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

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Gregory Rothwell interview

Friday, February 25th, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The eight procurement offices of DHS must behave as one. And once they behave as one, the idea with ‘One Face to Industry’ is to project that behavior externally to the private sector and so that the private sector knows how to do business with DHS."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 02/26/2005
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Contracting...

Contracting

Complete transcript: 

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created The Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can get a copy of our new report, "From E-government to M-government: Emerging Practices for the Use of Mobile Technologies by State Governments.�

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Greg Rothwell, chief procurement officer of the Department of Homeland Security.

Good morning, Greg.

Mr. Rothwell: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Todd Wiseman.

Good morning, Todd.

Mr. Wiseman: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Greg, let�s start off by learning about the Office of Procurement Operations at the Department of Homeland Security. As I understand, it�s a new office. Could you give us an overview and history as to how this office came to be?

Mr. Rothwell: Yes, Paul. Basically, when I got to the Department of Homeland Security, I had heard that that was a combination of 22 agencies that became one. And so when I got there, what I was not really ready for was the fact that there were 35 offices that were brand-new and did not have procurement support or acquisition support. So these 35 offices were actually created by the Homeland Security legislation, and they included pretty large offices, such as Science and Technology, IAIP, the CIO -- Chief Information Officer function -- as well as about 32 others. As we looked at those brand-new offices, and we started to meet with them, we were fairly surprised to find that they have a $2.2-billion spend each year, and that that $2.2-billion spend really did not have acquisition support. So I raised that to the DHS leadership, and they were very quick to authorize me to establish what then became the eighth procurement shop within Homeland Security, and we called it the Office of Procurement Operations.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size of the operation in terms of budget, people, and even the skills of the people?

Mr. Rothwell: You�re asking, Paul, about the Office of Procurement Operations? Well, it�s interesting; the size of it is fairly significant, probably not like anything else at a department level. A $2.2-billion program is larger than the entire Department of Commerce�s program; it�s larger than EPA; it�s larger than NASA Goddard Space Center. It is an absolutely substantive procurement program within government, and I guess that�s how I would describe it.

Mr. Wiseman: I understand that DHS plans to spend big on systems, so does DHS and the office plan to spend big?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, when you say �spend big,� I think the answer would be yes. I think, as I look at the DHS spend, we spend approximately $11 billion a year through the acquisition process. Of that $11 billion, almost $5 billion is information technology, so it is a significant spend. What I�m trying to do is try to better manage that spend to basically make the dollars go farther and have it more mission-directed.

Mr. Wiseman: You serve as the first chief procurement officer at DHS, Greg, and you started to talk about your roles and responsibilities in doing that. Can you say more?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, I guess I kind of view my role -- I am the first procurement officer at Homeland Security, and I think my career goal now might have been to be the second, but I am the first one. I kind of view my goal, as I look at what I do, is that we have this incredibly important mission, and then there are incredibly important subordinate missions. So for example, there is the Homeland Security mission of protecting the homeland, but subordinate to that, there are huge missions in terms of what the Coast Guard does and Secret Service and TSA. In order for those missions to be successful, we have to rely on the private sector to supply us with the different systems, goods, services, research, and everything that we�re trying to procure, or that we need in support of those missions. My job, in my view, is to make that process of acquiring those goods and services as simple as possible. So I kind of view my role is to try to support the mission by creating a very simple procurement system that enables all elements of the private sector to basically do business with us very, very efficiently.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience or your previous experiences before coming to DHS?

Mr. Rothwell: Sure. I have had just a tremendous career, just totally enjoyed it. I started with the Army Electronics Command in Philadelphia; started as a contract negotiator. I have worked in -- actually, Homeland Security is my tenth agency in my career, but I�ve spent about 33 years in what is now 10 agencies. Almost every one of my jobs has been as the senior procurement leader in an organization, so I�ve had the benefit of multiple agencies; I�ve had the benefit of being in the acquisition career field for quite some time, and having gone through all of the changes, improvements.

