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.

Jim Moseley interview

Friday, July 25th, 2003 - 20:00
Jim Moseley
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/26/2003
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs; Leadership; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Strategic Thinking; ...

Missions and Programs; Leadership; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Strategic Thinking;

Complete transcript: 

Washington, DC

July 10, 2003

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. Find out more about the Center by visiting us at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Jim Moseley, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Good morning, Jim.

Mr. Moseley: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Todd Ramsey. Good morning, Todd.

Mr. Ramsey: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Jim, let's begin by talking about the Department of Agriculture. Could you describe the overall mission of the Department for our listeners?

Mr. Moseley: Well, I'd have to say that it goes back to our formation in 1862, when President Lincoln first brought the Department into being, and he defined it as the people's department. And of course, at that time, we had a lot of the population in the United States was on the land. And the purpose was initially to collect knowledge and information and then take it to the people. President Lincoln believed very strongly in making sure that people had access to the knowledge base that was out there.

We haven't changed to this day, except that the mission of the Department of Agriculture has broadened substantially. And I think it's kind of interesting: as I go out and talk with people and try to define the Department of Agriculture, they are frequently stunned as to the breadth that we have here. We go all the way from the nutrition programs -- we have food stamps, for example, which is almost a $40 billion a year investment that we make -- to protecting natural resources, environment.

We have the soil conservation component, which is our Natural Resources Conservation Service, and our Forest Service, which manages 191 million acres of federal lands. We regulate. In the food safety area, we oversee the processing of meat products in this country and poultry.

We do international trade, which is a very important component for the farm community and the agribusiness community, because 40 percent of our products in this country go overseas. And international trade agreements are very important to make sure that that happens smoothly and effectively. And we're expanding that role; trying to, of course, make sure that America's farmers are profitable and well-represented in the international trade arena.

And of course, we support farmers with our commodity programs and so forth, but, more importantly, with some of our insurance. We oversee and, if you will, regulate the crop insurance industry in this country, making sure that we offer a credible product to farmers and one that will actually protect them when they have those difficult situations, because as a farmer myself, I understand the difficulties with farming and what can happen. And of course, when those challenges come along, they can be very destructive to the financial situation of any given farm.

We do a lot of research in the Department, agriculture research, both basic and applied. We do rural development. In fact, I think that's one thing that people just don't think about very often, but the rural areas of this country are represented at the Department of Agriculture through our Rural Development Program, in which we do a lot of housing projects, water availability and also sewage treatment plants in rural areas, and both multiple- and single-family residents as well as we do business in industry loans in rural America.

I know that I've forgotten a few things that we do, but it's a very broad and diverse department, and one that is there, as it started out in 1862, to serve people.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you describe the size of the Department? What I'm curious about is the number and the skills of the employees in your team, because you've just gone through such a broad description of activities.

Mr. Moseley: First of all, it's a large department. I think it's fourth or fifth in terms of government in total dollars that get appropriated, but we have a little over 100,000 employees. The natural resources component of that is about 50 percent. The Forest Service has some 35-, 40,000 employees taking care of those federal lands, and then NRCS makes up that difference to come to about 50 percent.

We handle about $105 billion a year through our accounts. Our total budget is about $75 billion. And the difference in that is the amount of money that we loan. And if you look at us in terms of a lending institution in America, I think we're like number seven or number eight in terms of size and volume of a lending institution. So we make a huge commitment in financial terms to America, particularly, obviously, in the rural areas.

Mr. Ramsey: It's a very large and diverse organization that you're part of. What are your primary roles and responsibilities as Deputy Secretary?

Mr. Moseley: Well, it's to keep the wheels on and keep them inflated and keep the gas tank full and keep the engine tuned up and things moving along. I'm a production person. I come from a farm background, so at the end of the day, I look back and I want to have produced something. And you can't produce anything if the vehicle that you're in isn't prepared and ready to move.

