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.

Michael Montelongo interview

Friday, September 3rd, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"We’re talking about defending the nation's basic democratic principles and values."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 09/04/2004
Intro text: 
Financial Management; nnovation; Technology and E-Government; Leadership; Strategic Thinking...

Financial Management; nnovation; Technology and E-Government; Leadership; Strategic Thinking

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

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 about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

Good morning, Michael.

Mr. Montelongo: Good morning, Paul. It’s great to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us is Glen Gram. Good morning, Glen.

Mr. Gram: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Michael, let’s start at sort of the context. Could you tell us about the Office for Financial Management and Comptroller and how it supports the mission of the U.S. Air Force?

Mr. Montelongo: Well, first of all, let me begin by saying thanks to you and the IBM team for doing what you’re doing. In other words, giving your listeners, really the insights of what government is doing to deliver more value to the American taxpayer. So I really applaud you for doing that.

Let me then answer your question and that is that the Air Force, the United States Air Force, the United States Air Force that serves the American public, is designed to protect the interest of the United States, to defend the interests of the United States using air and space power. And what our role is as financial managers is to primarily deliver the resources that the Air Force needs, the financial management services that the Air Force needs to accomplish that mission.

Mr. Gram: Mike, can you tell us a little about your role as the Chief Financial Officer of the Air Force?

Mr. Montelongo: Well, it really stems from what I just said, Glen, and that is that we’re primarily involved in delivering financial management services and analytical services to the Air Force at large. And then I have the additional role of being the primary adviser, financial adviser to the Secretary of the Air Force Jim Roach, who’s my boss, and my other boss, who is the Chief of Staff of the Air Force John Jumper. And I also provide that kind of advice and counsel, financial resource advice and counsel, to other senior leaders of the Air Force.

Mr. Gram: What’s the size and scope of your organization as you carry out those functions?

Mr. Montelongo: Let me just put in context to say that the Air Force is one of perhaps three or four business units, if I could use that lexicon or that sort of metaphor and analogue, in the Department of Defense, which is basically in many ways the oldest, largest, busiest, and some might arguably say the most successful organization on the planet. As far as the Air Force is concerned, we have something in the neighborhood of about 700,000 professionals that span the active duty, reserve, guard, and civilians that do the work of the United States Air Force.

When you look at what we are involved in, in some ways, you can describe us as the largest airline on the planet. We have a fleet of something like 6,000 aircraft, which is larger than really the fleets of Southwest, Northwest, Continental, United, American, and Delta Airlines combined. Of course, our aircraft is specialized, too, as you might imagine. And when you also compare us to the personnel, budget, and asset base of other companies, I just told you that we have a total of about 700,000 or so people, frankly, that’s more than IBM and General Motors combined, and I think it’s only Wal-Mart that exceeds the number of people employed that we have.

And in terms of budget, just recently I guess in this current budget cycle, we have something to the tune of a little over 120 billion. And when you compare that to the revenue base of, say, the largest six air carriers or airline carriers, we exceed that, and we also exceed the asset base for those carriers by a good amount. So we are a fairly sizable organization.

Mr. Gram: Well, that’s great. Can you tell us a little about your previous work experience prior to becoming this Chief Financial Officer, and how that work experience prepared you for your current position?

Mr. Montelongo: Well, I began public service quite early as a lieutenant in the United States Army, and this -- well, I guess I won’t tell you how long ago that was, but that’s how I started and did, frankly, a full career before I decided that it was time to then pursue another chapter in my journey. And from there, after doing a career in the Army, then went into the private sector, starting first in the teleco industry and then moving on into the consulting industry. And then this opportunity had come up and I was, frankly, very fortunate to have the opportunity and privilege to join the Administration and to serve in this capacity.

Mr. Gram: How different is that experience compared to the typical commercial sector experience?

Mr. Montelongo: Well, you know, in many ways it is quite comparable. And I think that as you have noted in previous conversations that you’ve had with other government officials, I think that they would probably tell you the same, that it’s quite comparable in many ways.

Where it differs I think is clearly in the fact that we don’t have a profit motive. It differs in the fact that the scale, as I just tried to paint for you, is quite different. And the cost of not performing, particularly in this area, in this context, in the Department of Defense, in the business units of the Department of Defense, whether it’s Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines, the cost of not performing is proportionately I think higher than it would be, say, in the commercial sector. Because here we’re talking about, frankly, the national defense. We’re talking about lives at stake. We’re talking about defending the nation’s basic democratic principles and values. And so in that regard, the stakes are much higher.