And I�ve also had the benefit of actually being in three start-up agencies. I was with the Minerals Management Service as their chief procurement officer when it began. I was then with the Office of Thrift Supervision when it was created back in 1988. So I�ve had quite a bit of experience with different agencies and acquisition for a long period of time.

Mr. Lawrence: Were your moves deliberate? Were you gaining different experiences as you moved to different agencies? Could you talk a little bit about that?

Mr. Rothwell: They were deliberate, but if they weren�t, I wouldn�t tell you. No, they were deliberate, and just stylistically, I really liked taking on challenges. And once the organization is well-run, I tend to just -- as a character thing, probably character flaw -- I try to look for different challenges and do different things. So it has been deliberate. I know when I was at the Internal Revenue Service and 9/11 occurred, and then President Bush got on the television and announced the creation of Homeland Security, that I had every intention of coming to Homeland Security at that moment. So I was just very fortunate that it actually happened.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you about two particular points. One is in people�s careers, when they go from being a doer to a manager of people, and you talked about beginning as an acquisitions specialist. Could you tell us about that moment when you began to manage people in this field?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, yes. I mean, I may not be the most insightful on this, in that I actually was a contract negotiator for about three years before I became a manager. So of my 33-year career, most of it has been as a procurement officer, running programs. But in my observation, when I did make that change, is that it�s like a second career. You not only have to have a mastery of the technical aspects, but then you have to have a mastery of the managerial aspects of building relationships; working with people; trying to build consensus; those kind of skills. And it really does become a second career, and you have to focus on being trained to be a manager, and then subsequently and hopefully a leader; that it just isn�t something that, you know, that just happens. In my case, naturally, I went to a lot of classes to try to learn it and just a lot of -- try to get a lot of experience in it.

Mr. Lawrence: And what�s the attraction with the start-up operations?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, they�re just complicated. It�s the most exciting thing in the world for -- and I have a feeling many of the people in the audience will have had this experience, but there�s just nothing more exciting than taking something that is important in a state of chaos and actually working through to creating a state of efficiency, and looking back and being proud of something that you�ve created. And if you�ve ever had that experience -- and I have a feeling a lot of people have -- it is just an incredibly attractive thing to do. And Homeland Security is so nationally important that, you know, it�s just something that most people who�ve come to Homeland Security just couldn�t wait to get the opportunity to serve there.

Mr. Lawrence: When you think about the different jobs, how has your managerial style or approach changed?

Mr. Rothwell: I�m not too sure it has really changed. It�s always been based around try to understand the people that you�re working with; what are their strengths and skills; try to understand the customer to make sure you understand what their mission is, and try to satisfy that. And then, in my particular profession, try to understand the industry -- what are their concerns. So I don�t really know that it�s changed too much; it�s just always been one of trying to be a good listener, trying to set direction, and trying to work with all the people that you must work with.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think about speed in an organization in terms of them making decisions and so forth? For example, I think the job you have is particularly important. I guess there�s a tendency to want to go slow to make sure everything in the procurement is done correctly, but I imagine people come to you all the time and say, this has to be done immediately. How do you balance those two?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, since I�ve been in Homeland Security for about a year and a half, I�ve not seen the luxury of going slow on anything. Everything has been very, very high-priority; people have just -- unbelievable amount of hours and dedication. The things that we�ve been asked to do, we have really done in just very, very quick fashion. So if there is a pressure between the urgency of a mission and the desire to be deliberate and be thoughtful, we have more often than not erred on the side of trying to satisfy the mission.

Mr. Lawrence: And how do you think about the people who are doing this? I imagine once, when very straightforward goods were being bought, there were a set of rote procedures virtually anyone well-trained could follow. Now, I imagine that the procurements are getting vaguer and more complicated, and as a result, there�s not such a set of rules. How do you oversee that, or even just take people through that?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, you�re absolutely right. We have started to focus much more on results, much less on process. The key for me has always been surround yourself with the very, very best people and allow them to use business judgment and -- so you try to find -- I think when I started my career, your workforce, or the workforce, used to be very, very rules-oriented; it would not be uncommon for a person to take a procurement from beginning to end and have very few interactions with even technical people, let alone the industry.

