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 Ryan interview

Friday, January 5th, 2007 - 19:00
Phrase: 
"MCC provides assistance in a manner that promotes economic growth and the alleviation of extreme poverty and strengthens good governance, economic freedom, and of course, investments in people."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/06/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Financial Management; Managing for Performance and Results; Missions and Program ...

Financial Management; Managing for Performance and Results; Missions and Program

Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, January 6, 2007

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created this 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 www.businessofgovernment.org.

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 Michael Ryan, vice president of the Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Good morning, Michael.

Mr. Ryan: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, Director in IBM's federal consulting practice. Good morning, Pete.

Mr. Boyer: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Mike, perhaps you could start by giving us an overview of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Tell us a little bit about the mission and give us an overview of the Millennium Challenge Act of 2003, and some of its key requirements.

Mr. Ryan: That would be my great pleasure.

The MCC mission is simply to reduce poverty by supporting sustainable economic growth in developing countries -- in those countries which create and maintain sound policy environments.

The Millennium Challenge Act established MCC to administer the Millennium Challenge account. This was established in January of 2004 as a result of President Bush's commitment at the Monterey summit. And that summit focused on financing for development, and the purpose, as stated, was to provide greater resources for developing countries, taking greater responsibility for their own development. It sometimes been referred to as assistance with accountability.

The act itself mandates that MCC provide assistance in a manner that promotes economic growth and the alleviation of extreme poverty and strengthens good governance, economic freedom, and of course, investments in people.

The MCC program, of course, is only one component of our overall foreign assistance strategy, but it is an important and an innovative one. It's something new, and our work draws on lessons learned from international development organizations over the past 50 years, and it focuses on the long-term mission of reducing poverty, as I mentioned, through economic growth.

In short, we work in partnership with some of the poorest countries to create country ownership instead of long-term dependence on assistance. We want to give assistance in order for countries to take over the job of their economic growth and alleviate poverty within their borders.

Mr. Morales: Mike, this is certainly a non-trivial challenge in mission. Could you tell us a little bit about how your organization is organized, the size of your budget, and how many people are employed in your organization?

Mr. Ryan: MCC was designed as a small and a federal corporation and is meant to ensure accountability for the aid we administer. As a federal corporation, it's managed by a chief executive officer, who's currently Ambassador John Danilovich, and he's appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

What makes us a little bit different is we're overseen by a board of directors, who make the major decisions, what countries to give assistance to and the like. And that board of directors is chaired by the secretary of state. The vice chair is a secretary of the treasury. Other members include the -- the United States trade representative. The U.S. aid administrator. And it is has interestingly two public members currently, although, there may be more in the future.

Kenneth Hackett, who's the president of Catholic Relief Services, and Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who in addition to being the governor of New Jersey, was also a former EPA administrator and now is a president of the Whitman Strategy Group.

We have a number of departments. We have operations, we have a department of accountability, a department of policy and international relations. Of course, we have congressional public affairs and an office of the general counsel. And then we have the department that -- that I head up, administration and finance.

As far as our budget goes, the commitment had been to rise to $5 billion a year. The current request is for $3 billion. The House passed a bill, and now is at $2 billion. I don't know where that's going to end up. And clearly, one thing that gives us a good deal of flexibility is that all of our MCC funds are no-year funds, which means that we can obligate funds for a five-year compact at the beginning of the five years, and it's available until it's expended on that -- that compact. It saves us from year-to-year ups and downs and countries can rely on this -- this assistance.

As far as the -- the level of staff, as I said, we're small and we're -- we aim to be small. We want to arise to a staff of -- of 300 in Washington, D.C. Currently, we have 20 people stationed overseas that are above that 300 number, and that number overseas should rise as we established additional contacts in other countries. At the present time, we have approximately 280 people in Washington.

Mr. Morales: So, almost 300 people managing $3 billion in assets?

Mr. Ryan: That's right.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Mike, what are your specific responsibilities and duties as a vice president of administration and finance, and could you tell us about the areas under your purview?

Mr. Ryan: Sure, Pete. I -- I'm essentially a chief financial officer in the federal mold. I'm responsible for the same areas that many CFOs are responsible for, financial management and reporting, financial services, budget formulation execution, development of annual performance plans, oversight of financial systems, and producing the annual performance and accountability report and procurement.

