The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Charles Havekost interview

Friday, July 18th, 2003 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"HHS has been pushing for real citizen-centric focus. It's our responsibility to treat those citizens, those customers, in a way that provides real value and real service, just like the way companies interact with business associates."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/19/2003
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Technology and E-Government...

Technology and E-Government

Complete transcript: 

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, the partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Charles Havekost of the Department of Health & Human Services. He's also the program manager for the Grants.gov initiative.

Good morning, Charlie.

Mr. Havekost: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Morris Zwick.

Good morning, Morris.

Mr. Zwick: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Charlie, perhaps you could start by telling us about the Grants.gov initiative.

Mr. Havekost: Grants.gov is 1 of the 24 Quicksilver initiatives, and it's a government-wide effort to unify and simplify grants processes. It's meant to streamline, to make the grant process appear more coherent to those external customers, the grantee organizations.

Mr. Lawrence: And for most people who don't understand, I mean, government gives a lot of grants. This is a very large problem in the context of what government does.

Mr. Havekost: Government does a tremendous amount of grant-making activity. In a recent fiscal year, it was $360 billion, and over 200,000 awards or funding transactions. So this is how a significant portion of government service gets provided.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you describe the vision and the goals of the program?

Mr. Havekost: The main point about Grants.gov is that it's meant to take processes that today appear fragmented to the grantee community, to those external communities -- the states, the counties, the non-profits, the academic institutions, the tribes, the public housing authorities -- all these market segments or these grantee communities face what look like fragmented or stovepiped processes across the federal agencies. The grant processes have different points of contact, different ways to interact, different ways to find opportunities across the many different grant-making agencies. So the vision of Grants.gov is to produce a unified storefront for those customers of federal grants, those grantee organizations, to provide a unified way to find opportunities, to apply for grants electronically, and to manage those grants.

Mr. Zwick: Charlie, how many departments and agencies are involved in the effort?

Mr. Havekost: Well, in reality, it's all the federal grant-making agencies. There's 26 federal grant-making agencies, and they are all involved in this, and we've really gotten great participation from all of those grant-making agencies, and this spans the government. The initiative is supported by all those agencies, and yet, most directly supported by the 11 partner agencies. The Department of Health & Human Services is the managing partner, but in addition to Health & Human Services, there are 10 other partners: Department of Defense, Education, Housing & Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Homeland Security, and the National Science Foundation. So you can see, those are big grant-making agencies, in general relatively big grant-making agencies from across the government. And those are the partners that make up our funding stream here in the first phase as well as a lot of the governance for the initiative.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the budget for this initiative?

Mr. Havekost: The first phase of the initiative has a budget of $20 million, and that's to get the initiative started, to have a program management office, and then to produce this storefront that's going to give us the unified way to announce opportunities or, from the external perspective, to find those opportunities, and the unified way to apply electronically.

Mr. Lawrence: And how much of the grant money you described, what, $300 billion, is involved?

Mr. Havekost: In our initial phase, we're really looking at the competitive opportunities because that's the low-hanging fruit for us, or it's the place where there's the most transactions. If there's, say -- we didn't really look so much at formula grants where there's a formula of how much each state's going to get or mandatory grants where blocks of money get moved to different entities because there's no much reason for them to hunt for those opportunities. They know about those; it's written in the legislation how much. So it's in the competitive arena or the discretionary arena that there's this need to be able to find out about those opportunities.

And it's in that competitive arena where we get the most number of applications per award. In a formula grant, there's one application for every award because it's predefined how much, say, a state is going to get for a particular function. In the competitive arena, while it varies across agencies, there may be, you know, 3, 4, 10 applications for every single award. So in the electronic application arena, that's where we're going to get the volume of applications is in that discretionary arena. So that turns out to be a significant fraction of the $360 billion, but it is a fraction.

Mr. Zwick: Can you describe to us the history behind the inception of the project?

