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.

Dr. Jeff Pon interview

Friday, June 29th, 2007 - 20:00
"I act as the principal advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary in all matters concerning our workforce, the development, retention, and recruitment of our workforce."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/30/2007
Intro text: 
Human Capital Management; Strategic Thinking; Missions and Programs ...

Human Capital Management; Strategic Thinking; Missions and Programs

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Full Radio Interview Transcript

Dr. Jeff Pon
Chief Human Capital Officer
Department of Energy

Originally Broadcast Saturday, June 30, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created 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

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Morales: Good morning. This is Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a rich and diverse history, with the lineage tracing back to the Manhattan Project. Today, DOE stands at the forefront of helping this nation meet its energy, scientific, environmental, and national security goal of developing and deploying new energy technologies and reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources.

The success of such a critical mission rests on DOE's pursuit of an effective workforce strategy.

With us this morning to discuss the Department of Energy's strategic human capital efforts is Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Good morning, Jeff.

Dr. Pon: Good morning, Albert.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Thomas: Good morning, Al, and good morning, Jeff.

Dr. Pon: Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Morales: Jeff, let's start off by learning more about your department. Many of our listeners are generally familiar with the U.S. Department of Energy. But can you give us an overview of the history and the mission of the Department?

Dr. Pon: Absolutely. It's probably one of the richest histories in our nation. As you take a look at the Department of Energy, I'd like to hearken it back to the three isms. We've combated three isms: one, fascism, Manhattan Project yielding the atomic bomb ending World War II; communism, the Cold War era, where we had to basically give a lot of resources to the nuclear complex to combat the rise and fall of the former U.S.S.R; and now terrorism. We're developing bomb technology, different types of detection technology. We are tasked as a mission for non-nuclear proliferation across the world, and we also maintain the nuclear stockpile.

Those are three great missions that the U.S. Department of Energy has had in its history. But truth be known about this, as I was prepping for this interview, many people always hearken back to the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer and how he built the team with contractors.

But I had this factoid actually run across my desk. On August 2, 1939, Albert Einstein actually wrote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about research in developing a powerful bomb, and that Einstein noted that Germans had stopped the sales of uranium, and German physicists were engaging in uranium research. That was probably one of the pivotal points where a scientist actually interacted with one of our chiefs of state. And I think from that interaction kind of grew a lot of the notion of a patriotic scientist.

Mr. Morales: Well, Jeff, that's certainly a very rich history and a very broad mission that you've described for the Department. To help give us a sense of scale, could you tell us how the Department is organized? Can you tell us a little bit about the size, the budget? You referenced the mix between federal employees and contractors. And also, can you describe the geographic footprint of the Department?

Dr. Pon: Sure, absolutely. Well, first, I forgot to mention that in 1977, President Carter actually formalized the Department of Energy, and our first Energy Secretary was Jim Schlesinger. About 200 employees actually took over Building 5 at DoD, which is now known as the Forrestal Building.

But in 1977, we kind of came together kind of like DHS. I sometimes describe the Energy Department as being a myriad of different types of agencies. Those agencies were the Federal Energy Administration, Energy Research and Development Administration, Federal Power Commissions. We run Bonneville Power Administration, which has a lot of different dams, utilities, transmission lines all the way from the Columbia River system, Washington, Oregon, and also California, and it runs the gamut. So we do a lot of different things and a lot of different missions.

Really, I think it's important to note that the Department Of Energy's footprint is a domestic agenda. We have about 14,000 federal people across the whole entire complex. We run 27 national laboratories, some of which you probably know of: Lawrence Berkeley, Sandia National Laboratories, Argonne, Fermi, too many to list in this conversation. But we pride ourselves as being on the forefront of scientific discovery. Where else in the whole entire world can you actually claim that you work for an organization that's trying to discover the meaning of the universe, mapping the human genome, making little stars at the NIF program? NIF stands for National Ignition Facility, where we actually fuse materials together to create different types of materials.

One of my first experiences as a person that was growing up in the Bay Area was actually taking a tour at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. And it was so inspirational, after 20-30 years growing up in the Bay Area and going over Interstate 280 and looking at, very quickly, on Sand Hill Road, the Stanford Linear Accelerator, that big two-mile stretch that goes right underneath 280, and actually knowing that you're a part of that complex and knowing that you're a part of a rich history of science and technology, 85 Nobel laureates that are associated with our DOE complex. That's just something that I take great pride in representing. And I hope that we're great stewards of the future of scientists and technologists in the Department of Energy.

Mr. Morales: Absolutely fascinating.

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, now that you've provided us with the scope of the Department, and certainly a very fascinating description of the Department, could you tell us more about your specific role? What are your responsibilities and duties as Energy's Chief Human Capital Officer? And could you tell us about the areas under your purview, how your office is organized, the size of your staff, as well as the budget?

Dr. Pon: Solly, I'll address that in a couple of different ways. I'll give you the standard one, which is the CHCO Act, or the Chief Human Capital Officers Act of 2002. We're supposed to be the principal advisors to the head of the agencies. I do act as the principal advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary in all matters concerning our workforce, the development, retention, and recruitment of our workforce.