One of the major elements is the infrastructure of the Department, and it's very important to keep the infrastructure healthy. And when I say "infrastructure," that's research and that's our regulatory mechanisms, our international trade -- the ability to participate in international trade negotiations; it is people on the ground serving farmers and people on the ground out there taking care of natural resources. So the responsibility is to make sure that infrastructure continues to be strong.

And quite frankly, it's fairly easy for Congress from time to time to overlook the value of that investment and to put dollars into programs that go to people, but not invest in the basic infrastructure of the vehicle that allows us to deliver that. So I have the responsibility to make sure that that infrastructure is sound and solid and is ready to produce on any given day.

And of course, there are some real challenges in that, and we're going to, I'm sure, talk about some of the management issues that we face. And we are a department in transition in terms of management. We are looking at new and better, we hope, and different ways to try to accomplish some of the things that we've done in the past.

I also, in addition to the infrastructure and, of course, that implies the budget -- and I do run the budget process within the Department. And so all the undersecretaries and agencies have to go through this painful process, they believe, of coming to me. And we're in that right now of presenting their thoughts and their ideas and their budget to me. And then I take it and work on it along with our budget and policy people, career folks in the Department. And ultimately, we put this budget together that's going to move forward to OMB and finally to the Hill. And we present that to the Secretary then for her approval. And hopefully, when we get that accomplished, we have met the President's priorities and the Secretary's priorities and we've also fulfilled the statutory obligations that we have.

And then in addition to that -- and, of course, I could go on and on about the responsibilities, but I have had since 9/11 a significant responsibility in the area of homeland security. I've been the chairman of the Homeland Security Council here within the Department. And 9/11 put a different complexion on what we needed to do, and it has been significant and the changes that we needed to make have been significant. And so I've overseen that whole area of making sure that we have good intelligence, for example, and that we put together a prevention, response, and recovery plan for any circumstance that might come our way.

We had done that sporadically throughout the Department because that's one of the responsibilities. But we had to look at it holistically across the entire department, and, quite frankly, around government. It's not just the Department of Agriculture in case of a food situation that needs to respond. It's also Department of Homeland Security now and it's also Health & Human Services. We have spent a lot of time trying to coordinate and collaborate all those different areas within the Department and also across the government to make sure that we have a response plan, because we don't want -- if we can possibly prevent it, we don't want 9/11 to happen again. And if it does, we want to be able to respond immediately and effectively. I think one of the most important things that we can do in terms of deterring terrorism is for them to understand very clearly that we can respond immediately to it and it's not going to have the impact that they believe that it will. So we've been working diligently in the Department to put together a protection and response and recovery plan that does just that.

Mr. Ramsey: You mentioned that you are from a farm. Can you give us a little bit more insight into your career and the jobs that prepared you for such a challenging position?

Mr. Moseley: Well, I do come from a farm background. In fact, my wife and I both grew up on a farm and we were high school sweethearts and went to college together. And, you know, it's kind of an interesting story to some people; to others it's rather boring.

Yeah, we committed early in our lives that we wanted to be involved in agriculture, wanted to be involved in farming specifically, much to the chagrin, I will tell you, of both of our parents who both had been involved in farming all of their lives. And at that time in the '60s, farming was a very challenging occupation. And so to have their children go into it was not exactly the thing that they were looking for. But we started a farming operation and we were committed to it for 30-some years. I no longer can I say that I'm a farmer because as a result of taking these duties, I had to give up complete ownership in all of my farming activities, which I will share was a fairly painful process for me to have to go through to have to fill this position. But I felt strongly that this was something that made sense, and so we did it.

The kinds of things that I think have prepared me is -- and quite frankly, I've been very candid with folks; the farming experience has been very helpful simply from the standpoint that it seems like here at the Department and government, there's a crisis every day. And that's kind of the way it was in farming; there is a crisis every day. And so the ability to stay calm and respond to those situations and, you know, come up with a response plan is very important.