That whole model, or that whole situation, has totally changed. Now we�re expecting people to be business leaders or business managers. Our acquisition workforce is to understand the requirement; understand what the objectives are; work with the industry; work with the customer; and try to craft deals that basically support the mission. And so for me, the profession has just become more exciting and much more interesting than it was when I began.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s interesting, especially about the need to surround yourself with people.

What are the management and procurement challenges when an agency wants to unify IT systems? We�ll ask Greg Rothwell of the Department of Homeland Security about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Greg Rothwell, chief procurement officer of the Department of Homeland Security.

And also joining us in the conversation is Todd Wiseman.

Well, Greg, we know that a top priority for DHS in �05 is to unify the IT systems within the Department through a newly created information technology acquisitions center. Could you describe the acquisitions center and tell us a little bit of how it was set up and its goals?

Mr. Rothwell: Sure. Thank you. Well, when we were looking at the different things that we were buying in Homeland Security -- and I mentioned earlier that we were -- we looked to have about an $11-billion program, and about $5 billion of that is information technology. The question came to us is just simply, what is the best way to buy that? We had plenty of models in other agencies where other agencies have combined all of their information technology acquisitions into one office. So there�s a lot of models out there for that.

So we worked with the chief information officer at Homeland Security, Steve Cooper, and decided that in order for us to give absolute control and visibility into the IT spend, as well as get better prices and better deals and better partnerships with the private sector, that we would create this Information Technology Acquisition Center. So it was just created this year; it is in its infancy. And as we move forward, it will grow and grow in terms of being ideally a world-class buying command for information technology.

Mr. Lawrence: And what is it about the center? Is it sort of people sharing bodies of knowledge? What�s sort of the uniqueness of it?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, the uniqueness of it is what it buys. It basically -- if you look across Homeland Security, and you look at all the commodities that Homeland Security buys, there are some principled things that kind of leap out: obviously, office supplies, but there�s also boats, aviation, uniforms, things of that nature. When you talk about strategic sourcing, you then ask the question, well, if you�re buying a lot of something, what is the most efficient way to buy it? Well, if your spend in IT is almost 50 percent of your overall spend, not only are you asking what is the most efficient way to buy it, but then you would be asking some basic organizational questions. So for example, if this were a private-sector company, and anyone took it over, and you saw that you had eight buying commands buying information technology, you would almost immediately consolidate that, and that is really what we�re trying to do with this Information Technology Acquisition Center.

Mr. Lawrence: How will you get the Information Technology Acquisition Center more engaged with the mission-level IT acquisitions?

Mr. Rothwell: What a great question. Partly what we do is we�re working very, very closely with the chief information officer, and I am privileged to sit on the chief information officer�s council. So part of it is just coordinating with the different elements within Homeland Security, and that�s pretty much how we�ve started the engagement.

Mr. Wiseman: Now, I understand you�re trying to expand the IT Acquisition Center, and how are you planning to do that in terms of new resources and recruiting them and training them and also retaining them, Greg?

Mr. Rothwell: Right, Todd, great question. Well, as with anything that starts, it�s starting small and humble and simple, and right now, it has maybe half a dozen people. It is starting with going out and working with the organizational elements; it�s starting with trying to hire more people, trying to find people throughout government that have this information technology acquisition skill. We've brought on three more people, I believe, today, so we�re starting the process of growing.

So part of it is to establish the office, set the vision, and then start to grow it. In its final state, which might be five to seven years from now, I can see it being an office that is a combined office of acquisition professionals as well as IT professionals working together so that you have that full complement of acquisition skills in one place. So that is sort of the long-term vision, but like I said, we�re starting it kind of new.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you a question about training, because I know this is one of the things you�ve talked about often. Given the need to do everything fast, as we�ve talked about, how can you devote time and training? Tell us how you fight off that pressure.

