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.

Donna Beecher interview

Friday, December 28th, 2001 - 20:00
Donna Beecher
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/29/2001
Intro text: 
Human Capital Management...

Human Capital Management

Complete transcript: 

Friday, November 2, 2001

Washington, D.C.

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The 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

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resource Management, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Good morning, Donna.

MS. BEECHER: Good morning, Paul, it's good to be with you this morning.

MR. LAWRENCE: Great, and joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson. Good morning, Steve.

MR. WATSON: Good morning, Donna, thanks for joining us.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Donna, many of our listeners may not be familiar with the mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could you take a minute and describe its role and the activities for our listeners?

MS. BEECHER: Actually, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has several missions, such as helping expand markets for farm producers; insuring a safe food supply; managing national forests; and promoting rural development.

Our agencies do such varied things as inspecting eggs, poultry, and meat for safety; conducting agricultural research; protecting the health of plants and animals in this country by inspecting products that are shipped into the country or come in through our ports. We administer food stamps and school lunch programs. So, you can see, we have a variety of missions and we touch people's lives.

MR. WATSON: Donna, how many employees carry out those missions at USDA and what sort of positions do you have and skill sets unique in carrying those out?

MS. BEECHER: We have a little over 80,000 permanent, full-time employees with the department. The types of positions that you would find in our workforce are foresters, forestry technicians, plant protection quarantine officers and technicians, veterinarians, soil conservationists, researchers, economists. We're a very science-based organization and many of our positions require some college education or degree work in the sciences, in the biological sciences, particularly.

We also employ wildfire fighters, fire jumpers and people who protect our land in the event of forest fires. And, as any large department, we have a full spectrum of management support positions, such as procurement, accounting, IT.

MR. WATSON: Where are you in the United States, everywhere?

MS. BEECHER: We are everywhere. We have employees in over 6,000 different locations, many of which do not work in traditional office settings. They're in food processing plants, they're at airports and seaports, they're out in national forests. Even our soil conservationists are often out in the farmland working with a farmer advising him on how to protect his land from runoff and to protect the quality of his soil.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, tell us about your career, how did you get to USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I've been at USDA just since March of '99. I have spent my whole career with the federal government and within the federal government in human resources management.

I began as an intern with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I progressed through a variety of positions there to become a charter member of the Senior Executive Service. And, since then, have moved laterally within the federal government from HUD to HEW, now Health and Human Services, then to the Office of Personnel Management and then to USDA.

MR. LAWRENCE: How did you get involved with human resources?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I actually had a summer internship at the Internal Revenue Service in their personnel office. I selected an internship with HUD at the end of my graduate program because I wanted to work for HUD, being a brand-new Cabinet department and facing a lot of management issues of how you bring disparate agencies together around a common mission.

I was offered a position in the personnel office there and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to shape the personnel policies and programs of a new department.

MR. WATSON: Donna, what drew you to public service?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I attended a great college, Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. One of the strongest departments in that school was their Political Science Department. But after majoring in political science, I thought I needed to cap that off with a graduate degree in a more career preparatory field and I chose public administration over journalism. I may still be a frustrated journalist, but I like to think that I wanted to make things happen, rather than to report on things that were happening.

MR. LAWRENCE: When you left graduate school, what were the choices? Was it clear you were going into government or were there other choices that were equally attractive at that time?

MS. BEECHER: It was clear to me that I was going to go into government. At that time, the federal government had very robust recruitment programs and the HUD mission, together with; again, it's formative state, as a Cabinet department really attracted me.

MR. LAWRENCE: Take a moment and reflect on your career and maybe pick out a couple of positions that best prepared you for your job and tell us about those experiences and what you learned from each of them.

MS. BEECHER: I think, in looking back, that all of my positions in sequence have prepared me in one way or another, but one that really stands out is the position I held when I first moved from HHS to OPM.

I was the assistant director -- and this is a mouthful -- for the Office of Systems Innovation and Simplification. But it was an opportunity to shape a research agenda for federal human resources management and to develop the first strategic plan for federal human resources management. This is back in the '87/'88 timeframe and people, a lot of people weren't talking strategic planning back then, so it was quite a first.