I would also say in terms of the public policy side of this and the political side of it, I served on a local school board way back when in the early '80s. And the old saying is everything you learn about life, you can learn the basics in kindergarten. Well, everything you need to know about public policy, you can learn serving on a school board. So I think that particular activity was extremely helpful as I then developed my career and moved on to serve in public policy.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the school board.

In these days of homeland security many wonder about the security of our food supply. What steps have been taken to protect us? We'll ask Jim Moseley of the Department of Agriculture when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Jim Moseley. Jim's the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And joining us in our conversation is Todd Ramsey.

Well, Jim, could you tell us about the President's food and agricultural policy?

Mr. Ramsey: Well, that's a question that is somewhat difficult to answer because of the breadth and the scope of agriculture, and when you get into the issue of policy across all of agriculture, we don't have enough time. But I can say that generally speaking, this President and this Administration wants to make sure that, as we have in the past, that we have an abundant supply of healthy food for the American people. And it's one of those things that, quite frankly, in this country, we have never faced famine and starvation. We have individuals within the country who have faced hunger, clearly. And of course, we have our food stamp programs and Women, Infants, and Children Program to address those issues. But in terms of the entire country ever having to face the issue of starvation and hunger, we've never had to do that and we don't intend to ever have to do that, where with abundant and natural resources, our ability to produce far exceeds the capacity of our people to consume. So we want to make sure that we produce enough.

We also want to make sure that that food, when it goes to the consumer, is healthy and it's safe to eat. So that really is the overall framework for the Department. But of course, I've gone through some of the other issues that we have in the Department, some of the things that we do.

I would also make the comment that this President in particular really believes in letting the market work. And the market is a powerful indicator of what the needs of people are. And it will tell us what the demand for any particular product is, and then we respond to that demand, obviously, by producing and filling the supply side of that equation.

At the same time, with agriculture, and we probably ought to talk about that at some point here, it is an industry that can be challenged very easily by one important factor, and that's Mother Nature and the weather. And we can over-produce for a period of time and we can under-produce for a period of time. And we feel strongly that there needs to be some protective mechanism for those people out there on the land that -- you know, they're not large business. And their capacity to withstand challenging times, disasters, is somewhat limited. And so we feel strongly at the Department, and President Bush has been clear, that we need to help people, farmers, ranchers in need. And so it's a mainstay of our policy. We are looking at expanding in a significant way insurance programs; for example, risk management programs that farmers can participate in to try and share that risk with someone else, with others in the marketplace.

But I could go on. Obviously when you talk about the mission of the Department, it's very broad. But in very condensed terms, it really is about producing food for people, it's about protecting natural resources, and it's about making sure that the people that are involved in the agricultural arena are taken care of when those disasters hit us.

Mr. Ramsey: You mentioned that the events of 9/11 led to some major changes within the Department. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you're dealing with potential threats to our food supply?

Mr. Moseley: We have come to a much different level of sensitivity on this whole issue. We are now understanding and we are talking far more openly about the potential for terrorist attack in this country, and as a result of our activities since then, weapons of mass destruction and so forth, looking at the biological side of this whole equation. And even the chemical side of the equation as well. When we start doing that, it starts to focus us on the food and production/agricultural part of our responsibility. And so we have had a significant effort. In fact, I commonly will say I spend 80 percent of my time on homeland security, the other 80 percent of my time on everything else.

But we have made a significant commitment within the Department to step forward and make sure that we, in every opportunity we can, to try and prevent a circumstance from occurring. But if we can't prevent it, then we have to be able to respond to it very quickly. And then, of course, if it does get working out there, biological material gets into, for example, the food supply or into livestock production, we need to be able to recover from that.

So we've gone through a fairly long list of activities in that regard. We realized, for example, that we had to change the way we handled our testing and our biological materials. We had to make sure that they were safe, that the people that were actually doing that were who they say they were. So we've increased people's security within the Department dramatically, doing background checks, for example, of those people that work close to those kinds of materials.