Mr. Rothwell: It is a real pressure, because the tendency in an environment like we�re in, where we�re trying to do so much so fast, the tendency is to go get very seasoned, skilled people in order to be successful. The difficulty is that they are becoming an increasingly rare breed, and that most of the folks are nearing retirement age. So in addition to finding the skilled people, we have started an intern program within Homeland Security. And we�re trying to bring in 10 people this year, ideally right out of college, that we would start developing in terms of a new acquisition workforce. It�s probably one of the most exciting things that I think we�re doing is that we�re trying to basically trying to rebuild an acquisition workforce that has been significantly depleted over the last few years.

Mr. Wiseman: And you mentioned that you�re working closely with the CIO. How do you operationalize staying in sync for what the acquisition center�s going to do with the CIO�s vision and plans and priorities?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, Todd, I would just say frequent meetings. I mean, we are totally aligned. It�s interesting; I know the CIO has a role as a service provider to Homeland Security, but at Homeland Security, I also see the CIO as mission. I mean, when I look at Homeland Security -- and maybe it�s a personal view -- I see a lot of very important missions, such as Coast Guard and Secret Service and TSA and so forth, and FEMA and many others. And arguably, you could say, well, there are some kind of stovepipes there, but where they should absolutely cross is in the information technology realm. And I just am very, very closely aligned with Steve Cooper�s vision in terms of what he�s trying to accomplish, and I feel that the acquisition support that I can provide to him will basically help enable him to serve Homeland Security.

Mr. Lawrence: Greg, you�ve also set up a chief acquisition officer�s council within DHS. Could you tell us about this council and how it operates?

Mr. Rothwell: Sure, Paul. The council is basically comprised of 10 people: it�s myself; my deputy, Elaine Duke; and the heads of the eight procurement offices within Homeland Security. And we established that almost on day one in order to bring all of these acquisition leaders together in order to make sure that we behaved as one department. So the objective was obviously a lot of important reasons why you would want to come together as an acquisition community. But one of those many is to make sure that the eight of us behave as one.

So for example, among the eight, you would have procurement shops that came from Treasury, such as Secret Service; you would have an independent agency, such as FEMA; you had procurement shops that came from the Transportation, such as TSA; and with all those different backgrounds and cultures and operating environments, we felt that it was important that we came together as a community to make sure that we -- and I keep using the phrase �behave as one,� having common sets of procedures, policies -- we issued a common acquisition regulation called the Homeland Security Acquisition Regulation. But the concept is to make sure that in an ideal state, if a particular company is dealing with two or three different procurement shops, that there would be a common look and feel and treatment and behavior at a very high level for that company, so that there�s not disparity.

Mr. Lawrence: Behaving as one is certainly an ambitious goal, and sort of curious how you tacticalize that, as -- were these sets of guidelines, were these rigorous rules? How did that actually come to be?

Mr. Rothwell: It�s actually more toward the rigorous rule piece of it. What we did was we got representatives from each of the eight to come together and create a very detailed list of things that we needed to basically agree on. I don�t have the list in front of me, but it�s everything from acquisition lead time -- so, for example, we don�t want one procurement shop saying that it takes two days to do a million-dollar deal when another says it takes 120 days -- and trying to understand what are those differences and coming up with common understandings of what the processes should be. So there�s a very detailed list.

The next step we did was we took that very detailed list, and we put it into four levels of priority. So for example, somebody may thing one thing is priority one, whereas the other seven people in the group may say it�s priority four. So we broke it down into four areas, and then we all started working on it together. So it�s fairly rigorous in that -- it�s collaborative in that we agreed on what they should be, and then it becomes a rigorous in that once we�ve defined what they are, we�ve established due dates and time frames and everything like that. So at the end of it, we�ll have a much more unified workforce, or more unified acquisition program than we did when Homeland Security was first created.

