The Business of Government Hour

 

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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.

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Christopher Marston interview

Friday, January 3rd, 2003 - 20:00
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Christopher Marston
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/04/2003
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Christopher Marston
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Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, the co-chairman of The IBM Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Endowment 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 Chris Marston. Chris is the chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Good morning, Chris.

Mr. Marston: Good morning, Paul. Thanks for having me.

Mr. Lawrence: Great.

Well, let's start by finding out more about the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Could you describe its missions and activities for us?

Mr. Marston: Sure.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, we call it ONDCP for short, started in the late '80s, at sort of the height of the drug problem in America. The first director was Bill Bennett, and the director is often called the drug czar. We don't have czars in America. There are no czar-like powers, but it's a convenient shorthand for Director of National Drug Control Policy.

We're responsible to the President for coordinating the government-wide policy in national efforts; you know, more than just federal, state and local efforts to combat drug abuse in America. We do it both on what we call the demand and supply side, so reducing the desire of people to use in the United States through prevention and treatment efforts and supply reduction; reducing the flow of drugs into the United States and also reducing the supply of drugs that are manufactured or grown here in the United States.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a large and important mission. Give us a sense of how big is ONDCP and what type of people work there.

Mr. Marston: We've got about 150 people in the office. Just over 100 of them are career employees of the office who've been hired exclusively to work for us. There are also a number of detailees from other agencies. We have some folks from the Defense Department who have some really great training, not just on our supply reduction policies or things you typically associate with Defense, but some other areas of expertise, like budget analysts and a medical examiner from the Surgeon General's corps; some other folks who have some skills to offer, as well as detailees from some other departments in government: folks from over at HHS or Justice, who can also be a real help. And they come over for anywhere between one and three years and work with us in areas of expertise they have, that they've learned in their home departments.

Mr. Lawrence: And how does ONDCP -- what do they call its budget? How do they look at the budget?

Mr. Marston: It's always a little bit of a challenge. We have sort of two budgets to deal with: One is fairly small; it's our own office budget and, you know, the typical salaries and expense, you know, account that everyone has to deal with. We also have four programs that we manage ourselves at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. We have the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign that I'm sure some listeners are familiar with from seeing the ads on the television and radio. We also have the Drug-Free Communities Program, which supports Community Anti-Drug Coalitions in communities around the country; we're up around 500 of them now. We have CTAC, the Counter-Drug Technology Assessment Center, and finally, we have the HIDTA, High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, where we make grants to law enforcement, where federal, state and local law enforcement groups get together around a major metropolitan area and work collaboratively on the drug problem.

So we have the account of things we manage, which runs to about half a billion dollars, and then we manage the entire federal drug control effort. So there's actually a separate table in the President's budget that's released each year that details drug control spending wherever it happens in the government .

We've actually taken a slightly different approach. In the past, it's been what we call a scored tabled. You take the full amount of an appropriation for a particular agency; say, for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. We would take everything that was about drug abuse, but not alcohol abuse, and we'd score that. So these were all estimates and they didn't really reflect actual dollars.

When John Walters, our new director, took over just over a year ago, he decided the best way to go was to actually talk about real dollars. So what we did was we stopped doing scoring. We took the rule either all in or all out of the drug budget and we also stopped counting programs that dealt with sort of the cost of substance abuse. So where we scored a small portion of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and welfare spending, we no longer do that because we don't manage that for the purpose of reducing drugs. It has an effect on that as one of many of its activities, but we don't actually make programmatic decisions in the Federal Government by saying, "Well, this drug abuse problem is this, so we need to spend X dollars of welfare money on it." We just don't do budgeting that way, so we decided to take the most realistic approach we could to the budget.

So but for, I think, four accounts, everything's either all in or all out, and in those four accounts, which are the most important of the multi-mission agencies: Veterans Administration, Health Care, the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, these accounts, what we do is we work with the agency to identify a specific portion of funding in their budget that's going to be managed for drug control activities. So the Coast Guard has a certain number of sea hours that they're going to operate that are specifically dedicated to drug supply reduction.

So we count those, but we don't count the time they spend doing fisheries enforcement or maritime safety.

Mr. Lawrence: What's interesting about the ONDCP is it's actually in the Executive Office of the President. I'm curious; how does it fit with the other activities and the responsibilities of the Executive Office of the President?

Mr. Marston: Well, it's very interesting. I think that it was originally placed in the Executive Office of the President because they wanted to emphasize -- the folks in Congress who developed the bill --wanted to emphasize the importance of the issue and it needed to be a high-level presidential advisor who was responsible for it.

I think they had in mind things like the National Security Council. It's evolved a little bit differently than some of the other offices. There are nine different components in the Executive Office of the President, including things like the Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Trade Representative, the National Security Council, as I mentioned, National Economic Council; and those are all very much specific policy-oriented organizations.