Mr. Havekost: Grants.gov is, as I said, 1 of the 24 Quicksilver initiatives. The Quicksilver effort came out of the President's Management Agenda. And the President's Management Agenda specifically mentions grants as an area that needs work. The President's Management Agenda doesn't use the word "broken," but it describes a fragmented environment and an environment that's fragmented enough so it appears, from an external perspective, to be broken, to be shattered in some way. So the President's Management Agenda describes grants as an area where the government needs to do a better job and to do a more unified job and to be more citizen-centric or to be more focused on the needs and the requirements of these external entities to work together across the government. So that brought about the topic of grants being one of the Quicksilver initiatives. And that has really given us a great entr�e into this.

Grants.gov is in some ways the fulfillment of expectation for advancement and improvement that has been bubbling in the grant-making community across the government for some time. There's even a law, Public Law 106-107, that gives us a legislative mandate to streamline the grant-making functions for the benefit of the grantee community. Agencies have known that as they get paper applications, hey, this isn't the right way to do business anymore. And there's been some effort to try to make that better. And those efforts have produced results and yet, have largely been ad hoc or volunteer committee efforts. Grants.gov, I think, is the first time that there's been a dedicated program management office to this, that there's been a funding strategy that's viable to produce systems and to produce the kind of deliverables that we're talking about: the unified way to find opportunities and the unified way to apply electronically.

So there's been effort across the government. There's been then people who realized we need to do a better job of simplifying grant processes and having grant processes be more electronic. We're trying to bring those to fruition in Grants.gov.

Mr. Zwick: Why is HHS the lead on this project?

Mr. Havekost: HHS is the biggest grant-making agency. HHS also shares with OMB the lead for Public Law 106-107 implementation. So that's two. Being the biggest grant-making agency gives us some advantages. It gives HHS a big stake in the success of Grants.gov. In any case, whether HHS was the managing partner or not, HHS would have a big stake in the success of Grants.gov. By having HHS be the managing partner, with the volume of grant-making that HHS does, the support of HHS, the support of Secretary Thompson can help make Grants.gov a success by giving us this kind of base of grants to deal with or to handle from the outset. So that's an advantage for us, and it's a good advantage and a good reason for HHS being the managing partner, being a big grant-making agency.

Being the co-lead with OMB on Public Law 106-107 implementation also is an advantage and a reason for Grants.gov to be housed within HHS. The Public Law 106-107 in some ways can pave the way, can knock down some of the policy barriers that might face Grants.gov. And there's some good examples of that, how the Public Law 106-107 efforts produced the data set for a unified announcement of grant opportunity. We've been able to take that and use that as a foundation for the unified way to announce or the unified way to find opportunities. So we're working in synergy with Public Law 106-107 efforts. And so that, again, helps that HHS is co-lead with OMB for Public Law 106-107 and is the managing partner for Grants.gov. There's a good tie-in.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point about the role of HHS.

How will E-grants change the business process of an agency? We'll ask Charles Havekost of HHS to tell us about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Charles Havekost of the Department of Health & Human Services. He's the program manager for the Grants.gov initiative.

And joining us in our conversation is Morris Zwick.

Well, Charlie, you're the manager. Could you tell us what your roles and responsibilities are?

Mr. Havekost: My role as the program manager for Grants.gov has many different facets. I would say the most important role is to ensure that the partner agencies who are providing funding for the Department of Health & Human Services that's housing the program management office, OMB, the other grant-making agencies, and especially the grantee organizations -- know about what's going on in the initiative and feel like they have a stake, they have some skin in the game in this and understand the value proposition of our success. In some ways, that makes me kind of, you know, a huckster, an evangelist, the one who's got to go out and tell the story and make people believe, you know, you got to believe.

At the beginning of the initiative, we were, the program management team and I, were very small. And at the beginning of the initiative, when I joined the initiative in January of 2002, the size of the program management office was one; it was me. And that meant that there was some ginning up things out of whole cloth, you know. What is this going to look like? There's not a cookbook to say here's how you do a cross-government initiative, because in some ways, this is a pretty new concept. So my role has been to ensure that there is a governance structure, that there's a feel of, you know, empirical reality; there's a pragmatism, there's vision that this is all conveyed to those organizations that are going to participate and that really have to, in participating, are casting their lots with this organization. They're saying, you know, hey, this is how we're going to go. And they have to believe that there's a credible vision, that there's a credible approach to this, that there's a manageable scope. And really that's been my job is to verbalize that. That's been the prime job.