I also have oversight of HR, Human Resources, recruiting in development. Facilities management, both in Washington and overseas. IT and personnel security. So, it's just a full range of administrative and financial duties that you'd expect to see in an organization with my title.

Mr. Boyer: Now, Mike, you clearly had a very interesting career. Could you describe your career path for our listeners? Specifically, how did you begin your career?

Mr. Ryan: Well, I should start off by saying that I -- I had been a civil servant until my current appointment with MCC for many, many years, but my first position actually was a mathematics teacher in Baltimore City schools. After I earned an undergraduate degree at St. John's College in Annapolis. But I left teaching math and went to -- to Harvard where I got a -- a PhD in near eastern languages and civilizations. I got that degree in 1981, after having joined the federal government in 1979.

During my studies on -- on that degree, I spent three years researching Egypt and traveling around the Middle East under a Fulbright at Smithsonian and the Center for Arabic Study Abroad fellowships.

I've had several positions in the Department of Defense and Department of State. And when I first joined in 1979, as I mentioned previously, I was a Middle East analyst for the Department of Defense. I've also had senior-level positions, including deputy director of a plans directorate under the Defense Security Assistance Agency. I've been the acting deputy assistant secretary for International Narcotics in Law Enforcement Affairs in the Department of State. I was also the executive director and comptroller of that same bureau in the Department of State.

I also worked at EPA, where I first met Governor Whitman, and I mentioned before, when she was the administrator. And I first started as a comptroller there in 1997, with responsibility for budget formulation and execution. As all -- as well as all aspects of financial management in operations.

I became the deputy CFO of EPA then in 2000, and I had that job until 2006. May, actually, when in joined MCC. At EPA, I also managed their strategic planning, budgeting, financial management, performance measurement analysis, and their accountability functions.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, that's a very broad set of experiences. I'm curious, how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role at MCC, and have formed your management approach and leadership style?

Mr. Ryan: I guess being deputy CFO at EPA and acting CFO during periods when EPA did not have a Senate-confirmed CFO in place was the best preparation for my technical duties at MCC. Having a practical experience in managing a CFO shop, including problem-solving in all areas normally reporting to a CFO, and also extremely useful contacts within the CFO counsel, helpful opportunities to share experiences across the federal CFO community.

Previously, I think overseas experiences in the Department of -- of State and Defense, where I was based in Washington, but did extensive travel, in addition to my -- my work, as I -- I -- on my degree that I -- I referred to previously, helped me understand other country's governments and -- and cultures, and how you deal with countries in their own terms and -- and not necessarily bring your own cultural assumptions to play.

So, it was a useful body of knowledge overseas and -- and in the CFO environment because I had to deal with a wide variety of people and -- and people who approached tasks from different angles, and it's tremendously useful in the federal workplace, which is, as you know, wonderfully diverse.

Another useful leadership lesson from defense was that you really have to build a team from the people that you inherit, and then you get to the task of recruiting others. And everybody brings skills to the task. It's a leader's responsibility really to find the best way to use each team member's skills to support the mission and target your recruiting to fill any areas where skills need reinforcement.

I think it's another example of why it's important to appreciate the diversity of abilities and backgrounds represented in the federal workforce based on all the talents that federal employees bring to work everyday, I think we're well equipped for problem-solving from a variety of perspectives, and we're especially well set up to deal with foreign governments, many of whose children, if you will, came to the United States either recently or in the distant past as immigrants and deal very well with those cultures.

Another lesson learned from my experience in defense, state, and EPA, and especially now at MCC, is the importance of public/private partnerships. The private sector has a depth of talent and knowledge that's always refreshed, and government can make good use of private sector expertise to augment its workforce to accomplish the civic tasks without institutionalizing that expertise when it might not be appropriate. To the next set of tasks that lie ahead. It helps to keep public sector organizations more nimble by allowing us to take on specialized talent as needed, while maintaining a basic core of skills in the career ranks.

For example, when EPA was assigned to a government center of excellence to host financial systems, my staff and I argued successfully for a public-private partnership along private sector centers of excellence to compete for technical services in the IT area and in accounting.

This competition, I understand, here at the beginning of December is still going on at EPA. OPM is -- is now, I understand, going to do something similar, and I think that's a good model for a small lien organization like MCC. That is reaching out to the private sector for help in those areas that the private sector does especially well, and can tailor its support for the needs of the day without institutionalizing that support and fixing it in place.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. I can -- I can see now why you are focusing on solving some of the world's greatest challenges. Thank you.