We sort of combine policy and program. We do a little bit of duplicating the functions of some of these other offices, which is normally not something you'd hear from someone interested in management, but because drug control is so broad and has so many aspects from both foreign and domestic policy, it was important to take someone who could integrate all that into one cohesive strategy and, you know, the U.S. Trade Representative works on trade. It's exclusively trade and it's mostly foreign, of course dealing some with domestic folks who are interested in trade, but the work, you know, spans to the State Department, the Commerce Department, whereas we actually at one time considered 54 departments and agencies as part of the drug budget, so it's very broad.

In some sense, it's like the Office of Management and Budget, which is another part of the Executive Office of the President. Our authorities are certainly not as comprehensive, as they manage the President's entire budget, but we do very similar functions for the drug control portion of the President's budget.

Mr. Lawrence: Now let's talk about your role as the chief of staff. What do you do and what are your responsibilities?

Mr. Marston: I'm responsible for the day-to-day management of the office, of the 150 employees that are there; sort of in a chief operating officer kind of way. I also manage the director's schedule and the sort of decision-making process that we have in the office. With so many different people and so many areas of responsibility, it's difficult to have coordinated decisions come up to the director. So I do my best to manage the input from different parts of the staff, to present decisions to him in the most easily digestible and easy-to-make way.

Mr. Lawrence: Tell us about your career before coming to ONDCP.

Mr. Marston: I spent five years on Capitol Hill. Most recently, I worked for the House Parliamentarian, who's responsible for advising the Speaker on the rules of the chamber, managing the referral of bills to committees, managing conduct of business on the Floor, points of order and germaneness and all sorts of other things that are complicated subjects that most people wouldn't be interested in unless they worked in the House. I took that job in part to go to law school at night. It was a little bit slower paced than some of the political jobs I'd had on the Hill.

Before that, I had worked for several Members of Congress in a subcommittee. I worked for Speaker Hastert before he was Speaker at what's called the Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice. It's part of the Government Reform Committee, which is sort of the unique beast. It has jurisdiction over the whole government, but it's oversight jurisdiction as opposed to authorizing or appropriating jurisdiction like other committees have.

So the first person I worked for there was Congressman Bill Zeliff from New Hampshire, and he really made drug policy a central focus of that subcommittee, so that's where I sort of got my start in drug policy.

So I did that for a little while and I worked for Congressman Rob Portman from Ohio, who Speaker Gingrich and then-Speaker Hastert appointed as a leader on the Speaker's Drug Task Force. It was an important issue for both of them. And Congressman Portman had done some really great work in his hometown of Cincinnati, forming a community coalition there, the Coalition for A Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati that did a lot of real grassroots, youth-oriented community work to keep kids off drugs.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think your experiences on the Hill prepared you for your present position?

Mr. Marston: Well, from a policy perspective, it was great preparation. I had a pretty good handle on most areas of drug policy, not a whole lot of depth, but sufficient breadth to know what was going on. From a management perspective, it was really quite a transition. At most, an office on the Hill has, you know, 15 people, at least on the House side, in a Member office or a subcommittee. So the most people I'd ever worked with very closely were, you know, five or eight. So coming over to the Executive Branch and being in a management position, in a fairly significant agency, was quite a change for me.

Mr. Lawrence: What were the lessons learned from having so many more people to deal with?

Mr. Marston: Taking some of the same lessons that I learned on the Hill -- in one way, it did prepare me well because it emphasized the importance of interaction and collaboration with people outside your office and with the few folks inside your office. So I learned a lot of sort of management by walking around, getting to know a lot of the staff in the building so I could keep tabs on what was going on and make sure I developed a good relationship with all the folks in the building so they trust me and I trust them to do what's right for the director and the country.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, how about the allocation of time: with five-to-eight people, I imagine you could spend a lot of time with them; with 150-ish, you can't.

Mr. Marston: It's a real challenge; that's the truth. I figure I spend about half my day planning forward and thinking about strategy and the road ahead, and the other half of the day dealing with the problem du jour. So I get a chance to interact with staff, unfortunately, more often when they have a problem than just on an informal basis, but problems are fairly evenly distributed, so I wind up seeing a lot of folks and being able to help work through problems.

It's been a little bit of a tough transition for me. Before I took over as chief of staff, I was the deputy chief of staff and I could spend a little more time getting involved in a particular problem because there were other people handling other things. So I've learned a lot of lessons about delegating since I took over as chief of staff that was not something I used to do on the Hill. Things were delegated to me. I didn't delegate to anyone else because there was nobody else there.

So that's been a new management skill I've been developing.