There's been other jobs, like how to put together a program management office. These offices are staffed with detailees in general, and how to pull that together; how to go out and convince agencies, hey, send somebody to work on this initiative; how to get space to house the initiative. Well, space is, you know, the hardest thing of all. And HHS has been very supportive in that, and we have a suite of offices to house the Grants.gov program management office. It's been things like that, to go out and to dun the partner agencies, hey, you know, where's your contribution, let's see the money that's going to make this thing work; to convey the importance of this to the executive board, which is representatives of each of the managing partners. In some ways, to be the face and the voice of initiative has been a lot of what it's been.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you a very tactical question. You've described an incredibly complex environment with many players. Who do you report to?

Mr. Havekost: That is a really interesting question, who I report to. So I'll say that in my job description, I report to Ed Sontag, who's the HHS Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management. And it was Ed Sontag who asked me to take on the Grants.gov initiative and gave me that opportunity. So I report to Ed Sontag. And I report to Secretary Thompson as an employee of HHS. I also report to Deputy Secretary Claude Allen, who's the HHS representative to the President's Management Council, and that's kind of the governing body of all the E-gov initiatives. So as I have this reporting responsibility within HHS and I have to be very sensitive to that, you know, things like my performance report comes out of HHS, my timecard is kept within HHS. So I always keep that in mind.

But there are other groups that I report to. The partner agencies contribute money and have a stake in this game, and I report to them via the executive board, which has one seat for each of the partner agencies. And it's a board that has taken votes on, you know, how we're going to finance this thing and approaches that we're going to take. So it vets from a cross-agency perspective or a cross-partner perspective some of the approaches that we're taking and has been the entity that has said here's the kind of reporting you need to do in order to keep multiple agencies happy. So I report to the executive board.

In some ways, I report to the Office of Management and Budget. Mark Forman runs, as the CIO for the government, has a big stake and is a proponent of all the E-gov initiatives. And I report to them on progress and on performance metrics. So I report to the OMB. I report to all the grant-making agencies because I have to report back to them what we're doing, the rationale for what we're doing, the outcomes of what we're doing. Because if the grant-making agencies as a whole don't say, okay, this is how we're going to do business, then we have no agencies to accept applications for. So I report to all of them and I have to make sure that they're on board with this.

The biggest and the most challenging report that I have is that I report to the citizens, to the grantee community. And this is something we've really tried to focus on. I think many of the efforts in the grant-making arena have focused on internal process, to the detriment of how to make this better and feel more unified for the grantee organizations. I report to them. That's who the President's Management Agenda says -- we need to be citizen-centric. This initiative reports to those grantee organizations: the states, the counties, the schools, the public housing authorities, the nonprofits, the tribes, all those groups. And we have really worked hard to reach out to them to say here's how Grants.gov is going to change your business. We report to you on this.

We've done focus groups to say tell us what you think about this. What are your expectations? What are your impressions of this particular implementation? Because we report to them. If the grantees don't use our services, we've not done our job. We have to provide services that are compelling to those grantees, because it's a unified way for the grantees to find the opportunities and a unified way for the grantees to apply electronically. So we really have to focus on them, and that's proven to be a very valuable relationship of all these reports of this, you know, HHS, the partners, OMB, all the grant-making agencies. The grantees are a really important group that we report to.

Mr. Lawrence: Can I also ask you about your career prior to this position?

Mr. Havekost: I've got 25 years in the federal government, with a couple breaks along the way. I started out at the National Institutes of Health as a junior fellow while I was in college. And right out of college, I was a grants technical assistance, also at the National Institutes of Health. So that gave me some in-the-trenches experiences of what it feels like down in a grants office. And it was not the job that I felt like I was cut out for because it was such a paper-intensive job. At that time, they didn't even have collators on the photocopiers so they walked around tables to collate paper copies of grant applications to send out to reviewers. It was very paper-intensive, and there's many things about the grants job that I think that are the same today. And that's part of what we're working to change.