We've had to increase our lab capacity. We did not have enough and we did not have redundancy. If we had something that would happen and we had a lab that was disabled, it was a problem for us. And so we've increased our lab redundancy across the country. And we've done that in cooperation and collaboration with the state departments of agriculture, and also with the land grant institutions.

We've moved forward in a significant way to understand that it truly is a partnership that has to happen. And I think that's one of the positive things that we can talk about as a result of 9/11, that it really within the entire country helped us to recognize that no one institution is going to be able to do it. And so it's not just the federal partner that can protect, it's the federal and the state and the local, and it's also the private sector. And of course, we have a number of access and entry points that we would be concerned about, to agriculture. And they're not within the public sector; they're in the private sector.

So we've worked will all of those people, had them into my office. We've sat down; we've discussed what the vulnerabilities are. We've looked at ways to close those vulnerabilities just to make sure that we're preventing the opportunity as much as we possibly can. And when you look at that matrix and the magnitude of the number of opportunities, you begin to become overwhelmed with it and realize that you can never fill every potential opportunity. And therefore, you have to be ready and able to respond, and to respond immediately.

And as I mentioned earlier, we believe that that's probably the best deterrent that we have. If a terrorist out there knows that they're going to try and fail, they won't try because they have limited resources and they won't use them. And so we've been approaching it from that viewpoint.

Mr. Lawrence: You've mentioned a couple times the efforts to keep Americans fed, like the school lunch program or the food stamp program. What are the challenges facing these programs?

Mr. Moseley: Probably the participation rate and making sure that we have the right people. I've been out on the ground and participated in some of the activities in the school lunch program, for example, and we're not getting all the children in that program that really need to be there. On the other hand, we'd have some in there that shouldn't be. And so one of our major challenges is making sure that our system allows us to very accurately determine who's eligible and who's not because we don't want -- this is one thing in this country we should never allow -- somebody that's hungry and in need, with the vast quantity of food that we have. We don't want somebody that's going without food. And so I think the biggest challenge we have is just making sure we have the right participants in that program. There are some other challenges obviously beyond that, but the Congress and this Administration, the President, has been very forthcoming in that philosophy that we have the food and we're going to feed people and we're going to assist them with nutrition and making sure that they have adequate nutrition.

One of the issues that we are beginning to face as we've done such a good job is that obesity is beginning to come up as a regular issue, and we have a number of Americans that are very close to being obese. And of course, I think the current number is some 40 percent of Americans are obese. And there again, it's a matter of understanding food, nutrition, food intake, exercise, and so forth. So within the Food and Nutrition Service, they're looking at the broad range, all the way from making sure that those people that simply don't have access to adequate food get it to the side of it of making sure that individuals who are eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of foods, in many cases that's the issue, learn about good nutrition and try to avoid falling into that obese category, because clearly it becomes a major public health issue and it's one that can cost. The health care industry side of it is looking at it because of the potential cost that obesity brings to the table.

Mr. Ramsey: I've read where the Department of Agriculture has been involved in the rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Mr. Moseley: Yes. You know, the war in any country is not won until you've stabilized the country, and Americans have a long history of doing that. And of course, we had to try to find Osama bin Laden. He was in Afghanistan, and we went in and made sure that he no longer had that safe haven. In order to do that, of course, we had to take some fairly strong measures with the leadership in that country. Well, you can't walk away from, then, the country without leadership. And even though that was the wrong leadership, you still have to have it. And so we've been very committed to President Karzai and the current administration that's there trying to help the Afghan people come back to really a time before the Soviet invasion of that country years ago, when Afghanistan was a fairly productive and moderately wealthy nation.