Mr. Lawrence: Good time for a break.

Come back in a few minutes as we continue our conversation with Chris Marston of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

What are the management challenges from working with other federal departments to control drugs? We'll ask Chris when The Business of Government Hour returns. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Chris Marston. Chris is the chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Well, Chris, you started talking about this a little bit and I'm more curious now. What are the major elements of the nation's drug control strategy?

Mr. Marston: Well, the President released the first National Drug Control Strategy of his administration last February, and it highlights four themes; three of them are substantive and the last is actually about budget and performance integration, but the first three themes, the substantive ones, healing America's drug users. It's a focus on treatment and how we can help people who are dependent or abusers now reclaim their lives and get back from addiction.

The second is stopping use before it starts, our prevention efforts, aimed at folks who've not started using drugs, to help them understand what a bad course it is and to keep them from doing it. And then finally, disrupting the market, which is our focus on supply reduction, where we do our best to take the marketplace; that is the drug trade, it operates like a lot of other markets. There are illicit components that make it somewhat different, but in many ways, a drug cartel is like a Fortune 500 company, and so what we try and do is what people are afraid the government will do to legitimate business all the time -- regulate it out of business.

So we do our best to identify vulnerabilities in the market and then go after those vulnerabilities to disrupt it. So if we see that communications or the transportation network is one of the key pieces that's helping a drug operation do its business, we go after that. We try and take the most significant drug organizations and go after them. So we're trying to change the way we do drug enforcement by taking this market-based approach.

In the past, everybody's kind of done what they always do. You know, they have an identified target and identified activity of what they usually do. The State Department, you know, sprays crops in source areas. The DEA arrests drug dealers in the United States, and they, of course, have some international efforts as well. You know, the Coast Guard stops boats with drugs on them.

What we've tried to do is sort of integrate the efforts of all these agencies into one effort, to disrupt the market. So whether that's through picking the most significant organizations and taking them down, like we did with the Cali Cartel in 1990, but on a broader scale, so we don't wind up with the mini-cartel aftermath, like we did in the nineties; or whether it's taking one specific sector of the drug market and wiping it out to reduce the profits available to drug dealers and hopefully shrink their business in that way.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, in thinking about the management challenges of what you've just described, the charges are broad, and you interact with a lot of other departments. How do you go about working the coordination and getting everybody to work together?

Mr. Marston: It's a real challenge. The government's a really big place, as we all know, and getting everybody on the same team can often be a challenge, and there are tensions in it. All the folks we deal with, particularly at the Cabinet level, have myriad responsibilities. You know, the Secretary of State worries about a lot of things; drug control's just one of them, and he has an entire foreign policy to maintain. So there are days when he can't worry about drug policy or when drug policy aims might interfere with some other foreign policy aim, like trade. The same thing is true in other departments: the Department of Justice, you know, corporate fraud has been very important. Counterterrorism's obviously very important, but we still have the drug control responsibility. So one of the first steps is finding the right place to coordinate within the Department.

The director, of course, deals with other members of the President's Cabinet, but at a staff level, we kind of have to pick the right organization within each Cabinet department to work with.

So the DEA is an obvious example. At State, there's an International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Office. At the Veterans Administration, the Veterans Health Service is where we need to interact, but they don't have a specific drug office. At HHS, it's the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

So you just kind of have to pick out the right places and establish links with the right people, and it can sometimes be difficult because we're all part of the President's team, and he has a very strong emphasis on working together, teamwork and collaboration. It's not to suppress any differences in the Administration or to interfere with good policymaking; you can't just go to war with HHS because you disagree with them about treatment. That's not how this administration works, nor should it.

So we have to work really closely with the other departments and agencies at a bunch of different levels, and that can be a real challenge. If the folks at SAMSA, who are several layers down from the Secretary, you know, have one way of thinking, it's a lot easier for them to go to the Secretary than it is for us, because we're, you know, departments away.

At the same time, if you agree with the folks in a bureau, at a department, but someone on the Secretary's staff disagrees, you know, are you ganging up on a Secretary by going with one of his bureaus instead of his advisor? So that can be a real challenge for us.

I think we've done a really good job in trying to overcome it. The director has established really good working relationships with other members of the Cabinet, and at a staff level, we try very hard to keep open lines of communication with their bureaus.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I was going to ask, when you talk about overcoming, it sounds like it's a communication issue as to how you overcome it. How much time do you spend communicating and how long does all this process take?

Mr. Marston: Well, our success is measured in large part by how much time we dedicate to that, so we put a lot of time in to working with the other departments and agencies, except for the four programs that we actually administer ourselves, and actually even in some of those, we can't do anything. We can only work with other people to get something done.