After moving out of grants, I went to work at the computer center at the National Institutes of Health and spent a number of years in mainframe support there. And then, in the early '90s, moved into networking and was the head of customer support for the NIH net, or the network throughout the NIH.

And then in 1998, I went to be the head of computing for the National Institute of Mental Health. And that gave me a real good chance to see some grant systems that were within a grant-making entity and to go through the process of a conversion from one -- an aging -- retiring a grant system that everybody had been using for a long time and thought that their lives couldn't exist without to -- and helping them take on or to start using another, a newer grant system. And so I've been through that grant migration, grant system migration process when I was there at the National Institute of Mental Health.

In '99, I succumbed to the siren song of the dot-com startup and went out and was the director of customer support for a telecom startup. And when I went in, the customer support division had exactly one employee, which was me. So I had to come in and build the infrastructure, the plans, you know, the organizational structure plans, the support services, plan this really from ground zero and build it in a short period of time. Of course, this dot-com thought that it was going to rule the world, so it had to have a structure that was scalable enough to rule the world. And I learned how to hire and fire, which the firing part isn't something that we tend to get much experience in in the government. The com experience was invaluable in leading up to Grants.gov because it was the same kind of start from nothing, build it, build it from scratch, try to build an organization that can work, try to build services that can work. And then, you know, that experience went through six months of irrational exuberance, six months of good solid production experience and business, and then six months of painful retrenching on the way down to the Chapter 11.

So that was a great experience. After that, I came back to the warm embrace of federal service and into HHS downtown, working for Ed Sontag. And that's been a great experience. And when Ed asked me to lead the Grants.gov initiative, it was the same kind of start from ground zero and try to build an organization that can scale, an organization that can provide services, build it kind of from scratch. And it's been exciting. And somehow my grants experience and my IT experience and my startup experience all seem to have, through serendipity, come together in Grants.gov.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's a good point about the hiring and firing.

What are the challenges the E-grants initiative has faced? We'll ask Charles Havekost of HHS to tell us more about these when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Charles Havekost of the Department of Health & Human Services. He's the program manager for the Grants.gov initiative.

And joining us in our conversation is Morris Zwick.

Well, Charlie, why has this project never been attempted before?

Mr. Havekost: There's been attempts at this, and I mentioned some of the prior work that has been done, the grant streamlining work groups. There's been an interagency electronic grants committee for some years that put together an EDI standard, a public standard, an ANSI standard for grant data. So there's been work in this arena, and yet, it's never had the imprimatur of things like the President's Management Agenda, the Quicksilver initiatives, OMB really pushing hard to get an initiative like this going, and also, people who are dedicated to it who work full-time, it's their sole job to work on making grant processes more unified, more simplified, more electronic. So to say it's not been attempted, I think it's been attempted, but this attempt is really one that has focus and has resources and has the political muscle behind it to really make it happen.

Mr. Zwick: What are specifically some of the complexities of the program on the agency side?

Mr. Havekost: Agencies have been doing grants for a long time and they have processes that have been around for a long time. Agencies have spent a lot of time thinking about how their grants processes and grantees and data they need and outcomes are unique. And an agency that makes, say, nurse training grants thinks about how their audience for those nurse training grants are different than a different kind of nurse training grant that's in some other agency. That's just an example. It's good that these grant-making entities have thought about what is their specific goals, what's unique about their grant program. And yet, that mind-set makes it difficult to think about, well, what's the same about our grant program? What's the same about our process? What's the same about our data? What is the same about all these different grant-making programs? That's not something that people spend a lot of time thinking about. So we've really had to go in and ask agencies, hey, you know, let's turn the whole thought process up on its head and start thinking about what's the same.

I was at the Association of Government Accountants meeting last week, and James Champy was on one of the panels. And he talked about the amount of commonality in business processes between organizations that are in the same line of business and yet, they think, oh, well, we're different, our process is different, our data's unique. And yet, there's an incredible amount of commonality, so we need to have that discussion. I would say that of all things is the hardest discussion, how to figure out what's common among all these grant-making programs and how to leverage that commonality.