But moreover, I think in the private sector, you have this thing called "duties as assigned." That's very much emphasized here. We're not only working as human resources people, but really as strategic business partners to our most-senior leadership here. We're in a business model. We run a $24 billion business. We're the largest funder of the physical sciences, so we have a large responsibility to do what's critical for workforce planning in alignment with the mission. That is my primary mission and goal, to make sure that we have the right talent at the right time at the right place.

Mr. Thomas: And regarding those responsibilities and duties, what are the most significant challenges that you face in your position, and how have you addressed these challenges?

Dr. Pon: My responsibility is to make sure that each and every one of our managers has the right information to make some critical decisions. We make sure while we are recruiting, selecting, and retaining people that our workforce strategies are effective, in alignment with our priorities as an organization.

If you take a look at the history of DOE, one of the chief challenges that we have is working together. Each and every one of our sites has a rich history, has their Nobel Prize winners. These different types of confluences around our whole entire complex makes it very difficult to align to a whole entire strategic mission and be one Energy Department.

But when you come down to it, I think if you were to explain the Department of Energy, we're really in the business of managing science, technology for energy security, national security, and American competitiveness in an environmentally responsible way. That's a huge portfolio.

I asked the Secretary of Energy, are we a one company, one corporation, with a leadership philosophy that's integrated across our organization, where the golden mean or the bar is set at a certain level and everybody follows it, or are we a holding company with 24 or 27 different LLCs? He answered it by saying, "I believe that we are the latter, but striving to be the former."

And that's my job here, it's to make sure that we're aligning people practices, financial practices with the CFO acquisition practices, because at the end of the day, if you're talking about functional things, and I know that The Business of Government program has not only human capital officers on but CFO, COOs, and other different types, the bottom line is making sure your organization effectively is managed across the organization. So that's what we're trying to do.

And in my office, we're tasked with doing some pretty interesting things that aren't just human resources-related, but human capital-related. running in human resources, too.

Mr. Morales: Well, I do want to get into some of the details of how you do keep the trains running in such a complex organization. But I'd like to learn a little bit more about you first, Jeff.

You referenced the private sector, and you're relatively new to the government, so I'm curious. Can you tell us a little bit about your private sector career and what brought you to the federal government?

Dr. Pon: Sure. I came here to the federal government as a Presidential appointee this time. I came here to serve this country and give back. That's one of the more important things that myself and my family wanted to do. It's really unplugged from the private sector. My wife and I were working in some great companies. I ran a couple of companies then at the time. I was experienced in doing a large-scale change at a big technology company, a Fortune 250 company, repositioning them, going from 57 general ledgers to three.

So is that human capital? I would say it is because it has to do with the management of human resources and how people make decisions.

Mr. Morales: Jeff, that's obviously a very broad background, so I'm curious. How have those experiences shaped your current leadership style and how you manage today?

Dr. Pon: I think I'm blessed to having this job come here, because it's really at the intersection of where my sweet spot is. I'm an industrial organizational psychologist, an organizational change management expert.

And I take a look at the government as being the most challenging organization, the most important company to run -- 1.8 billion people. So I take a look at the complexity of our human resources function here in the federal government, and I take a look at it as an opportunity to improve an existing working system, and taking the evolutionary approach of doing things in the government that's very meaningful for managers.

Some of the policies and personnel procedures that we have were designed in the 1940s and '50s, and continue to be managed and run that way. We have certain market pressures that we face as a federal government, and we're addressing those things in a concerted effort. So what brings me here is really a sense of challenge. It's really to make sure that it's a collaborative -- as the President says -- citizen-centered, market-driven, results-oriented government. And I think that's what the taxpayer expects. They want to make sure that the federal government is working in an effective and efficient manner.

Mr. Morales: That's great.

So what is the Department of Energy's human resource strategy? We will ask Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Jeff, let's take a moment to discuss the President's Management Agenda, or the PMA. The Department of Energy continues to maintain its Green status in human capital management under the PMA. Could you elaborate on your efforts in getting to Green? What challenges did DOE have in overcoming its own internal workings to get to this level? And what does the Department need to do to sustain the status going forward?

Dr. Pon: Just to qualify, I've been at the Department of Energy for about 14, 15 months. We were Green when I entered; hopefully it'll stay that way. So that was largely with my partner over there, Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer, Claudia Cross, and the staff that she built.

The areas that we've achieved to get to Green is making sure that we have a strategic plan for the whole entire organization -- a five-year strategic human capital plan that's integrated across our whole entire organization. It's making sure that we're closing the gaps in mission critical occupations, in IT, in program management, in project management, HR. There's a lot of different good work that has been done in the last five years, six years, in getting us to Green. And I think we're going to maintain that if we do our work in making sure that performance management is central to that.

One of the key challenges in getting to Green and staying Green is not just being Green. It's really related to how do we operate our business? And I think that's the core essence of the President's Management Agenda. And that has been one of the highlights in his presidency, and hopefully, the work will continue in its institutionalized form with the scorecards, and many of the practices that come from a President that is an MBA. I think it's very important to understand what we're trying to do here in human capital in the Department of Energy. We're making sure that our human capital processes are in support of the program mission.