It's well and good to announce a national drug control strategy. Implementing it is not something that can happen in our office. It's something that the rest of government has to do. There are over $3 billion in federal treatment spending. We don't control any of it directly. It's all over at HHS or the Veterans Administration. So we have to work with them on how it's delivered.

We can have a great policy idea, but if we can't sell it to another bureau, it's not going to do anybody any good.

Mr. Lawrence: In your examples in the previous question, you mentioned primarily federal agencies, but you also work with a lot of state and local organizations. I'm curious about how those relationships work.

Mr. Marston: We do, and where there's a commitment at a state or local level to really do something about the drug problem -- Baltimore's a really good example. Mayor O'Malley in Baltimore is very committed to stopping drug abuse. He's seen what happened in a city where his predecessor, as mayor, had a very liberal drug policy and just didn't enforce drug laws. He just didn't have the police do that, so at a time when the rest of the United States was growing, Baltimore had disincentive. They didn't build any new office buildings. There were whole parts of the city that were really just lawless, where drug use was just rampant and transactions on every corner were not uncommon.

Mayor O'Malley has said enough and tried to take his city back, and so there -- we go up there and visit fairly frequently. We take folk from other departments and agencies and we try and help them to organize their efforts in Baltimore.

In New Mexico, Governor -- former Governor Johnson had a very different approach to drug policies than we do. He thought that drugs should be legalized. So it was very difficult to make a lot of progress in New Mexico with a governor who thinks directly the opposite of what you do. So it varies very much from one place to the next as to how closely we can work together.

Again there, communication is really the key. We try and identify the right players in cities and states who are interested in change and want to do something about the drug problem and work to support them anyway we can.

One of the specific things we're working on, because the drug budget is so broad, we have grant programs at several different departments or agencies, and they all go through separate streams, sometimes through different state agencies, before they come back and get together again in a city, and if a city really wants to manage well and do things right, they've already got a handle on getting that money back together and to an integrated program, but in many cities, it's hard to do that. I mean, they have their own city health department or police department; they're separate, and they deal with different state agencies. they deal with different federal agencies.

So it can be a real challenge to try and bring the integration that we try to at the federal level at the state and local level. So that's a real challenge that we're working to overcome, both by working in cities. The director has actually sent us out to the 25 largest cities in America to try and work with each one to address their problem specifically, and then also at the federal level by trying to get the folks who make the grants together to make it as easy as possible to bring things back together and to be more flexible on the local level.

Mr. Lawrence: How does ONDCP measure the success of the drug control strategy initiatives?

Mr. Marston: Well, we developed in the last Administration something called the Performance Measures of Effectiveness. It was -- I think actually The Endowment has a paper on it -- and it praises the system, and I think the system deserves praise. It was the implementation that we had some problems with. It was a very good system of measures, but there was a point at which it didn't get tied back to the budget and there wasn't as much interagency cooperation at the leadership level in putting it together.

So there was a lot of resistance in departments and agencies to being bound to that system, so what the director did is start over. He said, "Look, there's one central aim. It's to reduce drug use in America," so that's the centerpiece, to reduce it by 10 percent in two years and 25 percent in five years, and now we're building the structure to support that because we can't afford to wait five years to see if the whole thing worked. We need something a little better than that.

So what we've tried to do is take those goals and then develop a few measures in each policy area; the treatment prevention and market disruption that sort of give us a general sense of policy, and then we link those to the Government Performance and Results Act, or GPRA, targets that each of the programs have set for themselves. And that way, it's linked more closely into the budget, and the bureaus that come up with their own GPRA measures don't feel like there's some system from outside being imposed on them. It's something that they're collaborating and making.

Of course, we now pay a lot more attention to the GPRA plans that agencies put together, which we didn't always do in the past. So that can generate some conflict in the budget process, too, but that's the system we're trying to build for accountability.

We want to take what's already there, that the Congress has put in place through the Results Act, and link that up to our more strategic goal at the top level.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm not knowledgeable about drug control issues, but I am curious in terms of the benchmark, about reducing consumption by 10 percent, or use by 10 percent. In terms of sort of a lot or a little, is that a radical change, a normal change? How much is that?

Mr. Marston: It's consistent with the best performance we've had in the past. Drug use from 1979 to 1991 was cut in half. So if you take -- I guess that's twelve years. So by saying, you know, five years, 25 percent, it's close to something that's been performed in the past, but the director's a big believer in setting, you know, goals for transformative change. If we don't set an aggressive target, we're not going to get there.

So there are one-year changes and two-year changes in the past where it's been, you know, 10 percent or 5 percent, which would be on a course for 25 over five years. So we think it's something that's doable and we're aiming to get there.

Mr. Lawrence: Great. It's time for a break.

Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue talking about management with Chris Marston of ONDCP.