The technology? There's hard parts about the technology, but that's doable. The technology's available to do what we need to do. It's the wherewithal, it's the stomach to go and say, you know, hey, this is your right, these things are the same among the grant-making agencies. That has been the hardest part.

It will also be a challenge for agencies that have, for example, in the past said when you send in a grant application, send in 15 copies. So they put that burden on the grantee, on the applicant. They say send in 15 copies. The 15 copies come in and 2 go to the grant office and 3 go to some other office, and then the other 10 get sent out to reviewers. And so they've got these processes that are predicated upon, in some cases, placing the burden upon the applicant. And yet, if the application comes in electronically, they have to rethink how they're going to do that. And if they decide to go brute force and say, well, we're going to take this electronic application and we're going to print 15 copies so we end up with something that's analogous to what we got from the applicant so we can hand these paper copies off to everybody that has always gotten paper copies, that's going to be a challenge for them. I think one of the challenges for the agencies will be to rethink their business process to leverage the abilities that having the application electronically will bring to them.

Mr. Zwick: How are you working with E-authentication and other cross-agency initiatives?

Mr. Havekost: Well, we're working very closely with several of the E-gov initiatives, and I'll mention E-authentication and integrated acquisition. E-authentication is building a common authentication infrastructure for the government. And, you know, that's just great because the last thing that I need Grants.gov to focus on is, you know, building a password database, managing user accounts. That's a drain on our attention and a drain on our resources that if we can avoid, we will avoid. E-authentication allows us to avoid that drain on our resources. We can focus on the core business of a unified way to find opportunities, unified way to apply electronically, and we can use the E-authentication gateway for that kind of authentication purposes and basically have outsourced the account management.

We are working with integrated acquisition in much the same way. Integrated acquisition has the business partner network, and part of that is the Central Contractor Registry. And that's a registry of organizations that do business with the government. One of the things we need in the grants arena is a registry of grantee organizations. It helps the agencies identify grantees across agencies. A lot of organizations make grants to different agencies; get them from different agencies. And the other thing is that it helps the applicant's organizations because they can put the information into the registry one time and use that same information for each grant application. So we're working with integrated acquisition to leverage this existing Central Contractor Registry to be a registry for grant applicants as well.

We're also working with GSA to leverage their experience in the FedBizOpps system as -- that's part of the foundation. It's a collaboration between GSA and Grants.gov to produce the unified way to find grant opportunities. So we are working with these external groups in a very -- you know, for a very parochial reason, because they've got things that we can, rather than rebuild, we can reuse these resources that they have to the benefit of Grants.gov, and it allows us to focus on the core business of the initiative.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you to be reflective here for a minute. What are some of the successes of the projects and even some of the surprises or setbacks you've encountered?

Mr. Havekost: Successes, pieces of this project that I'm really, really proud of and that are amazing successes. One of the things is that part of the success is that we've been able get some agreement on what were previously considered intractable problems. And the one I'll point up is the data that makes up a grant application. This was, you know, a very difficult discussion among the agencies. And every time the topic of what makes up a grant application, these differences among agencies resulted in, you know, a brouhaha in the room and blood on the linoleum, you know. But we were able to, again, you know, taking somewhat of a path of least resistance, we said is there a policy standard for a grant application? And there is. The Standard Form 424 is published by OMB on their website, and it's got that OMB imprimatur on it. And the public data standard for grant data that I mentioned earlier is also, so that's a data standard. So we had a policy standard and a data standard and they matched.

And so that's the foundation for what we've called our core of a grant application. That was to get agencies to agree that this was a good plan, and that we had some agreement on what a core of an application is was a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment.

I'll also say one of the successes of the initiative is the feeling that we in the initiative had as we developed that plan. It basically all came together in a meeting one afternoon where we were kind of frantic. One of our deadlines was to produce the data standard for a grant application. And it's the deadline that had everybody kind of laughing up their cuff, ho, ho, ho, they can never succeed, no one's every done that before and they won't do it now. And we got together in a room and we were batting this around and came up with this plan, and it was such an epiphany. It was one of those meetings where you say we've just figured out how the entire government's going to do business, and you don't get that many chances. And I'll say for the team to have that experience is a success in the initiative.