What kinds of innovations are being pursued by the Millennium Challenge Corporation? We will ask Michael Ryan, vice president of Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to share with us when the conversation about management continues on the Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Mike Ryan, vice president of Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, director in IBM's federal consulting practice.

Mike, in pursuit of its mission to reduce poverty by supporting economic growth as you described in the first segment, the MCC has identified and defined three key principles to guide the efforts.

Can you elaborate on those guiding principles and what is new about the MCC approach to international development?

Mr. Ryan: Well, thank you. The three principles are first of all, to reward good policy. Countries are selected based on their performance, as shown on objective indicators. Not indicators that -- that MCC develops, but that NGOs of the private sector, someone outside, an objective measurement is done on governing justly, which means investing in their citizens and encouraging economic freedom.

The second thing, in addition to rewarding good policy, is that we operate as partners. Countries are responsible for identify the greatest barriers to their own development, ensuring civil society participation in planning and developing a Millennium Challenge account, or MCA program.

Then, to participate in -- in a MCA program requires a high level commitment from the host government. Now, when I say "MCA," of course, I mean the Millennium Challenge account, which is the appropriate that MCC uses.

Each country enters into a public compact with MCC. That includes a multi-year plan for achieving development objectives and identifies the responsibilities of each partner in achieving those objectives.

The third principle, the first being rewarding good policy, and the second, to operate as partners, is to focus on results. MCA assistance goes to countries that have well-designed programs with clear objectives, benchmarks to measure progress, procedures to ensure a fiscal accountability per the use of the Millennium Challenge account assistance, and a plan for effective monitoring and objective evaluation of results.

Because we focus on rewarding good policy, we are seeing something new, and this is where the innovation comes in. Something new in international development, which our CEO calls the MCC effect.

We are seeing examples of countries making important policy changes on their own in order to qualify for funding for the Millennium Challenge account. This is extremely encouraging because we are seeing positive change even before MCC investment begins. I could give one example of this that happened fairly recently in the last couple of months.

We had one country that had a policy. Actually, it was written into their constitution, that married women couldn't inherit property in their own name. And we determined early on that this would mean that only 50 percent of the population would get any benefit out of the --economic benefit out of -- out of our policies, and we told the government, no, this is just not acceptable. You know, we can't continue our conversations if this stays in place. Although it was a longstanding policy and it was rooted in -- in culture and -- and in -- in prior law, they went ahead and changed that law, and they did that without receiving a nickel from us. And one got the feeling at the end of the day that there was something in just getting the stamp of approval that they had passed the test.

That's one anecdotal account, but a very real one. Two Harvard economists studied the MCC effect in a report released earlier this year, and they concluded that countries are responding to MCC's clear and actionable incentives. This is -- was -- was done in the Kennedy School of Government; it was called "Can Foreign Aid create an Incentive for Good Governance: Evidence of the Millennium Challenge Corporation."

Then there was another one from the manager of the World's Bank's "Doing Business Project," And the quote there I think is a good one, in which they stated that we have seen a number of reforms around the world in both rich and poor countries, but in many of the developing countries, the reform has actually been primarily as a result of the inclusion in the Millennium Challenge account.

Now, I would note that we often see reforms, as I -- as I mentioned before, in anticipation of the funding of the Millennium Challenge account, and not just as a result of projects in those countries.

Mr. Morales: That's a powerful story. Now, you used the word "compact." Can you describe the MCC compact development and implementation process, and what are the criteria methodology for determining eligible countries and establishing these compacts? And can you tell us a little bit about the composition of the projects that make up the portfolio?

Mr. Ryan: Surely. I think around the compact development, you get a lot of the innovation that -- that you asked me about before. I mean, what is different? Well, for example, for the fiscal year 2007, the candidative countries, you know, were identified on the basis of a per-capita income, and they must be in the low-income, preferably, for a lower/middle-income categories established by the World Bank. By law, only 25 percent of our funding may be used for lower/middle-income countries, assuring that most of our support goes to the poorest nations in the world. And I might add that we make every effort that if a lower/middle-income country makes a -- a proposal for a compact, and it is for some of the poorest people in their country, we find that to be a very compelling argument for going to that lower/middle-income country.

We report to Congress on our selection methodology, and our board of directors that I mentioned before, base a selection on specific performance indicators developed by independent, third-party institutions. We also seek public comment on selection methodology.