This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Chris Marston. Chris is the chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Well, Chris, one of the things you mentioned in the last segment was improving budget and performance integration. How are you doing that at ONDCP?

Mr. Marston: Well, it's part of our effort that I described a little bit to replace our old PME system. We're working very closely with the Office of Management and Budget that's spearheading the budget and performance integration, which is really the keystone of the President's Management Agenda, and the way we're really going to make progress on all the other initiatives we set out and we're working very hard to make sure that in our budget decisionmaking, which sometimes in the past has just been based on, "Well, we need to see an aggregate increase in the total drug budget and we want to make sure we don't have, you know, any productions in the three big areas, you know: prevention, treatment, and supply reduction, and that's not really -- that's managing politically.

It's not managing government for accountability, and so we really wanted to bring accountability to the system, so we're working very closely with agencies on developing their GPRA plans and measures, the Government Performance and Results Act, and we're working with OMB in the new effort they've started, the PART SCORE. I'm not going to try their acronyms; I only know mine, but they've done a separate effort. It incorporates GPRA and some other item from the President's Management Agenda to develop a score for each agency.

They did about 20 percent of the government this year, and for all the drug control programs they did, we worked very closely with them on coming up with that assessment, and we found it to be a real helpful tool to help us drive performance out into some of the agencies. It's really easy for bureaus down in the bowels of a department to sort of get lost in the shuffle in the department.

So we're able to sort of come in at a second look. You can almost consider everybody like a -- all the drug control programs to be a top-level bureau under ONDCP in that sense; whereas in the Department of Justice of Department of State, there might be several layers down, and so they don't always get the same focus. But because they're very important to us, we bring that focus to them and we work real closely, as I said, to develop their GPRA measures and do the assessment with OMB so that we can make decisions based on who's making a difference and who's managing as though they plan to make a difference.

So we've been really aggressive with that, and we've found that to be a really exciting initiative in the President's Management Agenda.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, you mentioned the PMA a couple of times and I'm curious: ONDCP is not scored, as I understand it, in the PMA. How do you work with it or how do you use it to run the --

Mr. Marston: We're not directly scored in the, you know, red light, yellow light, green light, which some days is a relief, but we're a fairly small agency by comparison to the others. It's principally the Cabinet departments, and then they've added some other agencies, and I think a lot of the ones that were added, either they're very, very large, like the Social Security Administration, or like the National Science Foundation. They provide an example of something that's going really well. They were the only people to get a green light on the first President's Management Agenda, and, of course, OMB had to put itself in because it just wouldn't be fair to be holding everyone else accountable if they weren't doing it.

So I think the reason that we're not in it is a good one. There's only so many things we can focus on, but as part of the Executive Office of the President, we are very strongly committed to it, so we work hard with OMB and OPM to help introduce the concepts into other departments and agencies. And inside our own shop, we take on some of those initiatives: the budget and performance integration; actually very proud of our own budget submission for the salary and expense account this year in our own programs.

We actually integrated our GPRA plans and reports into our budget request document, the congressional budget justification, so we're actually marrying up our performance data and our budget request. In the past, they've been, you know, separate documents, sent at separate times and unrelated, but we take it seriously. We want our budget request to be judged on the results we're promising and what we've achieved in the past. So on that level, budget performance integration, we're very deeply integrated.

We're working hard on strategic management of human capital, but with a small workforce, it can be a real challenge. We don't have a whole lot of turnover, which is really a good sign, but it doesn't create a lot of opportunity for making transformative changes in our personnel system.

We have actually done a lot in terms of developing our rating system. The year before Director Walters was confirmed, we have a five rating system, you know, all the way from minimally successful up to -- I guess, unsatisfactory, minimally successful, fully successful, excellent, outstanding. 97 percent of the agencies received an outstanding; the balance received excellent, and while it's true that we have really good people, and I wouldn't say we didn't, it's unlikely for anything in human nature to come out that way. So we've really introduced a commitment to measuring honestly for results and we've sort of shifted that curve over a little bit. We're still not at a bell curve or anything resembling natural performance. We've made some improvements.

We've also gone back and looked at everybody's standards and turned them more from, you know, descriptions of duties into outcome-oriented standards. So we've worked very hard on that. We've had some help from OPM in doing that. We brought in some outside folks through one of their programs, the Center for Effective Government, and they've been a big help in helping us look at some of our internal systems to find ways to improve.

We're doing a pretty good job on E-Government. We have a very aggressive website that actually a contractor at Justice manages for us and we've worked very hard to make sure that that's a performance-based contract. So we've introduced that innovation.

Competitive sourcing is -- we don't have a lot of contracting activities. Most of what we have is managed by other folks; we don't have our own contracting shop. So competitive sourcing hasn't been something that we've needed to focus on or could really focus on too strongly.