Mr. Lawrence: You just described a process of sort of, you know, 22 agencies coming together in DHS, the eight procurement offices or organizations, and you�ve sort of rolled them all together, and now they�re all one. Tell me about some of the biggest management challenges of making that all happen.

Mr. Rothwell: There�s so many, it�s hard to begin. I guess the biggest management challenges are just that everything�s important, everything is immediate, everything has to be done very, very quickly, and everything is just simply large. I mean, it�s not like -- that�s one way it really differs from any place I�ve ever been. There�s practically not a day at Homeland Security that some significant matter has to be dealt with. And so that to me would be one of the major challenges, is just that everything is immediate and sizable and important.

The other is that everything is new. I mean, it�s a brand-new department; there were not processes in place when people got there. I mean, my boss, Janet Hale, always likes to tell the story that on day one, there wasn�t even a ZIP code. So everything had to be started from scratch, and that�s different. It�s not like the other nine agencies that I went to where there were established -- you know, I think I was at the Internal Revenue Service quite a few years. I mean, you know, the organization�s been around for 200 years. There are established processes. This was all started from scratch, and that means you really have to understand your discipline at a very core level, because if you don�t, you will not survive there. And fortunately, most of us do understand it at a very basic level.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a very interesting point about -- especially starting from scratch.

We�ve heard it said that DHS is open for business. What does this mean, and why is it important? We�ll ask Greg Rothwell of DHS to take us through this when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Greg Rothwell, chief procurement officer of the Department of Homeland Security.

And joining us in our conversation is Todd Wiseman.

Well, Greg, another top priority for �05 that also falls within the one DHS theme is "One Face to Industry" for DHS acquisitions. Could you tell us about One Face to Industry and what it means, and how it will be established?

Mr. Rothwell: Right, Paul, thank you. Well, basically, if you recall what I just said, we�re trying to take the eight procurement offices and have them behave as one, but once they behave as one, the idea with One Face to Industry is to project that behavior externally. So it�s kind of a two-part thing. Part one is the eight behave as one; part two is to project that behavior to the private sector. So from a private-sector perspective, they see one DHS regardless of whether they�re dealing with TSA or Coast Guard or Secret Service. So that�s really what the program is, and it has a lot to do with our web presence; it has a lot to do with -- and I hate to use the word marketing -- but it basically has to do with how we project ourselves externally so that the private sector knows how to do business with us.

Mr. Lawrence: Why is that so important to have One Face to Industry? I mean, at some sort of level, gee, well that�s life, deal with us.

Mr. Rothwell: Well, we don�t view it that way. Again getting back to what I said early on in this discussion, I feel like my role is to make that process of dealing with the private sector as simple and as understandable as I possibly can. And the reason is very self-serving: we need the private sector in order for Homeland Security to achieve its mission. The only way our mission can be achieved is if we can deal with the private sector, and the only way we can deal with the private sector is through the federal acquisition process, and I sort of own that. So I need it to be very, very simple. I need the private sector to realize that when they are doing business with us, they will be communicated with, treated well, and ideally, at some point, will be able to say that of all the government agencies that any company deals with, Homeland Security is the most fair, understandable. So that is the goal. So it�s extremely important that we do that.

And part of the One Face objective is to achieve that, so if I could just maybe give a long answer, when I first got to Homeland Security, I heard from so many companies that they didn�t know how to do business with us; that just pained me, because we have got to make sure that people do know how to do business with us, because, frankly, we need those products and services that they provide.

Mr. Wiseman: And speaking of doing business with DHS, another new creation within the Department is called Open for Business, which is an online portal giving citizens business information about working with DHS. Can you give us more information about Open for Business?

Mr. Rothwell: Sure. Open for Business is very much part of the One Face. Open for Business is really nothing more than the ability of hopefully everyone to go on to our website at www.dhs.gov, click on Open for Business, and you will find all sorts of information that companies large, small and medium-sized need to do business with us. I think we�ve actually loaded about 1,100 procurements that we are proposing to do this year. They can be sorted by commodity or by component within Homeland Security. So it really is our web presence, the Open for Business.