Right now, we're using 16 indicators in three broad categories, and countries must score above the median to be eligible. These indicators come from organizations including the World Bank, the World Health Organization, Freedom House, and UNESCO. And again, the indicators are -- are in the three areas that I mentioned before, ruling justly, investing in people, and -- and I think I mentioned economic freedom.

And by "economic freedom," we -- we mean things like the costs of starting a business or the days to start a business, trade policy, those things that might be either barriers or spurs to economic development we want to see.

Investing in people, you could have public expenditure on immunization, public expenditure on primary education, and -- and interestingly, girls education completion rate, which we see -- think to be extremely important.

Ruling justly, I think we're more familiar with. I mean, civil liberties, political rites, voice and accountability, rule of law, and significantly control of corruption.

The MCC board selects eligible countries using the above methodology and submits a report to Congress, and the selective countries are then eligible to begin developing a compact proposal for MCC consideration. At this time, we have 11 signed compacts in place, representing a total of nearly $3 billion, supporting programs in agriculture, infrastructure, land tenure, healthcare, and other sectors. Most compacts extend over a five-year period.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, does the MCC dedicate any funds for those countries that do not specifically meet the compact criteria, but are moving in the right direction? And if so, how?

Mr. Ryan: We do, Pete. We offer a threshold program that provides financial assistance to help improve a score on one of our -- of the 16 indicators that I mentioned.

The board of directors selects the countries for the threshold program based on their overall performance on all 16 indicators and their demonstrated commitment to improving the scores and their ability to undertake reform. Countries selected for threshold consideration must create a plan that identifies miserable ways to improve a specific indicator score and they must submit that plan for MCC review and approval. We make threshold program agreements with countries whose plans demonstrate meaningful commitment to reform and a high likelihood of successful implementation. And, of course, the measurement of that success is, again, done outside of MCC. I'll just give you two examples.

In the first case is the government of the Philippines, which actually passed the corruption indicator, but both the government of the Philippines and MCC felt that we would like to work more on this. And so, we made $21 million in threshold funds available to the Philippines in 2006 for anticorruption efforts. And what was really exciting about this was that the government made a decision to match those funds fairly closely so that it doubled the amount that was available, and we view this as a real commitment to reform on behalf of the people of the Philippines.

Another example that's not corruption was in 2005, Burkina Faso in Africa became the first threshold country to be approved for a compact funding. Burkina Faso was awarded $12.9 million for its threshold country plan, which was designed specifically to improve girl's primary education completion rates.

Mr. Boyer: Those are powerful examples. What does it mean for compacts to enter into force, and how does it relate to the actual disbursement of committed MCC funds to recipient countries?

Mr. Ryan: Well, this is another term of art. A compact is a contract is between MCC and a foreign government. It sets out the terms of the programs to be funded along with the funding to be dedicate in each year -- in each compact year for specific project components.

For example, a compact might set out dollar amounts anticipated to be spanned in each five years on a component such as improvement of a particular set of rural roads to get products to market, for example. The compact also outlines the general terms of the road improvement work to be undertaken. The signing of the compact commits the full funding for the specified project in a given country. After the signing, we continue to work with the country, we do due diligence, and we make sure that all conditions are in place to support a proper disbursement of funds.

When those conditions are met, then we declare the compact ready to enter into force, we obligate the funding and technical terms and the disbursements begin thereafter.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, to supplement its organizational structure in assisting caring out its mission, MCC has several formalized interagency agreements, or IAAs, with other federal government agencies. Could you elaborate on these collaborative relationships?

Mr. Ryan: Well, I think that -- that with a small organization, it must be clear to everyone that we can't do everything that is necessary for us to succeed. So, we have a number of these kinds of agreements.

For example, the National Business Center of the Department of Interior pays the MCC employees and provides financial systems and some accounting support. We also work closely with USAID, and to some extent, with the Department of Justice for the threshold programs that we discussed earlier. Treasury also provides technical assistance, especially in the banking sector, and from time to time, no doubt will sign other IAAs with other federal entities as the need arises.

Mr. Morales: Excellent. How is the MCC managing its program development efforts? We will ask Michael Ryan, Vice President, Administration and Finance for the Millennium Challenge Corporation to share with us when the conversation about management continues on the Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Ryan, Vice President, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, director in IBM's federal consulting practice.