The Afghan people are very entrepreneurial. They understand producing. They understand the value of wealth generation and what it can mean. And so you have some things working for you in terms of rebuilding the economy of that country. Eighty percent of the people in the country are dependent upon agriculture. And that's the reason why USDA is there, and we're trying to make sure that we help at the technical level of rebuilding the agricultural component. The major problem there is that the country, of course, is dry, and so they're very dependent upon irrigation resources. And since the Soviet invasion, those resources have received no maintenance. And in fact, a lot of the productive irrigated land was mined by the Soviets, and so it took it completely out of production. We've been very aggressive in the de-mining component of that, but at the same time, we had to and are in the process of helping rebuild the irrigation infrastructure, because if you don't have water, you don't produce.

I had the minister of irrigation from Afghanistan in my office the other day, a wonderful, bright gentleman, spoke fluent English, was trained in the United States, understands the issues there, and was pleading for help. And we weren't talking about huge quantities of dollars; we were talking about people. And of course, we're going to do everything we can to try and help, and it's technical assistance to them.

So we're looking at a variety of things. We are helping with some money. We're looking at trying to improve the education outreach. Instead of going out and trying to do it ourselves, we're looking at training the Afghans to do it. It's the concept of, you know, give a man a fish or teaching him how to fish, and we're trying to teach how to fish there. So we're working to re-establish the University of Kabul and the agricultural school there. My alma mater, Purdue University, is one of the institutions of higher learning that's involved in that activity, and I'm very proud of that fact.

The Afghan country will never be completely self-sufficient, likely, in food, but they can go substantially in that direction. And of course, as I pointed out earlier, we don't know in this country what it's like to not have food. The Afghans do, and they're very committed to making sure that that doesn't happen, and that they have adequate food and that they can produce it themselves or they have the capacity. And quite frankly, they have tremendous capacity there that's just simply not being used. So we're there helping them, working with them, and trying to make sure that they move successfully forward in the right direction.

We're also in Iraq. Iraq was in better condition agriculturally. There's some things that need to be done, clearly, re-establishing the ministry of agriculture. And we have presence there trying to help do that.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point, especially in regards to stability.

How's the Department of Agriculture handling the issues called out by the President's Management Agenda? We'll ask Jim Moseley to tell us about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Jim Moseley. Jim's the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And joining us in our conversation is Todd Ramsey.

Well, Jim, let's spend some time talking about the Department's management initiatives. Could you tell us your response to the President's Management Agenda?

Mr. Moseley: It was slow to start with because it was a major shift in the way government thought about itself, and I would say that it's been good for us to do that. It's been painful. We're making, I believe, significant progress. We're changing culture here. And I can best explain it I think in terms of the budgeting process. As I indicated earlier, I do the budget within the Department, and all the missionaries have to come in and sit down with me and, you know, I have this sign on my door, "What about no don't you understand?" And, you know, we're not there to say no; we're there to analyze what's the best and most effective use of the public dollar.

If an agency comes in and says, well, here's our baseline, the baseline being defined as just what we got last year -- and, of course, we need to have the inflation taken care of, so we have the, you know, 3 or 4 percent increase to take care of that, the cost of living increases. And then we start talking about the things we want to do, the new things that we have to give consideration to, because quite frankly, the environment that we're working in has changed. And, you know, you sit there and you listen. That's the reason why the federal budget continues to swell and expand. This President did it different in Texas, and he brought that philosophy to Washington, D.C. And he inculcated that into OMB with another Hoosier, Mitch Daniels, who, you know, was -- they called him The Knife, Mitch, very affectionately, of course. But Mitch, he understood it had to be a disciplined approach.

So we've taken that disciplined approach, and we look not only at the new things that we want to accomplish above the baseline, but we look below the baseline and where some of the funding might come from to accomplish that. That is a change. That's not how government bureaucracies have been used to operating for a long period of time. In that, of course, we want to make sure that whether it's below the line or above the line, A, that we still need to invest those dollars in that particular activity; and, B, if we do invest the public dollar, the taxpayers' money in an activity, there's going to be benefit that exceeds the cost.