We're getting back into the nuclear energy business. We're making sure that there's a global nuclear energy partnership, making sure that as our science and technology people that average the age of 50 in our complex, while they're going out, we have knowledge management and learning development-type of strategies. Those are what's important to me and captured in our scorecard.

It helps keep transparency and accountability across our whole entire organization, but bottom-line is, are you doing the right thing? I'm going to be emphasizing really a lot of alignment between performance accountability -- we've aligned our mission goals all the way down to the individual, so each individual knows their individual role and responsibility to the mission.

That's a large accomplishment in and of itself, but now we have to really justify how we keep track of the "what do you do" and "how do you do it." So "what do you do" is the accomplishments, but "how do you do it" is just as important, which is a cultural element of it.

So I think we're one of the leaders in the government in trying to change the culture and operationalizing the culture through the human capital plan, and through what work we do with the Office of Personnel Management and OMB. And as a result, it's not just about checking the boxes. We want to make sure that these priorities are meaningful so that we have the right people, right place, right time. We're training and developing the best of the best, because we are the best of the best, and we want to remain that way as a nation in this global competitive environment.

Mr. Morales: So it's really about institutionalizing the changes that you set forth in your strategy.

You referenced the strategy, and you talked about its linkage to the mission of the Department. Jeff, I was hoping you could elaborate a little bit more on that. Can you give us perhaps a more-detailed overview of the DOE's human capital strategy, and some examples of how you're aligning that with the mission goals of the larger department?

Dr. Pon: Sure, absolutely. Actually, the President and Secretary of Energy have 10 priorities, one of which is the strategic management of human capital. That was a great surprise to me, a great endorsement of what the Secretary actually believes where human capital should play. It's at the mission level of the Department. Why is it so important to do that? It's because human capital is something that has to be on the forefront of the conversation as opposed to human resources, as in the transactional nature of those things.

I would think that the strategic management of human capital is a wide brush of how we do things in the Department in terms of what do we find important in terms of knowledge skills, abilities, and experiences of our employees, but moreover, from there, you can actually define your recruitment strategies, hiring strategies, your development strategy and retention strategies. Sometimes I go into other organizations and talk this language in the private sector -- the make, rent, or buy type of strategy.

Well, many of us in the government don't really talk that way. Well, you make, which is develop people; you want to rent contractors, or you want to buy, which is recruiting people from outside the government or outside other agencies in doing that. That is central to running an effective organization, and the strategic plan actually reflects that: where are the hiring priorities, where are the development priorities, and actually managing it as one organization.

Our organization has many silos within -- you have power marketing administrations, utilities, you have the national Nuclear Security Administration dealing with national security, the nuclear complex, and then you have the different types of technologies dealing with renewable energy. That's a wide portfolio, and the different types of people that we're recruiting can be different types of strategies. So we're rolling all that up and actually saying hey, there are many different ways of engaging with these strategies, but here are our priorities.

As a chief human capital officer and the principal advisor to the Secretary, he expects me to understand how we're pulling that all together, how we are recruiting for the next generation of our scientists, technologists, or anything like that. We're integrating these internship programs, so we have one face to the public.

We're going to be developing a web that actually integrates all of the different internship programs, and we're going to on a voluntary basis profile a lot of our candidates so that we can place them directly on a goodness-of-fit type of way in matching the candidate pool with the jobs that we have across our whole entire department, as opposed to the public going on one site, different site, different manager and all those things. And that's one example of what we're trying to do that's operationalized in our strategic plan.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. Jeff, we understand that you are establishing a Human Capital Coalition. Would you give us a sense of the new and innovative human capital management activities that this group will be developing for DOE?

Dr. Pon: Absolutely. This is a little bit different than what is known in our complex called functional accountability. Human Capital Coalition preceded the notion of functional accountability. Human Capital Coalition is a coalition of human resources professionals across our whole entire department, and also the administrative officers that actually interact with the organization. It is a very important key aspect of how do you run an organization through governance.

The Human Capital Coalition, what it's done is it's formed the relationship basis of teeing up what the human capital needs are -- requirements -- what types of things we're doing about it -- initiatives -- and how we programmatically track these things.

I think it's a really good way of establishing a governance that's not really in the law. It's actually volunteering to get on a conference call and say what are we doing about integrating internships? What are we doing to develop people or prevent cyber security-type of breaches? Those types of things, we address in this Human Capital Coalition. And it's much better to I think run an organization where the ideas come from the why perspective as opposed to just the top-down.

The policy stick is something that I know is within the purview of the Human Capital Office, but at the same time, when I first came to government, my approach was to make sure we identify what everybody is doing, what we should all be going towards -- so specifications, standards in the IT world, and policy is what we have to do all of the time. So by establishing that type of governance, I get to explore the ideas, explore the current practices, and identify some of the practices and best-in-class practices, and actually address some of the issues that we have across the complex with my partners.