Financial performance is something where we needed a lot of work. We had some trouble with our media campaign in prior years on financial performance and got into a little bit of trouble up on the Hill and with GAO over it, so it was something we were already focusing on, but the renewed commitment the President's Management Agenda brought to it helped us in sort of invigorating that effort.

Mr. Lawrence: Speaking of competitive sourcing, one of the things I noticed is that ONDCP outsources some of its functions to other government agencies, and I was curious if you could tell us like how that experience has worked and what have been the management challenges?

Mr. Marston: It presents some challenges, but it was something we really had to do. We simply don't have the infrastructure to do contract administration under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. There's something the President's Management Agenda is looking at to change. And we also don't have the infrastructure to be grants managers. Those are both very time-intensive activities that require some specialized skills. And so what we've done is gone to other places in government where that's all they do or it's a large part of what they do, and so we've let that part of the administration of the program out. We keep the policy control, but we moved the administrative and technical portion to another department or agency, and we've had very good success on our Drug-Free Communities Program, for instance.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is part of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, they've done our grant management, and they have a lot of programs that deal with youth and service to disadvantaged youth, so the Community Coalitions Program fits into that fairly well, and they have a grant management infrastructure that cuts across not just that office, but the whole of OJP, which is several billion dollars in programs. So they know grants management in a way that we never will and that we couldn't build the capacity to do.

So we have a couple people in our office that work on the policy and do the liaison with the folks over at OJJDP, to throw in another acronym, who do the grants management. So it's worked out fairly well.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you have a formal process of choosing who you'll work with or is there a rating system?

Mr. Marston: You know, the decisions, that particular decision, was made before I got there, but there were essentially three places in government to look to, that might be able to do something like that. The two criteria were strong grants management and youth-serving programs.

So the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice were the three places we looked and as I understand it, OJJDP came up strongest in terms of their grant management history. We thought that HHS might have a stronger link to this kind of service delivery, but it turned out that what we found was that OJJDP had much stronger grant management capability.

Mr. Lawrence: Often when people talk about contracting parts of their, you know, organization to other parts for service, there is a sense of they lose control and they worry about accountability. I'm curious how your experience has been.

Mr. Marston: Well, that definitely can be a problem. We haven't had it too much with our Drug-Free Communities Program, but our National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has been a whole different story. We're actually on the third contracting office that services that. One change was our choice. One was the other agency's choice.

It started at the Department of Health and Human Services, and for whatever reason, their contracting office might not have known what they were getting into exactly, but it's a big contract and it's not the kind of contract that government usually runs. We don't contract for a lot of advertising services in government, actually. There are more now public health service campaigns, but when we started ours, we were pretty much it. This and military recruiting and then work at the Census on a decennial basis were all the advertising government did and ours was very different because for the other two programs, there's a very direct outcome.

For Census advertising, it's how many Census forms do I get back? For military recruiting, it's how many recruits do I get? For our advertising campaign, it's how good a job do we do stopping people from starting drug use? So it's a very nebulous thing to measure and it's much -- it's what they call behavioral change advertising. So it's a whole different experience than anything we really had before in government, so it was quite a challenge and the award of the first contract was a challenge and they tried to get the whole program running right after the appropriation came and as I'm sure many listeners know, procurement quickly is not easy to do, particularly with such a large procurement.

So HHS ran into some contract administration problems. GAO did a couple of reports. Several congressional committees got fairly irritated, so we then shopped around for other places, and the Department of Navy actually offered the best servicing fee to manage the contracts. So we went with the Department of Navy.

They also had a place called the Defense Contract Audit Agency, who are really the best contract auditors in government. So they offered that asset as well, and they did a really good job in taking over administration of the contract and running it. Then we decided to recompete the contract.

There was a lot of scrutiny of the contractor that was in place because of the original problems we had over at HHS. So we recompeted the contract, and that was a really long and laborious process. And the Defense Department, at the same time we were doing this, decided that it really wanted to use its contracting assets internally for mission-related things. That's been a big theme of the Secretary of Defense. He's tried to get Defense to focus on its core mission.

So after the recompetition, Navy let us know that they couldn't continue to service the contract past the end of the fiscal year, so we went to probably the place we should have started, which is GovWorks, at the Department of Interior, and it's a special franchise fund. Its only purpose is to serve contracts and it's almost an independent operating corporation of the government.

It reports to the Secretary of Interior, but it doesn't receive an appropriation. It makes all its money from service fees, so it's very customer-oriented and it has great knowledge about contracting, and to date, they've done a super job. They've taken a number of contracts, performance of which is complete, but billing wasn't, and said, "Look, time to close these out;" got with the vendors, worked to close them out. So we've been really happy with that.