Mr. Wiseman: How does it play into the one DHS theme in your mind, Greg?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, it provides that one portal for any company to come -- in one place into DHS, so I think that�s very much a part of it.

Mr. Lawrence: Along the same lines, I understand that another goal of DHS is to ensure that world-class grant management programs exist, which help support one DHS. Could you tell our listeners about the types of grants that are available and how these are awarded?

Mr. Rothwell: Right, Paul, thank you. Well, DHS provides all sorts of grants; there�re preparedness, response, recovery grants that will address terrorists and natural disasters. There�s also research and development grants. Most of the grant programs are awarded to states, who in turn award subgrants to local governments. The website that Todd mentioned, DHS Open for Business, provides information on the Department�s grant program. It includes grants offered by the Department of Homeland Security as well as other federal departments and agencies that provide financial assistance for Homeland Security.

Mr. Lawrence: A lot of what you�ve talked about in other stuff is streamlining and centralizing and unifying. Do you plan to do the same thing for grants?

Mr. Rothwell: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there is a federal government-wide initiative called e-grant that we are very actively a participant of. Within Homeland Security, there are two major components that issue grants: FEMA and the Office of State and Local Government. We are working with those two organizations to basically make sure that we have a unified, not only automated, system, but also process and procedures.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you just take our listeners through how we talked earlier in the first couple of segments about acquisitions and the process, and now we�re talking about grants and sort of how people think about which way to go when they do that.

Mr. Rothwell: I�ll try to. They�re very distinct. Acquisition is procuring goods and services from a non-federal source, so when you�re involved in an acquisition, you�re basically leading to a contract, and that is basically to buy something and give value in return, so we would buy a product, and we would pay. The grant is financial assistance. The grants are where typically Congress has authorized a grant program; they have provided dollars to an agency, and the responsibility of that agency is to transfer those dollars to the grantee -- in many cases, the state -- and to make sure then to basically apply oversight to make sure that those dollars are spent for what they�re supposed to. So for example, within Homeland Security, dollars will come into Homeland Security, they will be given to a state government, and the expectation is that state government will use it for recovery and response to either a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

Mr. Lawrence: We know, Greg, from having watched a lot of your career, that you�re very performance- and results-oriented, so let�s go back into those two things. How do you go about linking results to an acquisition?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, we call that within government performance-based contracting, and really it gets back to something that we talked about earlier, that we�re really more interested in results than the process. So what we are trying to do when we award these contracts is to make sure that we achieve the results, and that when we do achieve the results, the company shares in the reward of that.

Mr. Lawrence: And since many of the results are long-term in nature, perhaps, how do you manage the time frame under which that�s measured and watched?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, that is challenging because -- that is challenging, and we have to do that just sort of on a contract-by-contract basis. But it is challenging because what you don�t want to do is end up paying over time and then getting to the end of the period and not really having anything in return for all of those payments. So it becomes a challenge. There�s different incentive-type contracts that we can use to track that, but that does become one of the challenges. The longer the contract takes, the more difficult that is.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about just the general level of uncomfort in these types of contracts? I guess I would contrast thinking about your career early on, you know, buy widgets, you know what a widget was, you could look at it, kick it, you had a widget. Now, of course, you�re buying these complex things, you�re paying on results that could take a long time. Seems like a very different world.

Mr. Rothwell: It is. It is simply different. I mean, it�s one of the reasons it�s more challenging, and it�s one of the reasons it�s more interesting. It just simply is a different world. It really is why there is such a strong emphasis on partnering with the private sector. I mean, I think in the old days, we would think of a relationship with the private sector as a relationship between the government and a vendor; now, we do think of it in terms of the government and a partner, so there�s a lot more emphasis on the partnership.

One of the other things that I�ve seen that relates to your question, Paul, is that companies, I think, really do step up to that partnership role, and we are seeing many, many more chief executive officers of companies getting actively involved in specific contracts as they -- you know, they like to put their own skin in the game to make sure that these contracts are successful. So a lot of things have changed as these contracts have become more complex and take longer.