Mike, how does the MCC make sure that compacts with partnered countries are going to produce the results that will satisfy the U.S. taxpayers and meet the goals of the MCC?

Mr. Ryan: Well, I think that the U.S. taxpayer has shown the willingness to fund humanitarian assistance and assistance to poor people, as long as the overhead is not too high, and as long as the goals are worthy, and the people that really need the assistance receive it.

To ensure that we meet some of these expectations, MCC forms a transaction team whose members work closely with representatives from the country developing a compact proposal. Our teams include people with a range of a pertinent expertise in economics, law, and the appropriate technical areas, such as engineering or agriculture. We may also have someone who's an expert on gender issues, for example, or other social issues, or even the environment.

Partner country representatives are expected to engage in wide consultation with members of the public in a civil society in their own countries to ensure their compact proposals reflect needs identified by their own people and the poorest among them, and that the solutions are likely to work best for them.

MCC transaction team members evaluate all parts of a proposal and work with partner country representatives to develop practical, well-designed programs that incorporate steps to measure and evaluate results. MCC's investment committee, on which I have a vote, also plays an important role. It's chaired by the deputy CEO and is composed of MCC's senior officials.

The MCC committee considers all aspects of compact development and votes up or down any aspect along the way. MCC's board of directors, of course, has the final vote on a compact. The best designed compact programs are in the support of the investment committee first, and then the board of directors by incorporating meaningful evaluation of results and showing the promise of reducing measurably the number of people living in poverty. And, I might add, all of our discussions of the size of our staff and the amount of money that we put into overhead I think is an important one because we try to keep the overhead fairly low.

Mr. Morales: Now, Mike, as the -- as the CFO, many of our listeners may find it interesting that the MCC has identified that Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996, and various other financial laws and regulations did not cover your operations.

What is MCC's basis for this position and does the MCC plan to follow at least the spirit, if not the letter, of those laws because they make good business sense?

Mr. Ryan: Actually, Al, we do manage our business according to the mandates of these laws and regulations. As we've said several times, we're small and organized as a federal corporation, rather than as a typical independent agency. And we were established after many of these laws were enacted. But we comply with them, however, and because we're part of the executive branch, and because they make good business sense.

For example, we issued our financial statements on November 15th with the rest of the federal government, and I might add, we got a clean opinion on that, and we intend to do similar things in the future.

There have been a number of government management reforms enacted in legislation in recent years. Most of them aimed at focusing agencies on managing for results and enhancing accountability for program outcomes. I'd like to think that MCC was designed to accomplish both of these ends, so it is not a stretch for us to follow the course outlined in legislation.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, on a similar topic, a key element of all compact development and execution is fiscal accountability. You know, the mechanisms and processes that assure that funds are managed properly and procurements are undertaken in a fair, open, and transparent manner. However, some of the compact countries do not perform accounting on a accrual basis by recording commitments and obligations.

Would you elaborate on the guidance provided to compact countries and requirements placed on those countries, and how has MCC handled this situation?

Mr. Ryan: Well, Pete, that's a question that's going to warm accountants' hearts all over the city this morning. MCC has a department of accountability which is responsible for these matters, and my department, of course, supports their work. Consistent with our model of country ownership of MCC-funded projects, compact countries must have internationally recognized system of accounting in place. It does not have to be identical to the U.S. model, but has to be recognized. We're constantly refining our approaches to this and expect to see continued improvements in the future.

For example, we require compact countries to have a fiscal agent and a procurement agent that we consider to be technically qualified. But while some countries might not use accrual accounting, the accountable entity, which is the organization set up in the country to carry out the compact by the government of that country, the accountable entity, often referred to as an MCA, set up by the government of a compact country must provide us with regular estimates of their cash needs. And these actually can serve as a surrogate for accruals, and indeed, we did an accrual in our financial statements just like every other federal entity on November 15th, as I mentioned before.

Mr. Boyer: Well, Mike we're -- we're glad we can get the -- the hearts of the accountants warmed up this morning.

Mr. Ryan: Let's not warm them too much.

Mr. Boyer: The USAID Office of Inspector General identified vulnerabilities affecting the MCC program in several criteria areas, including procurement, cash management, and disbursement that may adversely impact its financial operations. For example, the IG identified that the MCC Cape Verde compact had problems in the areas of cash management and procurement.