We do not have dotted-line or cross-line type of relationships if you're talking about the personnel world. But we are forming these dotted-line types of relationships informally to get the job done. And that's what matters the most, getting the job done.

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, you had talked a little earlier about the functional accountability initiative, and let's talk a little bit more about it in detail. I understand that the initiative's in place as a way of improving the financial, human capital, IT, and some other operational functions. Why don't you describe to our listeners a little bit more about this initiative, and also perhaps how it looks to enhance oversight and accountability?

Dr. Pon: I think it was really important for the Secretary to initiate this activity across the organization. We in the Department are working towards being much more integrated. In the areas of functional accountability, we have HR, or human capital, as I call it, general counsel, information technology, or the CIO office, the financial organization, and also the procurement organization. We have dotted-line relationships now across the Department based upon the Secretary's delegation of certain types of authorities. There are seven authorities.

It's concurrence with existing management to establish positions, including grade level or appointment type; concurrence on new hires -- of the head of the site office in HR, for instance; concurrence on making sure that the workforce shaping authorities like VSIPs or voluntary early retirement and VERAs -- that's the VERA part, but the VSIPs, the voluntary separation incentive package -- are concurred on. Moreover, there are a lot of different authorities that the Secretary actually granted us, like active participation in employee development performance standards for the people that are "dotted line" to us now.

Why is that all important? Well, the whole entire motivation from my point of view on this was making sure that we as chief information or human capital people had knowledge, knew what the budgets were, knew people, time, and resources, what the efforts are, and really take a look at it as a whole and manage it.

And that's a very, very tough thing to do in any organization, whether private of public. It's really taking a look at matricizing an organization. So on the one hand, you have the people that have the direct line of authority in the programs, and they have a human capital person actually working for them. But it's actually given me input in on what their performance goals are, who they are, how we're selecting and developing the whole entire function of human capital. So that has been a monumental thing for this Secretary, and for a lot of our functional heads, to tackle.

As one of our site managers said in implementing this -- he said to me, "Jeff, you know, this is all good. We want to make sure that we're working together as one, branding the Department of Energy as one so we have the same entrée as a NASA is to the public than Department of Energy is to the public right now." However, the biggest challenge that we have is change. And what he said -- going back to what he said was, "Jeff, we're all for this stuff, but we're so good at not changing."

And that's what we're trying to do here. It's not just about dotted-line relationships. It's really about coordinating how we run the Department of Energy.

The last responsibility or authority that the Secretary gave of note is active participation in what's called our corporate performance review. I don't know if any other agency does this, but what we do internally is all of the Assistant Secretaries and the Under Secretaries and the functional managers such as myself actually get into a room on a day-to-day basis for about three or four weeks and review each and every one of our budgets. So it's a shared knowledge of here's what I am doing, here's what you're doing, where's the overlap, where are the priorities in preparing a budget? As a part of this process, guess what? Human capital is now on the crosscut basis, so I get to understand what everybody is spending in people development. That's unheard of. It's usually buried in somebody's budget and they're doing X, Y, and Z, and the people from headquarters, the bad old headquarters, never know about it.

But this is a way in which we're working together as an organization to pulling the whole entire organization in a much more effective way. Efficiency will come, but the effectiveness of our organization in decision-making is happening not only at the top, but actually at the field managers level, and also our contractor environment. I'm really delighted working for Secretary Bodman, because it's so easy for me to, as a person formerly from the private sector, to understand what he's doing.

He's trying to make sure that we have a consistency across our organization in our management practices, in our execution, holding people accountable. And I get to be a champion of that. It's so important to understand that the Department of Energy is not just about the deliverables and goals that we have in our Energy Policy Act of 2005, it's really how do we do it, how do we coordinate science and technology.

If you take a look at one of the major challenges as a nation, it is how do we as a government improve the life cycle development of technologies? Because in a global competitiveness perspective, we've gone through manufacturing, we've gone through agriculture; we've been leaders in that. But really the engine of the nation has to be science and technology. And as a principal sponsor for the physical sciences, we play a vital role. So we have the basic science of R&D looking out 10, 15, 20 years, and taking a look at the fabrication of those things has been a missing link within the government.

It's really understanding where we are in terms of proof of concept and demonstrating of the principles. But there is a large gap between how do we get that to the commercial sector and where we are in terms of fabrication in the tooling, in the manufacturing capability, of that type of technology. So that's one of the things that we're trying to concentrate on. It's really managing the portfolio of different things. And I'll give you one short example of this. I've mentioned that we have four of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

Why? Well, it's because of the multidisciplinary focus of our laboratories that is needed to accelerate the growth of technology. Why is that important? Well, Human Genome Project. Could you imagine the processing that it takes on a DNA level that we need to have in modeling these things? It wasn't available five, ten years ago. And with the computer science, and also biological and organic chemistry-type of science that's coming out of our labs, they're actually working together in cross-functional, cross-disciplinary teams, and accelerating the pace of science and technology.