Mr. Lawrence: And in terms of the procurement officials who deal with this, it sounds like from the way you describe it, experience is really the best teacher, to sort of have gone through these and understand what the nuances of -- or can you really train, you know, a novice to really understand the complexities of these?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, since I�m old, I�ll say it�s experience, so --

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a good ending point.

What does the future hold for procurement at DHS? We�ll ask Greg Rothwell for his perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I�m Paul Lawrence, and this morning�s conversation is with Greg Rothwell, chief procurement officer of the Department of Homeland Security. And joining us in our conversation is Todd Wiseman.

Well, Greg, in this last segment, we'd like you to be somewhat reflective, given all that you�ve sort of talked about. And let�s start by thinking about creating the Office of Procurement Operations. What are some of the lessons learned that you�ve identified in that process?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, I�m not too sure how many lessons there were. I mean, as we came to Homeland Security and we realized we had this huge operational need, I was able to go to leadership and basically argue that we needed this office and got approval to have it. I don�t really know of any specific lessons; I mean, there was an operational need that wasn�t foreseen, and I give a lot of credit to Homeland Security�s flexibility for allowing us to quickly build it. So I can�t really say that there was a lesson learned there other than I think ideally, it would have been thought of before, but it just simply wasn�t.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the things you�ve talked a lot about is getting everybody together, unifying and integrating these people. How about some lessons learned and some of the management challenges in just sort of going and executing that?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, I feel like the key is just to always be very, very respectful of the people that you�re working with, because everybody has a perspective. And so when you think about these eight procurement offices that came together, they all had different backgrounds. Before Homeland Security, they all had different bosses; they all showed up. And for me, I think, the lesson for all of us to learn is that everybody had value and everybody�s perspective was legitimate. And then as you start to work through it, you�re able to start to build consensus and to effect change. So to me, I just think that the stylistic lesson is to be respectful that people have been in this profession quite a while, and even though there may be different approaches to a problem, there�s a lot of ways to get to a good solution.

Mr. Lawrence: Does that translate into a lot of communication with everybody about what needs to be done? I�d be interested in sort of how you actually went about getting that message out.

Mr. Rothwell: It is a lot of communication; it�s a lot of one-on-one meeting with people, trying to understand what their operational challenges were -- and everybody had different operational challenges. Some people were organizationally placed too low in the organization; others were understaffed significantly; others were -- there was just a whole range of problems. So meeting with people one-on-one, trying to understand their operational environment. But more importantly for me has always been trying to understand them as a person. So what is it that motivates them? You know, what is it is going to actually cause them to want to help in this great endeavor? And I think we were all very effective to do that. The procurement profession is just one I�m very proud of. These folks really have not done anything that I would view as turf-oriented or -- which is really neat, because when you think of why Homeland Security was even created, it was created to basically protect the homeland. And so the number of meetings that I�ve been in where people have set aside their personal or their turf issues in order to try to figure out something for the good of the whole has really been very inspiring.

Mr. Lawrence: And how was that done, because I want to push on that. Because one of the things people are reluctant to do in any organization -- government, too -- is integrate for fear of their own sort of stovepipe issues. So how was that worked through in this case?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, one of the things that I�ve learned in other agencies is that any time you want to bring about change -- and this just may be something unique to the public sector -- but any time you want to bring about change, if you can cause people to realize that they will not be personally harmed, they will absolutely get on board. So that is really the commitment that I had to folks, is that if you help support this -- and that just isn�t reactive support; it�s very proactive support -- you know, best thoughts, best advice -- then no matter what happens, you will not be professionally or personally harmed in this process. So that is just a strategic thing that I�ve seen in other agencies that I�ve been in, and it just certainly works.