And so that's been the primary focus when we go through this budget process of, A, looking below the baseline as a potential resource for the new and emerging issues and things that you have to address; and then also making sure that the things above the baseline are -- it makes sense to do them anyway, that there is a significant benefit to the investment of the public dollar. That, as I've indicated, has been a significant change.

There are other components, of course, of the President's Management Agenda; for example, the human capital component of it. And I've kind of looked at that, that the human capital is critical. It's a building block, as is the budget performance integration. And really those are the foundation pieces and everything else then comes on top of that. Competitive sourcing and E government, you know, those are the kinds of things that enable the management of government, but the building blocks of that are literally this budget performance integration and then, of course, the human capital.

The human capital side of it is interesting in the context that government is changing. It's changing its role. And the needs of the employees that participate in government are changing. We need to change the skill sets. And so we're in a situation where we have to look out there 5, 10, even 15 years and try to sort out what kind of individual and what kind of skill sets are necessary to make sure that government functions; not now, but 5 years and 10 years from now, because we have to train our way and we have to teach our way into those skills.

So those are the things that we've been focusing on. As I said, it's been different and somewhat painful. But I think at the end of this day and at the end of my time, whenever that may come, that we will look back and say, you know, we've made some significant progress and government is more responsive and it's better managed than what it has been. And I have to just say, quite simply, I give President Bush a lot of credit for this, because this was the philosophy when he was governor of Texas and he brought it here and he said we can do it in the federal government as well, and we're doing it.

Mr. Ramsey: The E-government modernization has been a featured element of the President's Management Agenda. I'd be interested in your view of the progress that OMB's making across government, and what specifically your department is doing to fulfill its mission of serving the people as you described it.

Mr. Moseley: Well, I probably should be careful about how OMB's doing because, remember, they're the next step up in my budget process.

Mr. Ramsey: They say no to you --

Mr. Moseley: So that's right. And I would clearly defer to their judgment on how they think they're doing. But I do believe that the E-government component of the management agenda is extremely important, and exactly in the context that we pointed out, serving the people.

And, you know, the introduction of the Internet is just a sea change in the way people interact and communicate. And for government not to be involved in that activity, not participate in it, leaves government potentially irrelevant. And there was a strong recognition of that, and there was some really good leadership that was brought in at OMB to push the concepts and ideas forward. And we put a CIO into the Department of Agriculture that is just doing a phenomenal job, Scott Charbo. He's been in the private sector, he's been in the public sector, but he understands the architectural framework that we have to have to fit all this together.

If you start looking, there's literally billions and billions of pieces of data, but the ability to bring all that data together and use it and analyze is, you know -- we haven't been able to do it. Computer systems within the Department of Agriculture that are not compatible enough that we can take a data set from one area and move it over to the other. I mean, it didn't make any sense. And so we've developed a department-wide architecture and that then is fed into a government-wide architecture that allows an entry point for a citizen. And once they're into the system, it isn't just they're in the USDA system. They may need some information over in Health & Human Services or, you know, HUD or anyplace else, Veteran Affairs, and at some point in time, they ought to be able to, with one ID, be able to access all those.

So those are the kinds of things; that's the vision that we're trying to pursue. It's working. It's painful. It's a huge investment. We lay out about $2 billion a year in USDA towards this goal, and investing in hardware and software. But it truly is an investment that we believe and we judge all of these on the basis of what's the return, and we believe it's an investment that's going to return substantially in terms of meeting really the government's goal of serving its people.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the areas called out in the President's Management Agenda that you mentioned is competitive sourcing. What's the USDA doing in this area?