But even though we don’t have a profit motive, we still have the pressure to perform. We have the pressure to succeed and win. There still are increasing demands for accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. In some ways, I guess you could say that we have a CEO who’s the President of the United States; and we have a board of directors, which is the United States Congress -- as opposed to maybe 15 or so, we have 535 -- which makes things quite interesting, as you might imagine; and our shareholders are the American public. And I think that in some ways, one could arguably say that our shareholders and board of directors are every bit as demanding as any corporation’s stockholders or board of directors.

Mr. Gram: I appreciate that analogy. That’s a neat way of looking at things. What’s been your greatest challenge in your role?

Mr. Montelongo: I’m not sure that I could -- as I think about that, I’m not sure that I could necessarily limit it to a single challenge, because government -- public service in and of itself I think poses some very complex challenges. And I think -- and this is not necessarily a judgment call, but I think from the perspective that I see it doing this in the Department of Defense I think makes it even that much more challenging and complicated sometimes.

But I’ll tell you, as I think about it, maybe the way I would characterize it is that each day I have to fight the tyranny of the urgent versus the important. And that is, and I think you can relate to this, I mean, oftentimes I find that the urgent is always crowding out the important. And another way of perhaps manifesting this comparison between the urgent and the important is that I tell my folks that each and every day, we are involved in building the airplane while we’re flying it. We have to operate while also being mindful of creating the future.

We don’t have the luxury we just went through the Finals here, the NBA Finals with the Lakers and the Pistons. They have the luxury of timeouts, we don’t. We have to operate every day, today, fighting a war, if you will, but we also have to be, as I said, very mindful of creating the future so that when the future gets here this institution will be as ready as it is today to meet the nation’s needs.

Mr. Lawrence: Your description of the scale of the Air Force was very interesting and context-setting. I’m curious in terms of some of the management challenges that scale presents. How do you communicate with a group that large?

Mr. Montelongo: Interesting question. I think that you use several channels to do that. And the one that I -- my preference is face-to-face. So I make it a point -- I don’t travel as frequently, for instance, as my boss does, the Secretary of the Air Force or General Jumper, both of them do, they travel quite a bit. And in fact, they do that primarily to get the word out, to connect with our 700,000 strong workforce: airmen, civilian airmen, and so forth. And so in some ways, I try to mimic that as well visiting as many bases as I can so that I can connect and let those folks know, both let me say not only financial managers at work -- and I have about 10,000 of these folks who are distributed throughout the Air Force -- not only to connect with them and let them know that I care about them, I love them, I love what they’re doing, and I appreciate their contributions, but also the wider Air Force that’s not necessarily involved in the financial management: the maintainers, the logisticians, the civil engineers, all of those folks, the communicators. I go out there to try and reach out and touch them and let them know that folks like myself are back here in the Pentagon doing everything that we can to give them the resources that they need to do their jobs.

So it is a mixture of having face-to-fact connect; it’s a mixture of using these kinds of opportunities that we’re doing this morning to reach out and let folks know what we’re about, what we do, and how we’re contributing to the defense of the nation.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting. Transformation is taking place within the Department of Defense, and the Air Force’s financial management organization is no exception. What’s the transformational plans for financial management in the Air Force?

We’ll ask Mike Montelongo of the Air Force 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 Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

And joining us in our conversation is Glen Gram.

Well, Michael, I understand the Department of the Air Force is in the process of transforming itself to include its financial management operation, and I guess I’m interested in learning about the transformation. My first question is sort of why now, especially while we’re at wartime? And I’m reminded of your analogy, just talking about building the airplane while you’re flying it. So it seems like perhaps a high degree of difficulty.

Mr. Montelongo: Actually a very great question. I must tell you, Paul and Glen, that I vividly recall 9/10, the day before 9/11. And on that day, the Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld gave I thought a milestone speech titled “Bureaucracy to Battlefield.” And basically in that speech he was outlining his plan. Actually at that point, it was more of an evolution of a plan that he had already introduced when he came into office, but this one was a bit more specific about taking sort of the negative aspects of bureaucracy that we’ve all heard about, that in many ways pose stumbling blocks and barriers to good government and effectiveness and efficiency, and diverting all of the resources that go to those kinds of barriers, if you will, over to battlefield, if you will, the tooth of the Defense Department.