Mr. Wiseman: How do you envision the Office of Procurement Operations in 5 to 10 years, Greg?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, older. Todd, good question. No, I would just hope that in 5 to 10 years or 5 years, it would be world-class. I mean, there are some really top-notch procurement operations within government. I happen to think that I had the honor of working for one at the Internal Revenue Service. I would really like to think that in 5 to 10 years, it would be a world-class operation, and that when companies are meeting and talking about experiences among government, that Homeland Security be one that they�re really speaking well of.

Mr. Wiseman: What are the significant challenges you think the office faces in the near future, and how do you plan to overcome those?

Mr. Rothwell: I think we�ve articulated most of the challenges. I mean, if I had to just kind of go through them, one would be to -- I have to stand up this Office of Procurement Operations that we talked about that�s supporting the $2.2-billion program. We�ve received approval to hire 127 people; we�ve hired about 40, so we have a little over 80 vacancies there -- 87 vacancies that we�re trying to fill. A huge challenge trying to manage a $2.2-billion program with not enough people. A very big challenge.

The second one is creating this Information Technology Acquisition Center. That will be the most incredible enabler for the CIO to basically help on all those very important IT issues. The third for me would be creating that one DHS in terms of the behavior that we talked about. The fourth one would be projecting that behavior in terms of One Face to the Industry. And then the fifth one that was also asked by Paul is this creating this world-class grant management program. And when you think that the DHS procurement piece is $11 billion, but the grant piece is $14 billion, it is clearly in the country�s best interests for us to have a world-class grant management system.

Mr. Wiseman: And we�ve talked about this a little bit, too, in terms of how industry, what their role will be and the changes that you�re championing at DHS. Are there any other changes you see in the partnership between the private and public sector, or needs for change?

Mr. Rothwell: I don�t think so, Todd. I mean, when you think about how the private sector can help, there is always the classic help in terms of being a good partner. When you get a contract, deliver on it. I don�t remember who said it, but somebody once said that great men, like great countries, keep their word. When you have a contract, keep your word. I mean, that is a big help. But beyond that, prospectively as I think about the challenges we have, advice and insight is very, very important. Companies have gone through mergers and acquisitions; companies have experience with what we�re going through, and the willingness of many companies to step forward and spend time with us on the calendar has been very much appreciated.

Mr. Lawrence: Greg, you�ve had a long and interesting career that you�ve described for us. So I ask you to sort of be reflective here and think about what advice would you give to a person -- perhaps a young person -- who�s going to join your procurement office and is interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Rothwell: Well, I would be a great supporter. I mean, I always advise young people to consider public service, and I guess I have a real passion about it, and I�ll try to explain. I think public service is just incredibly interesting, it�s incredibly fun. I can�t think of anything where a young person could get more experience doing something than in public service. When I think of what the people do in the Coast Guard, and the young people that are out on those cutters -- you know, they can be 21 years old. It�s unbelievable when I think about the service -- to the Secret Service or FEMA and all these public service things. I can�t think of anything that is more rewarding than public service.

The other thing I would say is that public service is not charity work; it pays very well. If you take the time to understand the pay and the benefits and everything, it does pay very, very well. So for me, I can tell you I have enjoyed what I�ve done; I would rather do what I�ve done than make a million dollars selling mayonnaise. I just really like what I�m doing.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Greg, that�ll have to be our last question. Todd and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule.

Mr. Rothwell: Well, thank you very much, Paul, Todd. I very much appreciate it. If people want to find out more about the Homeland Security and some of the opportunities there, whether they�d be business or employment, there is the www.dhs.gov, and we�d certainly welcome people to go and check that out. And thank you very much.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Greg.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Greg Rothwell, chief procurement officer of the Department of Homeland Security.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can also get a transcript of today�s very interesting conversation. Once again, that�s businessofgovernment.org.

For The Business of Government Hour, I�m Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Gregory Rothwell interview
02/26/2005
"The eight procurement offices of DHS must behave as one. And once they behave as one, the idea with ‘One Face to Industry’ is to project that behavior externally to the private sector and so that the private sector knows how to do business with DHS."

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