Not many people know about that. And that's so exciting to be at the forefront of scientific discovery and technology, but at the same time understanding what the Department of Energy's role is. You can't just focus on basic science. You have to make sure that the sciences are being promulgated across the commercial sector. And we play a very important role in working together with our private sector partners in developing certain initiatives such as the corn ethanol or cellulosic ethanol, such as nuclear power plants, certain things like that.

Government is not going to be getting into the business of building nuclear power plants, but many of the private sector will. And we need to encourage the bedrock of how the foundational aspects of getting into that type of businesses is.

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, prior to assuming your current role, you served as the Office of Personnel Management's e-Government Deputy Director, and in that role, leading the government-wide effort to implement the five e-Government initiatives as well as the HR -- the Human Resources Line of Business. Could you elaborate on Energy's plans to transition to an HR Line of Business, and other government initiatives that relate to human resources?

Dr. Pon: The Human Resources Line of Business is a very, very important effort across the government. It really is having to do with what is the business of HR. It's really defining what the business is, what the different types of services HR provides, how do we keep track of this performance, what's the information that we track, and what's the technology.

But aside from that, it's really taking a look at the shape of HR and what we do now. I would say that as a characterization of human resources across the federal government, we're still in the age of doing a lot of transactional administrative work. We're still chasing the paper. And HRLOB along with the e-Government initiatives is really taking a look at how do we go from a paper-based human resources function to a digital function. And I think that's a very important aspect, because it's the on-demand data that you have that I don't have right now.

If you talk about what's happening in the private sector or even some parts in our government, the ready use of data is so important to making critical timely decisions. It's a matter of -- when you talk about a report being generated from your official personnel files, it takes months and months to roll all that information up and ship it to Office of Personnel Management, and they'll take a couple of months to decipher it and issue a official report. But in this digital age, you should have access to all of that information, gathering that information and synthesizing it. Technology offers that to us.

And the Human Resources Line of Business is really taking a look at some core functions of human resources such as personnel processing, such as time and attendance, certain things like that, and taking a look at how better to out-task that assignment -- and I'll be very careful with these words, because they've been such hotbed issues for this whole entire -- you know, people say, oh, you're going to outsource HR. No, we're out-tasking certain things that we all do, and some agencies do it better.

E-payroll is an example. As a government, we had 26 separate payroll systems, now we have four. Economies of scale actually speak to that. You don't really change too many things in terms of personnel processing or even payroll for that aspect. So certain organizations have been tasked with that; same with the Human Resources Line of Business. We are trying to make sure we know what are the core transactional things, and get the agencies out of that business, get them out of the business of transactional administration, and get them into the more strategic role.

Mr. Morales: So it's really focusing on the high-value-added activities?

Dr. Pon: Absolutely.

Mr. Morales: Great.

How is Energy managing its blended workforce?

We will ask Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Also joining us on our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Jeff, workforce planning is vital in helping your leadership draw a clear picture of the nature of the current and future human resource decisions. Could you describe your efforts to enhance and institutionalize workforce planning within DOE? And to what extent does DOE's technical qualification program assist in these efforts?

Dr. Pon: Well, workforce planning is central to human capital management, first of all. It's a contract between the programmatic manager and human resources. With a workforce plan, you actually have a forecast and model on what their priorities are, who they're going to be recruiting, what their next 100 hires are going to be, who they're developing. Those are things that are so important to our organization in identifying, and each and every manager needs to have that.

I'm sitting down with each and every one of our Assistant Secretaries and going through their workforce plans. I expect them to actually understand what is their workforce, what is it composed of, where does it need to be in one, three, and five years, and how are we going to be closing the gap through that make, rent or buy type of strategy, which is how do we recruit them, how do we develop them, how do we supplement them from a contractor workforce perspective.

So that's a very important aspect of our human capital strategy; it's effective workforce plans and how we roll those things up and integrate that into our strategic workforce planning process. In terms of the DOE technical qualifications program, obviously, human capital, one thing that we aren't experts in is in the technical aspects of our technical workforce. I mean, we have nuclear engineers, physicists, tooling and manufacturing-type of vocations. We can't know it all, so what these forms do, actually, they set certain types of criteria or standards, maybe towards certifications, just like we've done in our contracting workforce and in our programmatic workforce.

So there are a lot of more certifications coming out of that, but then it really balances out the understanding of what it is that you do from a technical aspect, what it is that you do from a leadership perspective and a management perspective. And that is really the competency profile that we have as the Department of Energy, and we operationalize that through our competency management approach. We're not there yet, but we're developing that and pulling it all together. These last several years, it's been the effort to pulling it all together so that everybody's at the table in deciding what is a corporate model for the competency management and workforce planning.

Mr. Morales: Jeff, along similar lines, you described earlier for us the composition or the mix between contractors and federal employees at the Department of Energy. Could you tell us how federal managers can effectively manage this ever-increasing blended workforce composed of the two, and what are some of the key differences intrinsic to these two core groups of federal employees and contractors?

Dr. Pon: That's one of the chief challenges that I have here in the Department. I view my role as not just caring for the federal workforce; it's really taking a look at our whole entire workforce. Probably one of the more unique organizations in its profile, because 90 percent of our workforce are contractors, and our contractors work on some engineering feats that are simply amazing, like the National Ignition Facility, where fusion technology is happening; Stanford Linear Accelerator; the International Hadron Colliders.