The value of that position for me was it really stretched my time horizons. I had to think long-term. I had to think into the future and to project where the government's federal human resources challenges would be coming from.

At the time, the Volker (phonetic) Commission had issued a report saying that we were failing miserably in competing for the best and the brightest. And so the strategic plan that we crafted was all based around helping the federal government become more competitive as an employer.

Another part of that position which has stayed with me for the rest of my career has been my opportunity to shape demonstration projects across government. The China Lake demonstration project with performance-based pay banding in the Navy was underway, but that was it. And over the course of a few years, we launched a number of new demonstration projects, including one that I've had the opportunity to follow-up on at USDA, the categorical rating as an alternative to the "rule of three."

MR. WATSON: Donna, in your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership and what do you see as the top qualities for good leadership in the twenty-first century?

MS. BEECHER: I think I see myself as a visionary and maybe I'm projecting, but I think vision and the ability to connect with people and help people connect to a vision is an important quality. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than a day-to-day work environment. And I think an effective leader helps make that possible for people.

I think, in personal terms, authenticity is a critical quality for an effective executive; someone who people believe they're speaking truthfully, they're speaking from the heart, they act on their beliefs, and they strike people as a very authentic person.

I happen to think people get farthest who have small egos and who are not pushing their personal agenda, but are doing the work that needs to be done.

And, lastly, a quality that's important to me, particularly in today's world, with the Government Performance and Results Act, is the courage to be judged by outcomes that are not completely within your control.

MR. LAWRENCE: There's no doubt the vision thing is hard to do. But let's assume that away. You also mentioned communication and staying connected. How does one do that in the department like USDA, it's so diverse, so large, as well as being so spread out?

MS. BEECHER: Well, it's difficult. In fact, communications is one of the biggest challenges in our department. People are so spread out and we are not in a place, today, where we have automated systems that easily connect the Secretary to someone on a frontline.

It, actually, in my view, is a person-to-person-type of relationship that supervisors are able to establish a sound, caring relationship with everyone in their organization and that there's a high quality of conversation that occurs between managers and employees.

We read studies that we should be concerned about retirement and so forth because that's going to create vacancies and succession planning and so forth. I think what I would put a higher priority on is the quality of managers we select, because people tell us, time and again, that the number-one reason they quit their job to go work for somebody else is they don't get along with the person they work for. So, I think the communications, on a very personal level, are really critical.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a good stopping point. It's time for a break, but come back with us after the break as we continue our conversation with Donna Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We'll ask her about some of the hiring practices at USDA. Find out more about this when we continue with The Business of Government Hour.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resources Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

MR. WATSON: Donna, we hear a lot about the difficulty federal government agencies face in recruiting employees. Can you describe the recruiting efforts conducted by the USDA and the steps you're taking to recruit new employees?

MS. BEECHER: I'd be happy to. One of the things that we're doing is beefing up our connectivity to colleges and universities, particularly, the land-grant colleges, the 1890 colleges and the Hispanic-serving institutions.

We have a reputation for years of having some of the best student-employment programs in government. And we are very proud of that and want to expand our use of student-employment programs to an even greater extent.

I often hear managers wishing that they had direct-hire authority. And my response to them is you have it. The college-cooperative education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate-school level, really allow you to, either with the help of a faculty or department head, to identify a student who you think is really a good fit in your organization and hire them as a cooperative-education student, let them work in your organization while they're finishing their degree, and when they complete their degree, you can convert them into your permanent workforce.

USDA was a delightful discovery for me that we actually have full-time liaisons on a number of college campuses. We have full-time liaisons in all of the 1890 schools and we have a national fellows program that brings some of those students in to work with us on a guaranteed four-year fellowship.

We also have Hispanic-serving institution liaisons who cover a broader geographic area. They may cover an entire state but they are our eyes and ears on what is going on on college campuses in that region and they highlight for us key events where they think USDA needs to be there. We need to have a presence; we need to educate students about our mission and what we do.