So basically what he was doing was rallying the troops and exhorting all of us to say, folks, we really have to move forward here and begin to translate all of this stuff that we have been experiencing from a bureaucratic point of view into more productivity and more capability. So that’s the whole notion of Bureaucracy to Battlefield.

And then, all of a sudden, 9/11 hits. So one would think, as your question implies, gee-whiz, how can you continue to be on sort of a transformation journey while you’re also fighting a war? Well, I would tell you that the global war on terrorism increases the imperative for change. It actually makes it that much more imperative for us to do the kinds of things that the Secretary was laying out on 9/10, the day before 9/11.

The President and the Secretary laid out a vision when they came into office for a much more agile, nimble, flexible, lethal, and integrated force, supported by a business operation or a set of business operations, back office if you want to use that term, that are just as agile, just as responsive to the war fighter. And then my boss, Secretary of the Air Force, and General Jumper, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, have basically taken that charter, that mandate to say in the Air Force, we’re not about necessarily platforms, we’re about building, sustaining, and strengthening capabilities.

Well golly gee-whiz, if that’s what the institution at large is trying to do, then it’s imperative upon me and my financial managers to support that kind of change, to support that kind of transformation. We have to be every bit as sophisticated in our financial service delivery as the weapon systems that we support and the war-fighting concepts that we support. That’s what transformation’s all about.

So for me, I have explicitly told our folks that when we grow up, metaphorically speaking, we have to be strategic partners to our commanders, to our decision-makers. We have to be the ultimate choice for financial and management information that is reliable, that’s timely, that’s accurate. And we have to be part of a world-class team that is delivering the absolute best in customer-focused financial services, but primarily what I call decision support services. That means, I want to make a distinction there, and I’m drawing a distinction between sort of the analytical capability that we can deliver versus transactional kinds of services.

Mr. Gram: Human capital, that is getting the most out of people and helping to promote top performance, is a major challenge in the federal government. How many people work for you and what are you doing to help them develop their potential?

Mr. Montelongo: Human capital, people stuff. Man, I’ll tell you, you’ve hit a button for me. That is a key piece that I spend a great deal of time on, because if we’re going to succeed at any of the kinds of things that I’ve sort of been outlining with you and our listeners, it’s going to be because we have dedicated, committed, skilled, competent people that are doing the nation’s work, frankly.

In my shop, I have something like 150 people, and that’s supplemented by partners in business, yourselves for instance, and you know this, Glen. And across the Air Force, and I mentioned this a little bit earlier, we have something like 10,000 individuals that are doing financial management work across the Air Force. And, you know, what we’re doing to manage their careers better, to give them the tools, the skill sets, the competencies that they need to succeed each and every day, we have embarked on what we’re calling a force development process, meaning that we’re now in the process of developing, training, educating, grooming, growing them purposely, purposefully, on purpose rather than sort of a pick-up game or an ad hoc game, which I think we had been doing in previous decades. It’s important that we do that.

Business, as you know, does or puts -- in some of the better organizations in business, put a premium on succession planning. And the idea being there is that you’re actually on purpose looking at your talent and strengthening that over time, and on purpose putting people into the right positions so that they can grow and ultimately take the reins of leadership in the organization. That’s what we’re doing with this whole force development concept in the Air Force and in financial management.

Mr. Lawrence: We noticed that your office is working with Harvard MBA summer interns. I’m curious about the objectives of this program and what type of work they do over the summer.

Mr. Montelongo: Paul, in addition to strengthening the folks that we currently have on the payroll and doing the kinds of things that I just outlined, we also have to be very mindful of bringing in new talent. You know this very well; one of the challenges the government at large is facing is the aging issue; that a good solid number, a large percentage of the public service workforce is in the retirement window. Now thankfully, we haven’t lost, at least in a large scale, that leadership capability, that skilled leadership capability just yet. But, I mean, as time goes on, it’s inevitable. So we have to be mindful to be sure that we can bring in some new talent.