A lot of these things are engineering marvels and feats, but what's important to understand is where does our workforce need to have its greatest talent and what are we doing about it? My approach to this is making sure that the knitting is done for the federal workforce first, so we have our strategic plan. We have our workforce, integrated workforce plan as a whole entire organization. I'm making that public to our contractors, because there are certain things that the Department of Energy is not very well-equipped on doing.

Nuclear engineers -- for instance, out of college, they're getting offers, 10 to 15 offers for about $100,000 to $120,000, and as you know on our GS or general schedule, we can pay a college grad at the General Schedule 7, Step 10, about $46,000 to $47,000. There's a huge disparity on that. I realize, as an effective manager, that I can't compete on a compensation basis, but our contractors can. So when we identify that skills gap, hopefully they're doing something about it.

So we're mapping out for our workforce plan for each and every one of our sites. So as people ebb and flow on the federal workforce or on the contracting workforce, the institutionalization of the process of workforce planning will be something that is comprehensive across our organization.

That's what we're doing in managing a multi-sector workforce. I think many government agencies will have that challenge as we go from a smaller workforce, larger workforce, contractor expertise or not. Federal government really does have a vested interest on understanding and working with their contractor workforce, too, because at the end of the day, there's only a certain amount of scientists, technology, engineering and mathematicians around the world.

Mr. Morales: Great. It sounds like you're driving a certain level of collaboration also with your contractor community.

Dr. Pon: Absolutely. To within the laws of the FAR, but making sure that we're voluntarily giving them information and telling them that it's not "you must do" in their contract, but it's here's what we're doing, does it make sense for you to participate in on these things on a voluntary basis? And quite frankly, from a strategic point of view, they understand the importance of participating in on this cross-collaboration and being effective competitors within their own fields, too.

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, staying on the theme of competing for talent, can you talk a little bit about what changes you're making to the recruitment process at Energy, and on the same wave, does the agency use flexible compensation strategies to attract and retain quality employees?

Dr. Pon: Solly, I think we're doing everything we can within the law from exercising the three Rs, and really taking a look at how we manage the workforce is a very difficult thing when you have certain types of capabilities within your own HR organization. I'll be frank; we don't do enough in recruiting as a government. I know that there's job fairs that we go to from time to time, but I take a look at the private sector and who we're directly competing with. One technology organization that has about 13,000 people has a workforce of 400 recruiters working in that one part of their business.

In my part of my business, I can count my recruiters on 10 fingers, so just from a number standpoint, we are encumbered upon how much resource we have in doing recruiting, active recruiting. We should be taking a look at our perspectives on that, but what we're doing about it, despite the resource challenge that we have, is really taking a look at a long-term perspective. And many, I guess, administrations really don't focus on the 10-year-type thing, but we have to as a nation in my role.

We're looking at high schools and colleges. We sponsored the National Science Bowl that just concluded. While we do direct recruiting, and post our jobs on the website, we're going with the Department of Labor and Education, along with the Department of Energy, with this thing called the American Competitiveness Initiative, and it's really reinvesting in our education structure, in our key markets in our labor force, and also in science and technology. And we're making concerted efforts and working together towards recruiting, enabling scholarships, grants to internships, to federal service or contractor organizations.

We have internship programs that come and go. But what we're trying to do right now is really wire the process where we're getting them excited about science and technology, taking the pre-algebra, algebra, because if they don't, it's over already. And really encouraging them to take internships in our complex, whether it's in our contractor workforce or on our federal side, and mapping out where they want to go and keeping them there, because I can't sell them on the dollars associated with it.

Sure you're compensated in a fair and equitable way in the federal government, but just taking a look at our science mission and taking a look at the importance of our mission as a nation -- you take a look at what's happening in the Generation Y or millennials, they are not there to hop from job to job to job. They're really trying to take a grasp of what can I do, and how can I have continuity, how can I make a meaningful contribution in this nation?

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, I'd like you to talk a little bit about the Department of Energy's learning management system. Maybe you could talk a little about how it enables Energy to more closely link training to competencies and also to employees' career plans. And on a related note, what plans does Energy have to develop an enterprise e-learning strategy as a way of shifting from a classroom-based to a more technology-enabled learning environment?

Dr. Pon: We have a long ways to go here. I used to be the e-training acting project manager. I was tasked with implementing learning management systems across the federal government. Here at the Department of Energy, we have a very good learning management system that is more on the forefront of integrating a lot of the point solutions that we have. So you can't really talk about learning management solutions without the content, without the competency management type of tools, which invariably are separate. And I think the software space right now is trying to integrate that.

And the companies that I think are doing very well are the organizations that conceptually get it, understanding that competency management is the basis of identifying your skill sets. And having that gap actually linked to your recruitment and assessment tools, linked towards your development and training things: IDPs, individual development planning. And the companies that I think will survive and be the leaders in this space will be the organizations that actually integrate a lot of the point solutions that we all love but are poorly integrated right now.