We have, actually, trained a recruitment cadre of over 100 people from various agencies and occupations. They are positioned all over the country and when one of our HSI liaison's, for example, says there's a recruitment fair in New Mexico, we can quickly put a team of people together who represent the different disciplines that we hire in USDA.

We have developed new recruitment literature. We have a little, a very popular mini-CD that we hand out in our recruitment visits. And I understand, we will be, if not the first, one of the first Cabinet departments to actually launch a career intern program under the recently issued Executive Order authorizing career intern programs in federal agencies.

MR. LAWRENCE: How about more broadly? What are the biggest challenges, the biggest HR challenges facing USDA, today?

MS. BEECHER: I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that people are engaged in serving their customers and understand the program strategic goals that the department is pursuing. There are some areas where we have some major challenges in recruiting people, primarily veterinarians and senior biological researchers, but other than that, I think we have been enjoying a pretty robust response to our vacancy announcements and our job advertisements because we have made a commitment to advertise virtually all of our jobs, open to all qualified persons and keep those windows open for the receipt of interested applications for a minimum of 30 days.

And we have seen a real bump up in the number of applications and in the quality of applications as a result of that.

MR. WATSON: Donna, we know the USDA conducted a demonstration project, hiring practice known as the "rule of three." Could you tell us a little bit about it, the lessons learned and going forward?

MS. BEECHER: Let met tell you -- set the stage for this by briefly describing how the "rule of three" works, which is the traditional way that the government examines for hiring into the competitive service or the Civil Service.

When people apply for jobs with the federal government, their application is scored on a scale of 0.0 to 100.0 and we're talking tenths of percentage points, here. And once someone is -- all the applicants are given their raw scores, the veterans who are eligible for preference in hiring receive additional points added to their raw score to create an adjusted score.

Then an examining office will take all of the applications and array them in very strict numerical score order. The "rule of three" says in a quick way, that the selecting official is limited in his or her selection to he top three people on the list.

Now, the way that works in practice is that that's three individuals. It's often, that you have tied scores, but the law is three individuals. And so, you have to break that tie in some way and there are a number of ways that you can do that. But one of the ones that's used often is random number generator. And that kind of creates an arbitrary break so that you can be very clear who are the top three individuals that you're allowed to consider.

Also, as part of the "rule of three" you cannot pass over a preference-eligible in order to select a non-veteran. So, if you had one preference-eligible at the top of your list and then the next two people were not veterans, you really are talking about a "rule of one." It's a way of translating merit and the public policy to give veterans preference in employment into an operating examining system.

What USDA took on as a demonstration project, was an alternative to the "rule of three," called categorical rating and ranking. In the two agencies that participated in the project, the U.S. Forest Service and the Agricultural Research Service, they do not assign numerical scores to job applicants. Instead, they sort them into quality groupings or quality categories based on pre-established job-related criteria. Within each category, the veterans are automatically at the top. And, in many respects, the USDA demonstration project is a way of guaranteeing veterans absolute preference in employment.

When a selecting official in these two agencies is presented with a selection list, they can choose any one of the veterans in the quality group and that may be 10, 15, 20, I mean, they have a much broader range of selection within the high-quality veterans.

If there are no veterans in the quality group, they can make their selection from any of the non-veterans in the quality group. The main advantage of the demonstration project is that it gives mangers much more scope of choice among high-quality people. It isn't necessarily a tool for speeding up the hiring process, but it's a tool for eliminating a lot of arbitrariness in the process and really, it makes more common sense to people, they understand that you can't predict success in a job to the tenth of a percentage point, but you can, generally, segregate the high-quality applicants who meet the qualification requirements, but don't quite rise to that level?

MR. LAWRENCE: Has there been any feedback on what the results of this new hiring process has yielded? It seems obvious that the administration of it is now more straightforward, but how about in terms of effectiveness of the candidates, for example?