My view is that we ought to have every bit of an opportunity to go after our fair share of America’s top talent. You know, we -- and I don’t want to make light of this, but certainly, you know, we’re in a war, global war on terrorism, but I also tell our people we’re in a war for talent. You folks are after the same talent that I want. In the past, we, I think, maybe unconsciously, have ceded the first-tier talent to business. So we haven’t aggressively recruited at first-tier schools, like Harvard or Wharton or Stanford or Chicago or any of those places. Well, I say we need to do that.

We need to visit these young people and say that in addition to the plethora of choices that they have to pick from, there’s another one that they haven’t heard, and that’s public service, and that that is every bit as rewarding and challenging as any other opportunity. And this an area, public service, of all the areas in American society that needs that kind of first-tier talent that is being produced at places like Harvard and all the other places that I was talking about. So what we’re doing is going through an experiment to see if we can introduce this young talent to government, to public service, and see what they think, because they’ve never met a government person before. They’ve never met somebody in uniform before. All they’ve heard is what they read in the papers, if you will.

And we also want to introduce our people to this top talent, because all they’ve probably heard is, oh, these are these young whippersnappers who think that they know everything and they’re Wall Street types who are, you know, arrogant and so forth and so on. Well, I got to tell you, this is our third year; we’re going into our third year of this experiment. We’re bringing in an intern this summer. Last year we had four, and the previous year we had one, and it’s been marvelous.

Those young people roll up their sleeves, go in, and they really do nuts-and-bolts work with our people, and they have impressed the pants off of our folks. Our folks really are marveled at the dedication and work ethic of these students. And in turn, the students, when they leave, the feedback that they’ve given me is that this has been an experience of a lifetime. Although we haven’t yet gone to a point where we’ve hired them, we’re looking to at least plant the seed in them that public service is an option that they may pursue in the future.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s fascinating, especially the people focus.

Transformation also involves technology and process. How is the Air Force addressing these? We’ll ask Mike Montelongo of the Air Force 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 Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

And joining us in our conversation is Glen Gram.

Well, Michael, in the previous segment, we talked a lot about people with the right skills and attitudes to make transformation work, but I’m also curious about technology. How is your organization using technology to promote transformation?

Mr. Montelongo: Paul, technology is part of a three-prong strategy or three-prong attack in our strategy to begin to make our change and transformation a reality. As you say, we did talk about the people a second ago, and that’s obviously a key element in making all this happen. Processes, streamlining them and making them efficient, that’s important. But having integrated systems that talk to each other is tremendously important so that we are not doing what we’re doing today, and that is relying on human interfaces to move information, to move data back and forth. So today, at the very extreme, we would have to download information from one system only to fat-finger it into another.

And as you well know, having the experience that you have in the private sector, all that does is introduce that much more error, not to mention the inefficiency and the time that it takes to do that. So we’re spending so much more time in this time-honored ritual called “data calls” than in spending the time -- in other words, by that I mean, and your listeners who work in government probably are chuckling because they understand what it means, unfortunately, but what that means is basically spending so much time collecting the data, collecting the information, going out manually using a telephone or whatever it is, e mail, to say, hey, folks, I need the following data because I can’t get it out of a system. I want people to spend most of their time analyzing, putting together courses of action so we have to fix our systems.

As you probably well know, the Defense Department launched on an effort that the Secretary asked us to launch a couple years back called the Business Management Modernization Program. And that really is a very bold and ambitious plan to basically modernize the business systems in the Department of Defense. And it’s a very ambitious one, because we have something like when we did the inventory of current systems that we have in place, we have over 2,000 first-tier systems that, in essence, are disconnected. They don’t talk to each other. They’ve got lots of information, lots of data that we need to run this organization, this institution, but they are not integrated comprehensively. And so the BMMP, as it’s been called over the last several years, is a key element in attacking the systems piece.

We have others that I’m concentrating on in the Air Force. One is basically putting in, for the first time, a general ledger, honest-to-goodness, 21st century accounting system into our Air Force, which we haven’t had. And that’s called DEAMS -- that’s the acronym, Defense Enterprise Accounting Management System.

And we’re also trying to make better use of tools that we currently have for self-service operation. We’re calling it My Pay. And basically My Pay is probably version one of what you and I use when we go to the website and do our banking, our personal finance stuff. And My Pay is the right solution, we just have to add even more functionality so that in the future, when our airmen need to basically do personal financial transactions, they can do it self-service rather than having to do it face-to-face as we do today.

