25 skilled data scientists, statisticians and management analysts. Under her oversight, the team uses data collected from the field and headquarters to develop analytics for FSIS program areas. Her team optimizes data to help drive agency management decisions related to policy development, creating Public Health Information System alerts and monitoring pathogen trends and establishment performance standards.

Promoting teamwork is the bedrock of Khafi’s supervisory approach, and she constantly looks for ways to promote collaboration across branches. FSIS has empowered her to create a successful team by giving her the flexibility to develop individuals, regardless of grade level. Khafi provides opportunities based on an individual’s talents, helping them acquire new skills and refine existing ones. She’s watched junior staff develop, gain confidence in anticipating and mitigating barriers, and become leaders in protecting public health.

Khafi says the best part of her job is mentoring her staff. To be an effective mentor, she focuses on the individual to learn their strengths and interests. She enjoys giving them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities, providing direction and imparting knowledge. Khafi’s supervisor thinks she is a remarkably talented leader who consistently exhibits care for her team while developing them into a high-performance unit. “She demonstrates genuine concern for the team’s well-being by fostering a supportive, interactive environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance,” they added. Dr. Khafi considers herself fortunate to work with a team that is forward-thinking and independent in their approach. She’s impressed by her team’s commitment to collaboration and the mission, pooling resources to achieve results.

Khafi knows her job is important, stating that “Data tells us where we’ve been, where we stand and where we’re heading. It’s my job to ensure we’re harnessing the power of data by creating high quality data assets and developing models that help us use our resources more effectively while protecting public health.” In 2023, she helped shape and identify the priorities for the FY2024-2026 USDA Data Strategy. Khafi is passionate about open data and transparency, where she feels FSIS has already made incredible strides. She used FSIS’ successes to inform the Department’s goals. 

While her trajectory hasn’t been linear, Khafi believes her leadership skills are applicable to many different areas. For example, she changed the way her team fulfills Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. She collaborated with the FOIA director to create an archive for data files older than a year and continues to develop reports of recent data that the FOIA office can access quickly. This change ensured uniformity of data, reduced repetitive time-consuming work, increased efficiency and improved customer service.

Khafi describes herself as a dedicated employee, stating, “If I’m going to spend a significant amount of time on something, I want it to matter and to do it well.” To her, the mission is a big part of that, and visiting the field brought insight to how data is generated at establishments. She also considers her team as another driving influence, and her desire to support and develop her team keeps her motivated.

FSIS Core Values
Khafi identifies with the FSIS Solutions-Oriented Core Value because she thrives on identifying solutions to address problems. She thinks it’s important to explore the need of the customer. By gathering and assessing information, she can determine if there is additional data the customer will need and identify the best solution to meet their goals.

Her supervisor feels that she exemplifies the FSIS Collaborative Core Value. “She is a forward thinker that constantly seeks to promote collaborative and innovative solutions to drive improvements that directly impact OPARM operations and beyond.” In her SSA and DoD positions, Khafi learned the importance of collaboration in creating a shared vision to foster success. By promoting collaboration at OPARM, she can harness her team’s skill set, building on their strengths to cultivate ingenuity.

Tamar Khafi

Outside of Work
Khafi brings her desire for making an impact home by fostering kittens until they’re old enough to be adopted. Additionally, she’s snorkeled in the North Sound of Grand Cayman and dived in Eilat, Israel, and Cabo Pulmo, Mexico. She is an avid hiker, visiting many U.S. National Parks, such as Shenandoah, Grand Canyon and Arcadia. Her interests outside of travel include taking ceramics classes, playing board games and listening to audiobooks while cooking, walking and gardening. 

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