MS. BEECHER: The managers in the two agencies that use the process are very pleased with, again, their role in the process; they have some say in what the criteria will be; they appreciate the fact that they are getting higher-quality candidates, and more of them to choose from. So their reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. When we come back we'll ask Donna Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture about some of the new tools the President would like to give federal government leaders.We'll find out about some of the flexibilities in the new Freedom to Manage Act when The Business of Government Hour Continues.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Donna Beecher, Director of Office of Human Resource Management with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

MR. WATSON: Donna, President Bush recently announced his Freedom to Manage Act, which includes human resource flexibilities to help recruit and retain federal workers. How would these flexibilities in hiring, training, and compensation affect USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, many of the flexibilities in the Management Flexibilities Act, which is part of the Freedom to Manage Initiative, have been flexibilities, we've wanted for sometime. We're very pleased to see this legislative proposal.

The flexibilities that would specifically benefit our organizations: One would be the ability to straightforwardly pay for employees to obtain academic degrees and certificates. It's very important to today's workers to understand that their employer is invested in their continuing learning and development. And we have many employees who would really like to keep their education and their development moving and being able to pay for academic degrees would send a very important signal and help us both recruit and retain.

Another feature that we like very much about the Management Flexibilities Act is the ability to use recruitment and recruitment bonuses and retentional allowances in more tailored and customized ways.

Today, a recruitment bonus is, essentially, given in a lump sum when the person -- like a signing bonus, when they come on-board -- and a retention allowance must be paid in bi-weekly increments, with their regular paycheck. But we are looking forward to the possibility of being able to use those flexibilities a little more creatively, where we could take a retention allowance and position it out as, if you stay for two years, we'll give you a lump sum and a recruitment bonus may be something that we give you a signing bonus, but we'll also give you a pay increment for the first six months or so to carry you through.

The other piece of this is that we can actually expand the amount of money on the table by the length of the service agreement that the employee is willing to sign. So, if they're willing to sign a service agreement for two years, we actually can double the threshold amounts that we can offer in either of those incentive payments. That's a big plus for us.

There's a whole segment of the Management Flexibilities Act that makes it easier to launch new demonstration projects and to expand existing demonstration projects when they have been determined to be successful.

So one of the first things I would expect USDA would do would go to OPM and say, you have agreed for sometime that our demonstration project in categorical rating and ranking is successful, we would now like to have that approved for the whole department as an alternative personnel system.

I also understand that the performance-based, pay-banding systems are ready for that good housekeeping seal of approval, as well, though I'm not aware that there are any agencies in USDA who are pressing at this time to adopt a pay-banding system. That's not to say that won't happen in the future and it would be wonderful if this act passes and we can simply go to the Office of Personnel Management and ask their approval, as opposed to getting a law passed through Congress.

MR. LAWRENCE: What kinds of technology does the USDA use to manage human resources?

MS. BEECHER: Well, we use the Legacy systems that are operated by the National Finance Center for the most part. We have access to some Web-based tools through the National Finance Center. They have a nice reporting center that people can use to access data reports and things of that sort. And they offer some direct self-service options for employees who want to change addresses or other kinds of benefits and so forth; as well as a personal page where the employee can call up information about their pay history. So there's some very good services offered there.

Three of our large agencies have procured a commercial, off-the-shelf human resource system and they're very pleased with the results of that.

Other automation tools that we use -- I think of them more as boutique software packages that we imported into the department to really boost our effectiveness in human resources management. We have two agencies that are using a commercial service that automates the classification of position descriptions. And four of our agencies are currently testing three different software products or services that dramatically automate and streamline the process.

MR. LAWRENCE: When you say these tools are well received, are they received because they reduce the time or the cost to perform the process and/or do they give the employee more information about what is recorded about them and insight into the system?

MS. BEECHER: It's a little bit of both. Let me, maybe, give you an example in the staffing automation area. It dramatically streamlines the process. The applicant can apply online and can, in most of these systems, actually access some information online about the status of their application as the hiring process proceeds. So, it's both an efficiency issue within the processing of a hiring transaction, as well as a service to people who can more easily follow-up on what's the status of my application.