Mr. Moseley: We're looking at that where there's opportunities to do it and do it in a way that makes sense. And I think this is an area that we have to pretty clearly define. There's some potential political issues here. We're not talking about moving federal employees into the private sector workforce without looking at the competitiveness. And some people believe that it's just a matter of all of a sudden, they're moved to a private sector employer and then the service is provided. The issue here is that we look at the cost within the government providing that service and we look at the cost outside the government, and whichever one is the most competitive and the best investment of taxpayer dollars, that's the direction that we really need to go to, based upon just good governance.

So we're in the process of evaluating what it costs within government and how we can acquire those services outside of government, and making sure that we meet those needs adequately. So it's an issue that we're moving somewhat slowly on because there are some political ramifications, so we have to do it just right. But it's an issue also in terms of the taxpayer out there. The public, they should expect us to get the most value for the dollar, and that's what we're trying to accomplish.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point about doing it just right.

The President's Management Council is a key group that helps make management happen in this Administration. What does the Council do?

We'll ask Jim Moseley, one its members, to tell us about it when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Jim Moseley. Jim's the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And joining us in our conversation is Todd Ramsey.

Mr. Ramsey: You described yourself earlier as a production man making things work. I'm interested in what you're doing to ensure the implementation and accountability for your management agenda.

Mr. Moseley: Well, it's always been my observation that things work best when you have ownership. And that doesn't mean that you have to financially own something economically, but that you have a sense of purpose and mission, and I own that. And I would have to say the key component that's changing this culture is this concept of ownership and then accountability. And I think the ownership component of that is change that was necessary, but also a change for individuals that served in government for a long time. And what's interesting to me is that they like that because it does create that sense of purpose and sense of mission. And at the end of the day or at the end of the week, they can say I did something and my team did it.

So it's a value, quite frankly, that I've always believed in and have used in my own business. We've brought people into our company, the farming business, and we've allowed that ownership to exist in real terms, financial terms. But it's more than just finance; it's also that sense of purpose and sense of mission. And I think it's making a significant difference here in government that people can, you know, feel that.

Mr. Lawrence: As the Deputy Secretary, you're a member of the President's Management Council. Could you tell us about the Council's activities?

Mr. Moseley: Well, of course, it has a responsibility to carry out the management agenda, and we've talked about certain components of that: the human capital, the budget performance integration, competitive sourcing, E-government. Financial management, we've haven't talked about that. That's been a major challenge at Department of Agriculture. We've made significant strides.

And the Management Council is kind of the flagship that's allowed all of us then to rally our ships around and float along, or be guided along by the flagship in the direction of trying to make this change that we've been talking about. And it's made up of the deputies all across government. I suppose it must have a membership of some 50 or 60 people. And we get together regularly and we discuss these issues. Sometimes we discuss challenges and problems that we're having, and we share experiences and what we've learned.

For example, about three months ago, we did a deputies' retreat where we just went off and worked through some of these issues one by one. And we had certain deputies who shared their experience and what they had done, and obviously, we were looking at some of the success stories. Well, every time you do that, you find an element, because this is a major undertaking. This is a very broad agenda that we're after here. What you find out of that then something that you can take back to your department or agency and implement.

So it's been, as I say, the flagship. It's gelled everything together and allowed us to really stay on focus. And I don't know how we would have done it without having that core group of individuals that come together. And again, we had ownership, you know. We felt it.

Mr. Ramsey: You started by describing the Department as being founded in President Lincoln's Administration, and we've talked a little bit about the history, a lot about what you're doing today. I'd be interested in your views of where the Department's going to head in the future. What's going to change about the way you try to fulfill this mission of serving the people?

Mr. Moseley: Well, first of all, based upon some of the discussions we've had here, I hope that there's somewhat of a legacy left that it's better managed. We're working hard in that direction. Where the Department goes is determined by people that lead it, and it's determined by the needs of the public, the people out there that we're trying to serve. I don't think there's any question in our mind that agriculture's changing in a dramatic way; structurally, agriculture's changing. We're getting more large farms, we're getting more small farms, and we're losing the intermediate, the medium-sized farms that were kind of the mainstay of agriculture 40, 50, 60 years ago. They both serve a function and a purpose. They also complicate the challenges that we have at the Department serving both of those.