So in the Department of Energy, we have these tools, but we have a challenge in integrating these things. We come from a very strong training instructor-led type of culture, so either you're training or you're working, as opposed to a blended learning where you can take a class and then actually study on your own, an asynchronous type of learning, e-learning, or even just the e-learning type of courses with the different types of libraries and resources.

Now, in this day, it's what version do you want it in, you know? How many different citations do you have to have? So the way in which we're trying to adapt to technology is very much a bifurcated strategy, because we have on the one hand an exiting population that is used to doing certain things a certain way, and at the same time, you have an on-demand type of generation that expect nothing but the best graphics, the best type of simulation and interactiveness, or else you lose their attention. So there is a big challenge between balancing the two, but we're doing both, and blending those, and making sure that the options are there. But the challenge is the utilization of a learning management system, and using that as an effective strategy for cost avoidance and the learning experience.

Mr. Morales: Jeff, we spent a fair amount of time talking about the workforce within the Department. I want to transition a little bit now to the leadership portion of the organization. What are some of the efforts at DOE to ensure continuity of leadership through succession planning and executive development?

Dr. Pon: I like to define my terms first. Succession planning is something different than what I was accustomed to -- when you talk about succession planning on a best practice basis, you hearken to the GE Session C-type of models or different things like that where you put your high performance people and your high potential people on a 2x2 grid. And you might have nine different squares and see what you do with the northeast quadrant, which we all know about, and the bottom quadrant, which is a really easy thing to do, too. But it's the middle part that you need to figure out what to do with.

In the federal government, I don't know of many agencies that actually do really succession planning. We do replacement charting. If Bob leaves, who are we going to replace him with? And that's what we're doing. We have replacement charting, a comprehensive plan to make sure that we know who's going to be coming in and coming out while the changes of administration happen, where's your career staff that's going to be the bedrock and foundation for the next one, three, five years?

It's impressive to know that the Deputy Secretary of Energy wants to ensure that the career people are solid and intact, and he prides himself in making sure that those critical decisions are made on a consistent basis. He chairs our Executive Resources Board, and we make sure that we're identifying the future leaders so that the Department of Energy actually has some continuity going forward.

That's a very important aspect of taking a long-term view of management and succession. Our government does not identify leaders across. That's what the SCS was designed for first. We don't rotate across very readily or anything like that. So we need to do a better job at that.

We're doing a lot, but we're not doing enough.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the Department of Energy's human capital efforts?

We will ask Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Also joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

Jeff, given the evolution of global energy markets, how do you envision DOE's human capital needs evolving in, say, the next three or five years? And how do you envision your human resources office will need to evolve to support this change?

Dr. Pon: I think our challenge is to get out of transactional administration and go towards more strategic. It's really working with the businesses directly. Instead of just processing the blue paper or the 52s and the 50s -- that's HRspeak for the process paper -- we really need to get in front of that, which is taking a look at what is the mission of an organization; how are they meeting the challenges of the next one, three, five years; what are their areas of growth or decline; how are you going to identify the right vocations within that skill set in the next one, three, and five years. That should all be teed up by a human capital professional.

How are we going to be identifying that from a workforce planning standpoint, and what are the resources that we have? It makes it much clearer as a role to serve as opposed to processing the paper on who just came onboard; how are we recruiting; did you position classify. It's the operations elements. That's our bread and butter right now. Hopefully, our bread and butter will be a business partner that identifies how do you design an organization; what are your chief strategies for your learning, your recruitment and your retention?

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, you chair the Subcommittee on Human Resources Workforce of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. Can you tell us a bit about the Subcommittee role and responsibilities as well as its initiatives underway to address the federal workforce challenges?

Dr. Pon: As the Subcommittee chair, it's an interesting group to chair, because human resources people working on human resources people is really the Subcommittee, so it's like the consultant taking the consultant's advice. We try to make sure we identify what is currently available in terms of competencies. OPM, Office of Personnel Management, had all of the agencies actually take a competency assessment across agencies, so we really know what's there right now, but really, it's how do you get to the strategic role; what is the competency of the future? And we're identifying that with the Office of Personnel Management. And then we're going to be migrating our whole entire population to that plan.

It's identifying what skills they don't have right now, and making sure that there is a road map for getting them there, or hiring people to supplement that. So that's really the big thrust of the Human Capital Workforce Subcommittee. We're also doing innovative efforts such as inviting public and private people that are of note to share best practices with. We're taking field trips to some of our local private industry counterparts that are really deep into human resources information technology that actually have automated systems, so we know when we get to the other side, this is how it's going to look, and it's not going to be all sugar and honey; it's warts and all, and this is what they had to do.

So there's a logical progression to getting us to a human capital type of skill, and I think we have a long ways to go, but we're making sure that we know what the best practices are. So we're setting the bar, we know where we are, and we're coming up with the strategies to close the gaps.

Mr. Thomas: Jeff, you're a previous recipient of the Federal 100 Award, which goes to individuals who've made a difference in government technology in any given year.