MR. WATSON: How does technology and e-government fit into future HR plans at FDA?

MS. BEECHER: Again, I see more and more of our HR services, both information and transaction processing, done directly in a self-service mode, using Web-based products and software. The staffing piece is, again, an example of how we -- when someone wants to fill a position, we create, online, a vacancy announcement and a job-specific questionnaire that asks each applicant to indicate the degree to which they have actually used or have experience in performing certain tasks. Their responses are then tallied and formed into an overall rating and the selection lists are very quickly produced.

One of the advantages is we don't care if we, in fact, we're delighted if we have 100,000 applicants, whereas, for many years without this kind of technology to support us, we would have tried to manage the number of applications, maybe by saying that only employees within the Department of Agriculture could apply for this opening. And now we are, really, at liberty to declare the merit system truly open because we are not overly concerned about receiving a very large number of applications for any of our positions.

The applicants love this because they can apply online, answering the questionnaire, typically, takes them about 15 to 20 minutes, as opposed to the days of anguish many people tell you they experience in writing narrative summaries of how they have demonstrated that they meet certain knowledge, skills, and abilities. So applicants find it to be a very easy and user-friendly, and we have had people tell us, anecdotally, I wouldn't have even applied if I couldn't apply this way, because I simply didn't have the time to put together a more traditional application.

MR. LAWRENCE: How long did it take USDA to adopt what you described as the automatic staffing, from sort of getting comfortable, sort of seeing the problem -- lots of paper, to getting comfortable with a whole new way of doing it, how long did that take?

MS. BEECHER: Well, we did not develop the technology to do that. It was developed by others. The three systems that we're experimenting with right now: One is a system that was developed by the Office of Personnel Management; is now called USA Staffing, and we're using it in two modes. We have one mission area that has actually imported the technology into their operation and they do the work. The other is, we actually pay OPM to do the work on a reimbursable agreement. And we have two commercial products, as well.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, it's time for a break. And rejoin us after the break as we continue our conversation with Donna Beecher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With all the possible retirements, we'll find out who'll be left running the department when The Business of Government Hour returns.


MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resource Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and joining us is our conversation is another PWC partner, Steve Watson.

MR. WATSON: Donna, we hear a lot about the coming government retirement wave and the expected impact on federal agencies. What kind of challenges does this present to USDA and what are your plans to address it?

MS. BEECHER: Well, Steve, I think we're pretty typical of your average federal agency with respect to people becoming eligible for retirement in the now, next five-to-ten years. One challenge that presents for us is the potential loss of institutional memory and the brain drain, if you will.

And a way that we are working to address that challenge is to imbed as much knowledge as we can into smart systems and to automated business processes, whether they're e-gov or Web-based tools, so that that knowledge is captured.

The other challenge it presents is accelerating the learning curve for new executives and managers who are coming into the system or coming up the ranks. They simply won't have the luxury of moving through chairs of evermore difficult or challenging leadership positions at a pace of every three-to-five years, perhaps, moving on. They're going to be put into positions much faster and will have to accelerate their learning.

One approach that we are taking in USDA is working with all of our agencies to develop leadership development programs, not just at the 15 level, where people might be looking for opportunities to move into the Senior Executive Service, but more importantly, leadership development programs at all or many more levels in the organization. And tailoring that with some expanded use of executive coaching to work with individual managers, particularly new managers, people who are taking on new roles, so that they are as successful as they can possibly be.

MR. LAWRENCE: You mentioned that the USDA reaches out to a lot of college campuses and, so, people come up and say why should I join USDA? What advice do you give them about a career in government or even USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I think that public service is a noble calling. I think it presents an opportunity for people that are naturally other-centered. They want to make a difference; they want to be of service to others. It gives them opportunities to really act on that motivation.

Working for USDA and working for many other departments and agencies present opportunities to make a difference and to address some of the most pressing challenges and issues facing our society and the world. I think that capturing that notion of challenge and making a difference is what really appeals to young people today.