So we're going to have to change within the Department to make sure that we adequately serve the smaller producer that tends to be more of a niche market, produces goods and services that are more local in nature. At the same time, the Wal-Martization of the United States also has a demand and has driven the other end of that spectrum. And it's our responsibility at the Department to try and serve both ends of that spectrum.

We're not going to see any decline in the number of poor people, probably. I think that's even Scriptural that the poor shall always be among us. There's always going to be some need that's out there. We feel at the Department strongly about filling that need, making sure that no one in this country goes without adequate food, nutrition.

There's a lot of things in terms of research. We're on the cutting edge. Biotechnology is a pressing issue. We are going to continue to explore the edges of science and we're going to apply that science to the production of food, simply because this population on this good earth will likely double in the next 40 to 50 years and we need to feed them. And we will continue to explore the needs of some developing countries and clearly the underdeveloped countries.

President Bush is in Africa right now. There's some major challenges in Africa relative to basic food production, and quite frankly, the AIDS situation is just devastating the agricultural production in that country. We need to meet those challenges. And while the Department of Agriculture is not going to be involved in solving the AIDS issue, the food and nutrition side of that, the agricultural production is important. The issue of biotechnology will come into play. It's going to have to come into play or we're going to have to bring huge acreages into production that, quite frankly, we don't want to produce on. It's not wise to produce, but we also have to acknowledge that a hungry people will do anything to eat.

So, you know, there's a lot of challenges at the Department that we can undertake, but I would say those are some of the larger ones that, at least in my crystal ball, we will continue to be focused on for the next 30, 40 years even.

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

Mr. Moseley: Well, I think you have to have a passion, first of all, to serve people. And I subscribe to a concept called servant leadership. And there are individuals that believe that leaders are out there and that they sit at the top of an organization and they command power and, you know, distribute that power around and cause things to happen. But I also believe that leaders, while they sit at the top of an organization, also have to slip down underneath that organization, understand its foundation, and support its foundation and really play a support role. And that, by definition, to me is servant leadership. So I think you have to understand who you are as a person and understand what you're trying to accomplish and are you really involved in it to serve people, and that's essential.

If I were looking at some skill sets or some things that I wish I would have had a little bit better feel for, it would be understanding the public, the nature of the public and how it reacts and how it thinks. In other words, some background in public -- or in political science I think would have been very helpful. I didn't have that. When I was in college, I passed that opportunity by and, doggone, I wish I hadn't have done that.

Secondarily, I think you don't have to be a lawyer to be involved in public service. Hopefully, you don't have to be a lawyer to be involved in public service. But I think a basic understanding of law and how laws are made in a free and open society and how you accomplish good governance is extremely critical. And again, you don't have to become a lawyer, but there are opportunities out there now to learn about how laws are made and how they're implemented. And, you know, in this country, the Congress isn't the only one that makes our laws. There are a number of other ways that they get made.

And the only other one I guess I'd add to that that I have felt some deficiency in is a foreign language. If I were a young person today, I would learn a foreign language. And of course, I would make the recommendation that that be Spanish. But those are some of the kinds of things that I'd be looking at.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm afraid we're out of time, Jim. Todd and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule.

Mr. Moseley: Well, thank you. This has been a real pleasure to be able to be here. And I want to make sure that individuals out there, people know that we are accessible. We are the people's department and so my door is open. People out there can also contact the Department by We have a very good website that will lead you into a wealth of information far broader that you'll probably sit down and deal with in one single day. So we welcome people to do that and learn more about the Department. It's a great place in terms of a career opportunity, and I always try to make sure that people know that Agriculture is a good place to be involved in a career.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much, Jim.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Jim Moseley, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Be sure to visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Once again, that's

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Jim Moseley interview
Jim Moseley

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