My advice, based on that whole situation is, you know, look real hard before you start the first time because change isn't very much fun in these enterprises.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good lesson to stop on. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our discussion about public sector management with Chris Marston of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

What role does drug control policy play in homeland security? We'll get Chris's thoughts when The Business of Government Hour returns. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Chris Marston. Chris is the chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Well, Chris, one of the interesting things I'm curious about is what role does drug enforcement play in homeland security?

Mr. Marston: Well, it's defined as one of the seven key missions of the Department of Homeland Security in the authorization legislation that just went through. It was sort of an interesting genesis. The initial push was everything's about terrorism. We don't have time to talk about any other topics. We'll build this department and everything else will work out.

It took longer than anyone hoped to get the whole bill passed and through, but Congress worked its will and the Administration supported the effort to make sure that counternarcotics work was part of what the department was going to do. So many of the departments that are being combined in the new Department of Homeland Security had key counterdrug roles: the Coast Guard doing interdiction, the INS, working the borders, the Customs Service.

Frankly, the homeland security issue has made our job a little bit easier. Before September 11th, there was less of a focus on border security and those issues and drugs didn't have the focus that it had in the late '80s when our office was started, but when you worry about something like a weapon of mass destruction or the materials to make one coming across the border, you're looking for a needle in a haystack. Regrettably, when you're looking for drugs coming across the border, they're not nearly as hard to find.

So when you're working hard to find something small, you wind up finding a lot more of the big things, which unfortunately, are drugs. So we've seen a lot more seizures at the border and we're confident we're having a lot more success as a result of the intensified efforts from homeland security.

Now that all of the folks who have border security and port security functions are going to be integrated together in a single department, we expect even more synergy to produce even better results and we now have a focus on stopping threats as far out from our borders as we can. So the Coast Guard is working farther out from the shores. We're working in international airports to stop things that might be involved in flights coming into the United States.

So that's going to help us, too. We have more of an outward presence that's also going to be able to help us stop drugs coming through.

Mr. Lawrence: How will homeland security affect -- as it will affect the mission, but I was also even thinking about the interactions. I mean, it's all going to be under one roof now.

Mr. Marston: In the short term, it probably makes coordination a little harder. In the long term, I think it makes it easier to have one Cabinet Secretary to deal with who has most of the important border and enforcement functions. It's really going to be a benefit for us, but during the transition time, as I'm sure you know, some bureaus are moving over as of March 1st. Some won't move over until September and in the interim, nobody's really sure who's in charge of what.

For example, you know, in OMB's Pass Back Process, customarily, you know, departments make requests. OMB passes back the answer to those departments. For the agencies that are going to be part of the Homeland Security Department, you know, for INS, that's at the Department of Justice, they didn't have the pass back for INS. Governor Ridge's office, the White House did. So they'll manage the appeals process with OMB in making those final decisions and that might limit the interaction that the bureau actually has in terms of discerning its own budget.

So it's very difficult to sort of draw the right organizational lines at this point and it's difficult to hold the secretary of the Treasury accountable for the performance of law enforcement agencies at Treasury when, by the end of the year, there won't be any.

So it's really a challenge right now, but I think in the end, we're going to wind up with a lot better integration of our enforcement efforts, particularly on the borders and maritime enforcement.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the management lessons you might offer Homeland Security in terms of coordinating with other departments in getting them all to work together?

Mr. Marston: Well, it's interesting you asked. We actually did a lot of work in the process of standing up the Office of Homeland Security, and then again in the process that resulted in the final bill.

Before the President made a decision to establish an Office of Homeland Security and invited Governor Ridge to head it, we met with Steve Abbott, who was at the time working for the Vice President on his homeland sort of preparedness efforts. He later became Governor Ridge's deputy, but he was largely responsible for setting up the Executive Order that created the Office of Homeland Security. And this was actually -- it was an awkward time because it was before our director was confirmed. So I went over with then our acting director and we talked to Steve Abbott about how we do things and what goes on.

Our Budget Office communicated extensively with Governor Ridge's Budget Office in developing the authorities of their office. We have some specific statutory authority to coordinate other agencies' budgets.

Bureaus have to send us their budgets the same time they do to the main department. We provide feedback to the Secretary and what we think of their budget submission in addition to what his folks think. Then all the departments have to send us their budget requests at the same time they send it to OMB. So we communicate with OMB what we think about their budget request and we actually have some execution authorities.

We can issue a funds control notice, which is a terrible-sounding thing that we very rarely do, but that essentially says for this amount of funds over whatever period of time, you may not obligate it for any purpose except this. In a collaborative government where we're all playing for the same team, you don't use those very often, but just knowing that that's there sometimes makes other agencies pay a little more attention. So we work through issues like that with Governor Ridge and how he might implement a similar budget process in his office.

