Jumping Off the Cliff with Cynthia Moses-Nedd

Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire chief of staff, Cynthia Moses-Nedd.

Cynthia Moses-Nedd, chief of staff at Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Moses-Nedd.


Cynthia Moses-Nedd is the chief of staff for the Interior Department’s Office of Wildland Fire, where she guides the organization in efficiently and effectively meeting the needs of the Department and its bureaus as they manage wildland fire. She previously served as a liaison to state and local governments for the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). She worked closely with governors’ offices and state associations across the West to collaborate on a variety of natural resource issues and to keep state and local partners apprised of policies and initiatives affecting their communities. A South Carolina native, she’s held positions at Interior with the Solicitors Office, Intergovernmental and External Affairs Office, and BLM Division of Legislative Affairs. 

Moses-Nedd is no stranger to conflict. With robust experience in building cooperative national partnerships with state and local governments while raising five children into successful adults, she shares her philosophy for turning conflict into connection.

“People are my strong suit,” Moses-Nedd said. “I always look for opportunities to engage with and befriend people from all walks of life. I look for ways to communicate, even when we don’t share a common language.”

During her time with the BLM, Moses-Nedd co-led a team that developed and conducted training for local, state, and Tribal government officials and staff. At a session in Wyoming, she noticed a rancher glowering at her. While everyone else was engaged, he appeared sullen and disinterested. During the dinner that night, she decided to sit next to him to find out why. She discovered he was grappling with the recent tragedy of his daughter passing away from lupus and having been diagnosed with the same condition. The connection she made that night turned into a friendship.  

“When you’re the only one who looks like you in a room, you don’t know what preconceived notion someone may have about you,” Moses-Nedd explained. “I know what it feels like to walk into a room and not be seen. My approach is this: I won’t let you not see me. I won’t sit back and wait for you to acknowledge me. I will open the door and be the person that changes your mind. Sometimes, you need to get out of your head and jump off the cliff.”

What interested you in working in wildland fire?

A bad fire year impacts everything: families; natural resources; water; farming; the ability of government (federal, state, local, and Tribal) to operate normally. In my work with state and local governments, I was always intrigued by this behemoth of a problem and how we might be able to manage it. When the opportunity to work in the Office of Wildland Fire arose, I welcomed the new challenge. 

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

My family is my greatest accomplishment and my greatest challenge. At one time, I had four children under the age of four, and that means those four also went through their teenage years at the same time. We still marvel at how we got through it.

In my career, I am most proud of building an intergovernmental program within BLM that even today bolsters the success of many of the programs within its mission. When I started in that position, many of the bureau’s relationships, particularly with counties, were broken or non-existent. By strategically engaging local officials, listening to their ideas and concerns, and impressing upon leadership the benefits of getting that local perspective, we were able to better undertake policy changes and initiatives with greater support from state and local partners.

How can we better support women?

While things have gotten better, in many places, there is still a disconnect in understanding the unique balancing act that women must undertake in building a career and raising a family. We usually don’t ask a man to sacrifice his career or his family for the sake of achieving success in both, while women will move heaven and earth to do both. Even among women, some have forgotten what it’s like to navigate the challenge of climbing the ladder while starting a family.

The biggest thing a good leader can do to support women is to ask the question, “How can I help you be successful?” and support them in managing that unique role. This could mean a shift in policy or a change in accommodations. It’s important to give her a safe space to voice what she needs both professionally and personally. 

What does leadership mean to you?

Good leadership provides a safe space for the people around you to shine even as they share vulnerabilities. A good leader has the capacity to help others tap into their greatest strengths and aid them in rising to the next level.

Cynthia Moses-Nedd is the chief of staff for the Interior Department’s office of Wildland Fire.

Thao Tran is a senior government professional with robust experience overseeing budget, program management, and strategic planning. She previously served as Budget Officer for the Department of the Interior's Office of Wildland Fire and is committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the federal government.

Erin McDuff is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Wildland Fire.