Mr. Gram: Yeah, that’s a big change in the way things used to be.

Mr. Montelongo: Absolutely, culturally it is. We have to wean people off of that. But look, you know this as well as I do: when you look at what it costs on average for a face-to-face transaction, we’re talking anywhere between, I don’t know, $16 to $20 per visit. When you handle the same transaction in a centralized call center operation, now we’re talking maybe perhaps something along the lines of $7 to $10 per phone call. We do the same transaction on the web, it’s 5 cents a transaction. There’s a time for the personal face-to-face, there’s a time for perhaps the call center, and there’s also I think now, finally, a time to leverage this kind of technology, web technology, so that we can still deliver quality services, but at a much lower price point.

Mr. Gram: We know that you’re a proponent of cost and performance awareness. How do you change the culture and promote that type of behavior or those thought processes as you go through those changes?

Mr. Montelongo: Glen, in many ways, what that really amounts to is aligning the incentives that we currently have so that what we’re doing is promoting and encouraging and motivating folks to perform; in other words, to let them know that, at the end of the day, what’s going to count is not a set of inputs or how many transactions you did, but what was the outcome. What value did you produce? What service did you deliver? What product did you give to the war fighter? That’s what is going to be measured at the end of the day. That’s what people are going to be rewarded for at the end of the day.

So I will tell you that what the Secretary of Defense has done, and it was challenging, but partnering with Congress, has been able to enact -- I should say that this is something that the Secretary had asked Congress for and Congress has enacted and the President signed into law, is the National Security Personnel System, which basically is going to upgrade the current personnel system that we have for our civilians so that basically we can do the kinds of personnel actions with much more agility and nimbleness than we have in the past.

You know, so the ability to hire people on the spot, which is something that we haven’t been able to do except for maybe certain circumstances. I know that some of my people, for instance, tell me that when they go to job fairs, the company at the booth right next to them is able to on-the-spot hire somebody, give them their bonus or loan forgiveness or whatever the case may be, whatever package it takes to bring that person on board, and then we, on the other hand, tell our folks here’s all this paperwork that you got to fill and it’s going to take a couple of months to process. I mean, it’s ridiculous.

I told you before we’re in a war on talent. And so I think our NSPS, when we finally implement it and get it executed, is going to give us the kinds of flexibility that we’ve been seeking so that we can, in fact, again, going back to what I was saying a second ago, motivate our folks and let them know that they’re going to be rewarded for behavior that stresses performance.

Mr. Gram: That sounds like that system will go a long way towards leveling the playing field a little bit. What are you doing in the service delivery model areas? And as you streamline your supply chains to improve cost and quality, what are some of the changes you’re doing there and how you’re looking at providing services?

Mr. Montelongo: Glen, I sort of alluded to this a second ago when we were talking about how we’re leveraging technology or how we’re perhaps using technology to transform the delivery of financial services. A couple of things going on here.

First, I asked our folks to take a hard look at what it is that we do as financial managers and to filter all of what we do through a core competency lens. In other words, the Air Force does three things, three core competencies better than anybody on the planet: it develops airmen, it brings technology to war fighting, and it integrates operations from an air and space point of view. Better than anybody on the planet. Nobody else can do that. So in the financial management world, what is it that we’re doing that strengthens, promotes those core competencies? And the notion being is that whatever it is that we do that does that, that’s what we should keep doing. Whatever it is that we’re doing that doesn’t necessarily do that, then perhaps we should examine that for divestiture.

So with that kind of insight, I then want to say now that we know the kind of services that we want to deliver, in other words, the what that we want to deliver to the Air Force, to the war fighter, now let’s figure out how we’re going to deliver that. What channels are we going to use to deliver those services? And in doing so, can we leverage technology so that we’re delivering those services at a lower cost point?

So again, to what I was saying previously, rather than relying and defaulting solely to face-to-face delivery, which is very costly, let’s use the face-to-face for advisory services; in other words, the financial manager advising commanders and decision-makers. But for routine financial management service delivery, perhaps we can do that with call centers, perhaps we can do more of that with the web. And that’s how we’re trying to streamline our service delivery model so that we’re delivering just exactly what the Air Force needs from us, but at a much lower price point.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s a good point.