We also were in the somewhat awkward position of taking questions from various congressional sources as they were developing their position on how to build a new Homeland Security Infrastructure, whether it be an office at the White House or a separate department, and there were some people who said, "Well, let's just take the ONDCP model and use it for homeland security."

That wasn't the Administration's position, because it was a different problem that required a different solution. At the same time, we have an obligation to explain how we work to various congressional committees. So that was a bit of a challenge, to, you know, balance our responsibilities in the Executive Branch to the information we needed to provide to Congress, but as a result, we wound up being fairly heavily involved in the whole process and I think in the end very helpful in getting it done.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's look out to the future. What's your vision for ONDCP over the next five to ten years?

Mr. Marston: Well, over the next five years, we have our central goal of reducing drug use by 25 percent, and we need to work hard on our interagency collaboration and our sort of intergovernmental collaboration, taking the good things that we produce in federal agencies and driving them downs to states and localities where they can really make a difference. It's probably a little ambitious, but over ten years, I hope we can go out of business.

The drug problem in America is something we can address and are addressing and I think we can have a lot of success, and I'd love to get to a point where drugs aren't a big enough problem to need a central coordinating office, where we can sort of let the programs we have out there continue in smaller form because there's less of a problem to address.

Putting ourselves out of business is our job. It's an awkward position to be in, but that's what we really want to do.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the management challenges for the ONDCP on the immediate horizon?

Mr. Marston: We talked a little about homeland security and the sort of short-term problems that's going to cause, but every time there's a change in political leadership anywhere in government, reeducating them about their relationship with our office and how we can work together to reduce the drug problem is always a challenge.

We have to continue strong relationships with career officials all over the government and then make sure that we're part of the calculation that political officials make as they do their decisionmaking in their own departments and agencies.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's interesting when we were -- a couple of questions ago, you were talking about homeland security and people saying, "Let's copy the ONDCP model." I wonder about sort of the need for more of these coordinating offices, the way you describe ONDCP, in the Executive Office of the President. Do you think we might see more of that for other programs?

Mr. Marston: I'd be a little bit surprised. I don't want to say the drug issue is completely unique, but I think for the issues that have coordinating groups in the Executive Office of the President, like the Council on Environmental Quality is another good example; you know, EPA, Interior, Agriculture, all share some responsibility, so the more diffused responsibility for the total policy area is in the Federal Government, the more important it is to have a central management function.

So I don't think there's a lot of things that are like that, that are going to continue to come up. It's much easier the way government works to have a single Cabinet official who is responsible for a single policy area and then you know where to go when there's a problem and who to talk to about solutions. It's a real challenge on something like drug policy where there are so many people who are affected and it's so broad, or on the environment, where the same thing applies. But I don't think you're going to see a whole lot of problems like that.

The National Security Council sort of does that for anything that's outward focused and the Domestic Policy Council plays that role, along with the National Economic Council for things that are internally focused. So it's an issue of developing policy to the President that's to be executed in one place or in very few places that requires collaboration between two or maybe three departments.

You know, I think those organizations are equipped to deal with it. I think it's only where something spreads out much more broadly over the government that you really need a central coordinating function.

OMB plays that role for some things that are more broad, but where there's a really important policy emphasis and not just sort of a budget integration emphasis, it's important to have some substantive experts in addition to the budget and finance and management experts at OMB.

So I think that's kind of where we fit in and I don't really see a lot of issues on the horizon that are going to be like that.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me ask you to be reflective here for a minute. What advice would you give to a person interested in a public sector career?

Mr. Marston: Try it out. It's really great.

I actually -- I never expected, when I was in high school or college, that I would wind up in public service exclusively, and to date, that's what I've done, and there are days that are very, very frustrating. Government doesn't move at the speed of light. Some things don't go well. Some things are very frustrating. It's not like being a CEO. You don't always get to make the decision.

In the end, you know you're working on something very important and you know you're doing it for very important people and for a country you love and that can be very rewarding.

So it's been a great experience for me, and I actually -- especially hope that people who have been in the private sector will bring some of the expertise they've developed there into the public sector because that's really how we can improve management and make government more efficient and have less of those bad days.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's great.

Thanks, Chris, for being with us this morning.

Mr. Marston: Thank you, Paul.

If people are interested in more information, they can visit us on the web at www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov. Another interesting resource is www.results.gov, which the Administration is using to communicate about the President's Management Agenda with its officials. And I think people might really enjoy that.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Chris Marston, chief of staff in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about programs and get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

See you next week.

Christopher Marston interview
01/04/2003
Christopher Marston

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