To have people from so many different agencies, we've got people from seven different agencies on detail, on full-time detail to the Grants.gov initiative. To bring those people together, to bring their ideas together for the benefit of this initiative is itself a success.

I'll say that success in terms of staffing also presents a real challenge. And when people come on detail, those details are finite details. They have end dates, and that produces a succession-planning dilemma that goes beyond anything I've ever experienced before. If you know that, okay, within the next 4 months, 3/4 of the team, their details end; that's a scary prospect. So one of the surprises is how difficult it is to sustain it in terms of the people and in terms of coming up with an ongoing funding strategy and a place where everything lives. You know, we run a system. Where does that system run, you know? That's a real tough question for a cross-government initiative.

So I would say that's one of the surprises. I'm not going to admit to any setbacks.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point.

What's the potential for E-grants and where might this be in 5 to 10 years? We'll ask Charles Havekost to give us his perspective when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Charles Havekost of the Department of Health & Human Services, who's also the program manager for the Grants.gov initiative.

And joining us in our conversation is Morris Zwick.

Well, Charlie, are there any other lessons learned for groups trying to undertake cross-agency projects?

Mr. Havekost: Yeah, I think in cross-agency projects, you have to be particularly careful to identify the many stakeholders that are in the initiative. And that can be a challenge because there's a lot of different agencies and a lot of different external or internal stakeholders, and for each of those stakeholders to identify the value proposition. What makes this a win, a positive outcome for each of those stakeholders? And if you can describe that and get them to understand that, it's lot easier to build consensus among those stakeholders.

And I would say the third thing is that you need a really good governance structure. We have an executive board that represents each of the partner agencies. That executive board votes on things like the financing strategy. So we have a financing strategy that's been voted on and approved by our executive board. It all comes down to that governance. And once you have the governance, you can build on that to build the infrastructure and build the financing structure and build the strategy that's necessary to make this a success.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, you called out financing as part of the governance. How important is the financing strategy and structure?

Mr. Havekost: I think it's really crucial, and it's crucial for reasons that I really hadn't considered before going through this. The financing strategy, of course, you need money in order to let a contract. You need money in order to buy a desk. You need money to do those things. But when it comes right down to it, what I found is the external customers, the grantee community wanted to know, did we have financing? Did we have resources for this initiative? Because they wanted to know that before they believed it was going to succeed. And so that's what made financing so important, was to get those customers to believe that we were really going to deliver the deliverables that we're promising.

Mr. Zwick: Of course, there are other cross-agency initiatives. What other areas can the Grants.gov approach be applied to?

Mr. Havekost: The technological approach that we've taken is, for grant applications, is to use a downloadable, fillable, XML-enabled form. And the forms are then completed, worked on offline, and then submitted to the Grants.gov as a whole application. Grants.gov can parse out the XML and hand it off to the target agencies. So that gives us a great XML technological foundation.

In some ways, that submission process is relatively generic. Why does it matter that it's a grant application form that's coming in? It could be some other kind of form because it's just a form that's XML-enabled and XML's parsed out and passed to a government agency. So I think that model is usable in many kinds of transactions where somebody from the public or somebody outside an agency is filling out something that feels like a form and sending data in that the agency wants to put into a system and manage that way.

Mr. Zwick: Well, you mentioned the data collection. How are you dealing with privacy issues?

Mr. Havekost: That's something that we really thought a lot about and are really concerned with, of course. The model we chose is in some ways driven by the need for privacy. By having an applicant download a blank, fillable form, XML-enabled fillable form, the applicant can get that. It doesn't really matter who gets that. Anybody can say can you send me an application package? So they get it. They work on that package using whatever collaboration space that they choose to; maybe it's putting it on a diskette. It's really not the government's business to tell them how to manage privacy within their own organization.

So they collaborate on that fillable form, and then when it's completed, it's a one-time transaction to send that filled-in form up to Grants.gov. Grants.gov doesn't have a mechanism to pass that information back out to the public, so its only mechanism is to send that to the target agency. So in that way, we've tried to minimize the amount of information that's flowing through Grants.gov and make sure that we're not sending any intellectual property, any private information back out to the public.