What’s the appropriate level of government interaction with the private sector? We’ll ask Mike Montelongo of the Air Force for his perspective 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 Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

Joining us in our conversation is Glen Gram.

Mr. Gram: Mike, can you share with us your vision for Air Force financial management operations over the next 5 to 10 years?

Mr. Montelongo: Glen, we talked a little bit about this in the previous segments, but I will tell you, I’m very optimistic about our future. When I think about perhaps a 15-year reunion that I might have with some of my colleagues that are my present-day colleagues, I really am very optimistic about what I think I’m going to be seeing. I think that I will see auditable financial statements. I really feel that. I think I’m going to see clean opinions. I’m going to see the fact that our financial and management information is indeed reliable, accurate, and timely. I’m going to see people that are currently in the workforce then who will look at me incredulously when I mention the term “data calls.” They’ll look at me and say, geez, we don’t do that around here, we just hit the Enter key and, in fact, I just hit this little switch here on my PDA and everything that I need is available to me.

I really do think that we’re going to be in a position, a much better position to actually do the kinds of things that we’re envisioning now 5, 10, 15 years from now. In other words, being the strategic partner to our decision-makers and commanders, being individuals that will leave our footprint, our collective footprint, on the future of the United States Air Force. I feel really good about that.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that you’re a great proponent of the interaction between the public and private sectors. Why do you think this interaction is important?

Mr. Montelongo: 9/11, Paul, has really dramatically changed the landscape, more so than well, it’s hard for me to certainly compare this to back in other eras, like World War II, World War I, and others. I guess I can only speak to this era because this is the era that I am here in. But to me, I think it’s dramatically changed. So much so that we just can’t leave the business of taking care of America entirely, exclusively to just those of us in public service.

America’s scarcest asset is her talent. And over time, what we have done is bifurcated that talent, compartmentalized it between public and private sectors. And in some cases, the relationships have been adversarial and confrontational. We can’t afford that anymore.

I read the other day that 85 percent of America’s infrastructure is owned by the private sector. Goodness gracious, if we’re going to win this global war on terrorism, we have to have the private sector -- business -- partnering with us here in the public sector. I, frankly, think because of the fact that I think America would like to have its best and brightest at key positions in public service, well, then we have to then figure out ways to have exchanges and have this talent move back and forth between both sectors.

Now clearly, we have to figure out how we can do that, facilitate that, and still make sure that there aren’t any conflicts of interest, and I think we can work that out. But I think over time, what we’re going to have to do for the sake of America is be sure that we can have some permeability between the two sectors that in the past has been almost in some cases, at the very extreme, a solid wall. We have to take advantage of every bit of talent that America has regardless of where it is.

Mr. Gram: Mike, we know that you’re very active in the Hispanic community and promoting, you know, the participation in the military and public service and education. What advice would you give a new person joining the public sector or considering joining that as a career?

Mr. Montelongo: Glen, great question, because I have spent the better part of my lifetime, both professionally and personally, in promoting opportunities for everyone. And because my background is Hispanic, I guess I’m a bit sensitive to the fact that this particular segment of our great society is growing leaps and bounds. And as we sort of project demographically how things are going to be, gosh, in the next 30 to 40 years, that segment is just going to continue to grow and be much more of a percentage of our population than it is today.

My view is that America has to take advantage of, as I was saying before, every bit of its talent regardless of where it is, regardless of what color it is, regardless of what background it is, regardless of what faith it is. It has to use every bit of its talent to remain competitive in this very global and increasingly global society.

When I go to neighborhoods that I grew up in that are predominantly a minority, in my case Latino, I encourage our young folks to explore opportunities, to be involved in society, to contribute to society, to make a mark on society, to give back to society, and that if they prepare if they prepare -- they will have every bit of opportunity to contribute. They will have every bit of opportunity to step up to the plate and knock the cover off the ball, but they have to prepare. They absolutely have to prepare. This is big league stuff.

And once again, this issue of 9/11 has really changed the complexity I think of things. And so we need the very best that America can prepare to lead America into the future. So I think that one of those opportunities that young people have from all walks of life is public service. And it’s one that I think sometimes our young people in our colleges and grad schools aren’t introduced to enough. And that’s kind of our fault a little bit, because I’m not sure that we have made a concerted effort, at least on the civilian side, to get the message out that, hey, there is a significant civilian workforce in the federal government that needs the kind of talent that we have in our schools.