First of all, congratulations on receiving such a significant award.

But given such a perspective, could you tell us what emerging technologies you see that hold the most promise for improving the federal management of human resources?

Dr. Pon: I think before we get into a digital economy for HR, we really need to know what it is that we're trying to answer; why do we want to do things? I always ask the first question, why do you do the things that you do to my managers, and they go through their programmatic accomplishments -- I went to this meeting, had this conversation. I said but why do you do that? And the question on why do you want to utilize technology in human resources is pretty simple. It's we need to be much more effective in delivering the data so we have knowledge. Knowledge to behave, behave to perform and have the performance, quite simply. And that's what technology does.

In our generation, I think what's different about any other generation that has preceded us are two things: one is the way in which we work as teams; and technology. And those are the two enablers that have shaped the way in which we work right now. For the federal government to be slow on adapting technologies creates completely complex systems. If you take a look at the proliferation of technology, as a government, we actually bought on the personal computer basis, then the LANs, the local area networks, and then the WANs, and so on, and so forth, and we collected all those things up. And guess what, it didn't all connect together. Surprisingly so. Why? It's because it was locally brought up.

Same with human resources. A lot of our practices were brought up in a localized environment, and what we're trying to do is come up with standardization in all those things, and at the same time institute technology. Technology can be an enabler for standardizing these different types of practices, so there is employee self-service, management self-service, and reporting self-service. It's frustrating as a citizen when you can't look up your tax returns for the last seven or eight or nine years, but they're working on that. You can actually file your taxes now to the IRS via e-mail. Wouldn't it be nice if we could actually submit our resumes online?

Yes, we can now. So we've made some pretty significant strides in adapting towards technology, but we're at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how we utilize technology in the management of human capital.

Mr. Morales: Jeff, you've obviously had a very successful career within the public service, and you have a tremendous amount of passion for the job that you have over at DOE. I'm curious, what advice would you give to a person who perhaps is thinking about a career in public service?

Dr. Pon: I came here to serve the federal government, and I think for my career counterparts, there's no higher calling than serving as a civil servant. We sometimes recognize the good men and women of our military, but from a management standpoint, from the bread and butter of how our government works, the Executive branch civil service is where it all meets. And I think it's an honor to work with our career civil service people, and encourage at every single conversation that I have with our young people that federal service is not something that should be considered; it should be something that you do in your life.

I encourage the young people to make sure that they're not only on the job market, but they're citizens. To be a citizen of the United States -- in my family history, it's being a citizen of choice. We came to this nation generations back, but it's just like every other story that we hear. We come here in search of hope, of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I think there's no other higher calling than actually serving that institution for some time in your lifetime. Maybe as a whole entire career, maybe as two or three years, but that's the draw there.

You're doing good for the rest of your whole entire citizenship, and that's something -- at times, a very -- gulp in the back of your throat and saying, gosh, I'm glad I'm serving my time here in that capacity and giving back as opposed to -- you know, I love building companies and certain things like that. But this has been such a delight to give back to the federal government.

Mr. Morales: Jeff, that's just a wonderful perspective. Thank you.

Unfortunately, we have reached the top of our hour, so we've run out of time.

I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today, but more importantly, Solly and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country at the Department of Energy.

Dr. Pon: Albert, thank you so much. And Solly, thank you for the questions, too.

I appreciate the time that you've spent with me in discussing some of the important efforts in the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy is a vast and broad organization that can't really be covered in one hour, but I would encourage some of your listeners to really take a look at the Department of Energy's website, It talks about the rich history, about the interactions of Enrico Fermi, of Oppenheimer, of Einstein, of our 85 Nobel Prize winners, and how they've actually combated the three things that I talked about -- the three isms -- the communism, the fascism, and terrorism right now.

There's no more important issue that we have in energy security, national security and also American competitiveness, and I'm glad to serve at the pleasure of the President and the Secretary and this nation, as a taxpayer and also as a civil servant.

Mr. Morales: Great. Thank you very much.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Dr. Jeff Pon, Chief Human Capital Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy.

My co-host has been Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's human capital practice.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales.

Thank you for listening.

This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation.

Until next week, it's

Dr. Jeff Pon interview
"I act as the principal advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary in all matters concerning our workforce, the development, retention, and recruitment of our workforce."

You may also

Broadcast Schedule

Federal News Radio 1500-AM
  • Mondays at 11 a.m. Fridays at 1 p.m. (Wednesdays at 12 p.m. as
  • available.)

Our radio interviews can be played on your computer or downloaded.


Subscribe to our program

via iTunes.


Transcripts are also available.


Your host

Michael Keegan
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Leadership Fellow & Host, The Business of Government Hour

Browse Episodes


Recent Episodes

David Grant
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Former Associate Administrator
Professor Jim Hendler
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Director, Institute for Data Exploration and Applications and Tetherless World Chair of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences, Computer Science
Commander Eric Popiel
U.S. Coast Guard
Program Manager for the Evergreen Program

Upcoming Episodes

Vice Admiral Raquel Bono
Director, Defense Health Agency
United States Navy