Mr. Zwick: Where do you see this program in 5 to 10 years?

Mr. Havekost: I'll tell you, you know, my secret is that our goal is to build so much market share to get this embedded in grantee and grantor business processes to the point that no one could think of doing grant business without Grants.gov. So we really want to get embedded in those business processes. We see this moving toward additional interactions in the grant life cycle: the progress reports, financial reports, closeout reports, those kinds of things that are where information is coming from grantees across kind of that semipermeable membrane into the grantor agencies. And we want to be there to help manage that transaction.

The other possibilities are to provide services to the grant-making agencies to help get some commonality of the systems in the back offices. That's pretty far out into the future, I'd say. By defining data standards for data coming in and data that were for applications and what we're passing off to the agencies, we're also trying to foster third-party development of workflow out in the grantee organizations and in the grantor agencies. And we could see that there would be really good choices for those kind of workflow systems out in the grantee world and in the grantor world that are far more off-the-shelf than what's available today.

Mr. Lawrence: You said something a minute ago that I want to follow up on about governance in making decisions. You described an executive board to vote on apparently our very big decisions. But I'm curious about making decisions at a lower level where collaborative groups meet as perhaps peers to work an issue and then ultimately have to decide something, and often there is a conflict and there isn't a unanimous decision. What's been your experience getting groups like that to ultimately come to closer on a hard issue?

Mr. Havekost: We do have, in addition to our executive board, we pulled together a monthly what we call our stakeholders group. And it's pretty much an open door for the federal agencies, grant-making agencies to come in and get updates and give us input. We also have run focus groups to get input from federal agencies and from the grantees.

In general, I'm more of the beg forgiveness, not permission school of things. We have a tight timetable in the Grants.gov initiative, so our approach is generally to produce a proposed approach, a straw man, and have that straw man be well enough documented to be rational, to be pragmatic, to be achievable to the point where we can build that consensus. There have been times where we've said we plan to do things this way and the room's just blown up, and then we have to go and make sure that we can build that consensus in a piecemeal way.

It really is something. If we took the traditional government approach of pulling together some giant committee to cogitate on this for a couple years, we'd have blown past all our deadlines. We really have to come up with proposed solutions and to get input on those, to get to some extent approval from the grant-making agencies, to get approval from the executive board, of course, but to have a real good, solid straw man, a strategy laid out with the reasons and the value propositions to make sure that we can try to avoid getting mired in some bureaucratic morass of vetting and decision-making.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had a long career in public service. I'm just curious, what advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Havekost: I think a career in public service is something that is a tremendous opportunity, and it really hit home to me when I went out into the private sector for a couple years. I was out in the private sector, and that company was on a mission to bring telephone and Internet services to small- and medium-sized businesses in large office buildings everywhere. And you know, that mission didn't resonate with me. You can work on things when you work for the federal government; in public service, you can work on things that produce direct results in people's lives, can change how we live in our country, can change the world to make it a better place, can work on things that are big.

The folks who are working on the Grants.gov initiative are working on an initiative that will handle, or at least be a piece of the machinery of how the government sends out hundreds of billions of dollars per year. That's big and, in some ways, it feels bigger. It's an opportunity to work on something that's big and important and can affect people's lives. And I think that's just the beautiful thing and the appealing thing and the fulfilling thing about being a civil servant.

Mr. Lawrence: Charlie, that's our last question. I'm afraid we're out of time. Morris and I want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Mr. Havekost: Great. Thank you very much for having me here. If you're interested in more information about the Grants.gov initiative, you can go to the website that has a URL, Grants.gov.

Mr. Lawrence: There you go. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Charles Havekost of the Department of Health & Human Services. He's also the program manager for the Grants.gov initiative.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improve government effectiveness, and you can also get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Charles Havekost interview
07/19/2003
"HHS has been pushing for real citizen-centric focus. It's our responsibility to treat those citizens, those customers, in a way that provides real value and real service, just like the way companies interact with business associates."

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