So I would tell young people give us a look. There is an extraordinary opportunity here, I think a very compelling value proposition for public service. It is an opportunity to give back to society. It’s an opportunity to be part of something larger than yourself. It’s an opportunity to give a little bit back to America for what it has given an individual. It’s an opportunity to touch lives in a very meaningful way that very few professions can do. That would be my advice to young people.

Mr. Lawrence: In the earlier answer this segment, you talked about the 15-year reunion with your colleagues. And I’m curious, when you’re at that reunion, how would you want them to describe your legacy as the CFO of the United States Air Force?

Mr. Montelongo: Gosh, Paul, it is tremendously early in the game to talk about legacies. I think that what I would feel very good about is that along with the wonderful people that I’ve had the privilege to serve with in the United States Air Force, supported by the leadership, starting with the President, frankly, and the Secretary of Defense and my boss and General Jumper. We are well on our way to launching a journey here and have had some modest success with transforming and strengthening our capability as financial managers. And that in the process of doing that, we are then delivering that much more value to the United States Air Force so that the United States Air Force can be that much more capable 5, 10, 15 years from now.

And I also want to sort of look back in having sort of done that, or at least started that process and be able to feel good about the fact that while we were doing that, we stayed loyal and true to our values. And it’s tremendously important.

I think that one of the things that is also part of that compelling value proposition to young people that I was talking a second ago about, Glen, is that certainly in the Department of Defense, but I would say this extends to public service in general, we’re talking about a values-based organization, an organization, an institution that places a high premium on values, on deciding, on doing things on the basis of values, and using that as an anchor. We talked throughout this entire set of segments of the imperative to change, of the imperative to transform, because if we don’t do that, then we are doing a disservice to the American people. But what we can count on that will transcend change and transformation is the fact that we will remain true to values. And if we can do the kinds of things that we’ve described in the course of this broadcast, but remain true to our values, then we have really accomplished a great deal. And those values for us in the Air Force are that we place a high premium on integrity, selfless service to the nation and to each other. And then finally, excellence in everything that we do.

So if we can have that 15-year reunion, Paul, and look back and say that we did all those things, I think that we can feel pretty good about what we did.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that’ll have to be our last question, we’re out of time. Glen and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule.

Mr. Montelongo: Paul, I want to thank you and Glen and certainly the crew at IBM once again, as I mentioned earlier this morning, for doing this and, frankly, giving our listeners an opportunity to gain, frankly, an insight as to what government -- what public service is all about and what government is doing today to meet the demands of the American people. And this program in particular is quite innovative and gives listeners, I think, an opportunity to just have that kind of glance as to what’s happening. Because oftentimes unless you’re actually doing it, you don’t get that perspective. So thank you for doing that. My hat’s off to you and your colleagues.

And I just want to mention one last thing parenthetically to our audience. If there’s anything that you’ve heard this morning, based on what I’ve said, or anything that certainly Glen and Paul have mentioned that interests you, that piques your interest, and that you’d like to pursue a bit more, I’d welcome your feedback or comments; or anyone who might be interested in pursuing a career in public service, then I invite you to contact us. And you can get ahold of us by hitting our Air Force website, and I believe that’s www.airforceaf.mil. And then from there, you can navigate to my website and you can certainly contact me through that. So if you’re so inclined, I welcome that very much.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you again, Michael.

Mr. Gram: Thank you.

Mr. Montelongo: You bet.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today’s fascinating conversation. Once again, that’s businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Michael Montelongo interview
09/04/2004
"We’re talking about defending the nation's basic democratic principles and values."

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

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Recent Episodes

11/13/2017
Dr. Barclay Butler
Defense Health Agency
Component Acquisition Executive
11/06/2017
Dan Chenok
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Executive Director
11/06/2017
Haynes Cooney
IBM Institute for Business Value
Research Program Manager,
11/06/2017
John Kamensky
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Senior Fellow
10/30/2017
Jin-Oh Hahn and  Monifa Vaughn-Cooke
University of Maryland
Assistant Professors, Department of Mechanical Engineering