MR. WATSON: We hear about the difficulties that federal agencies have recruiting technology workers, in particular. What steps is USDA taking to both recruit and retain technology workers?

MS. BEECHER: One initiative that we're very proud of is our department has become one of the pilot agencies for a new approach to hiring technology workers, which, if successful, will be expanded government wide. This is a natural fit, but in our IT organizations, we're making use of some pilot online recruitment testing capability where people can apply online, they can take written tests in some very specific technologies and competencies. They can actually do online-structured interviews right from their personal computer.

Our IT workers say that they think that that approach just speaks to them. It gives them a sense that we really know what we're looking for and that we're talking their language. And we're relating to them in mediums that they feel very comfortable with. So, again, we're hoping that we will see greater interest in our positions and more quality candidates coming through our doors.

MR. LAWRENCE: There seems to have been a trend towards decentralization of the human resource functions within the federal government. I'd be interested if you believe there is such a trend and, also, what you think about it. Do you expect to continue and how that plays out at USDA?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I think there are kind of several sub trends. First of all, agencies do have far more discretion in establishing policies and tailoring various packages together to really meet the needs that their agencies face. And I expect that that will continue and that with the Management Flexibilities Act, with the possibility of more demonstration projects, people will have more leeway to fashion HR programs to meet their needs.

I do think, though, that we're going to see a consolidation of some of the more repetitive processes in government; the processing of personnel transactions. Even things like benefit counseling will probably be pulled together into some more centralized processing centers.

Another phenomenon that's happening here is that agencies are realizing they don't have the bench strength any longer; following the previous initiatives to downsizing the federal government, they don't have the ability to dedicate staff resources to continually reinventing the same wheel. So, they are very motivated to learn from each other and to collaborate more on the development of standard approaches or corporate approaches to HR. They're not being driven to it by some third-party authority, but they see it in their self-interest to pool their resources to collaborate to develop corporate approaches where that seems to make sense.

MR. WATSON: Donna, what is your vision for USDA's human resources over the next ten years?

MS. BEECHER: I would love to see the human resources offices in USDA become very valued enterprises for the quality of analysis and advice and ideas that they serve up to agency leaders for how to engage people and to create more customer satisfaction and just to deliver our mission more effectively.

MR. LAWRENCE: What do you think the skills of the HR employees in the future will look like? In an answer you gave just a second ago, you talked about some of the unique challenges -- they'll be fewer of them, a lot more transactions will be centralized, they'll be self-service. I'm wondering what these employees will look like and what they'll be doing?

MS. BEECHER: They will be, I think, using a higher set of skills; they'll be looking at data; they'll be managing surveys; they'll be conducting focus groups; they'll be taking data and information and putting it together to present to decision-makers a business case for changing the way we manage people in some or a other aspect. And to continually introduce new ideas that are responsive to the needs of employees and to the needs of the agencies that we work with.

MR. LAWRENCE: What management challenges will these new employees, these new type skills, these new type employees present to the managers of HR?

MS. BEECHER: Well, I think that HR managers will need to be ready to adapt flexibilities to meet needs of individual employees -- the idea of treating everybody as if they're kind of interchangeable units or something is certainly not going to be part of the future; people will have individual needs. Listening to people and helping them to feel engaged and connected.

I think, also, HR people will need to be ready to explain the reasoning behind certain policies and programs so that people have a context in which to understand it. It's not good enough to say, well, that's just the way it is or that's the rule. You really need to treat people as if they're intelligent adults who want to understand why HR policies are the way they are and how that can work to their benefit.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Donna, I'm afraid we're out of time. Steve and I want to thank you for joining us today.

MS. BEECHER: Thank you very much for having me, I enjoyed talking with you.

MR. LAWRENCE: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Donna Beecher, Director, Office of Human Resource Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Be sure and visit us on the Web at There, you can learn more about our programs in research and also get a transcript of today's interesting conversation.

Once again, that's

This is Paul Lawrence, see you next week.

Donna Beecher interview
Donna Beecher

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