Could you elaborate on the MCC strategy for mitigating such risks and vulnerabilities? Specifically, has the MCC established policies and procedures for evaluating disbursement requests submitted by recipient countries to ensure that the amounts disbursed are only for immediate cash needs?

Mr. Ryan: Sure. First of all, I -- I have to point out that we have a very collaborative relationship with our IG. And I personally engage in conversation with IG staff on many issues, including the one you're -- you're asking me about. And while we do not always agree, we receive many useful recommendations that have caused us to improve our procedures. And we've been working on some exciting -- at least exciting to me, possibilities to enhance mechanism for getting funding out to compact countries.

Our current approach requires quarterly disbursement requests from a country. It comes into MCC, we consider it, and we say yes to the -- to the funding, its justified under the compact or -- or we ask questions. But we disburse on a monthly basis, asking the country to project their cash needs for the coming month, as I mentioned before.

However, we are in consultation with the Department of Treasury right now to see if we might use their Web-based online system for making payments worldwide. They call this system ITS. This would enable us to require that fiscal agents I mentioned previously overseas to request payments based on specific invoices and to justify disbursements in a systematic way in -- in real time. In addition, we're investigating to see if there might not be a private sector that would provide a -- a global payment solution, as well.

Treasury is interested in working with us on a solution in either case, and if we can't do this, I believe it would address the IG's concerns that you've -- that you've mentioned before. I'd also like to be able to try a pilot as early as January of 2007, so quite soon with -- with one or two countries to see how this actually might work in -- in reality.

Mr. Morales: Michael, we talked earlier about some of the interagency collaboration, and we know that the MCC has outsourced much of its administrative functions, including human resource and payroll management.

But does the MCC recognize the value of implementing an integrated human resource and payroll system, and can you elaborate on the status of this effort and the overall strategy to forge an integrated system that reduces the reliance on manual processes and enhances your interface with the NBC systems?

Mr. Ryan: Well, that's a great question. I mentioned before our -- our interest in keeping overhead down and of course manual processes are done by people, and people are overhead. So, we want to cut down on these things. They also introduce errors, as everyone knows, and -- and we'd like to do as much as possible automatically and with an -- with an integrated system.

We get great service from Interior's National Business Center, but it does not have an integrated system at this time. I understand they have long-term plans to make it integrate in the future, but at the current time, it's simply not.

The benefits of integration are especially important for a small organization like MCC. We do not have the personnel to make the multiple entries required by a non-integrated system, especially as we take on more compacts and more countries. We will be engaging consults soon to perform an analysis of how MCC might best achieve full integration of its financial management. And also, I hope a reasonable timeframe for achieving it.

You know, I am intrigued by efforts to engage private sector organization as -- as a center of excellence to supplement governmental centers of excellence. I am very familiar with the competition that's been going on at EPA, and I'm -- I'm looking forward to see the results of that competition for running their financial system. It's something that I saw at the beginning of when I was -- when I was at EPA. And now, I read recently that OPM is -- is also looking for a private public competition in this, and I think that's really healthy and something that might work very well for MCC.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the Millennium Challenge Corporation? We will ask Michael Ryan, vice president, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to share with us when the conversation about management continues on the Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Ryan, vice president, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, Director in IBM's federal consulting practice

Mike, in its rather brief existence, the MCC has had some significant achievements, and we've certainly talked about many of those today.

What do you envision for the MCC over the next 5 to 10 years, and what are some of the key challenges and major opportunities facing the organization?

Mr. Ryan: Well, our overwhelming challenge is going to be compact implementation. We've been talking about performing the compacts, and that's what the corporation (off mike) spending its first two and a half, three years of existence doing. But making sure that results that we envision are achieved is our next challenge. Most of the work will be undertaken by partner countries, as they own the projects. So, it's really more of a challenge to them. And the real beneficiaries -- if -- if both us, that is to say MCC and the host governments are successful, the real beneficiaries are the poor people of our partner countries.

Mr. Morales: Mike, with such a small organization, I can only imagine that every single individual has a critical role and -- and is critical to the organization.

To that end, what steps are being taken to attract and maintain a high -- high-quality technical force, and can you elaborate on initiatives to ensure that you have the right skill and the right staff mix?

Mr. Ryan: First of all, let me say that I don't think any organization in my federal career can claim a higher quality workforce than MCC. And we owe that in part to the attractiveness, I think, of our mission, but also we've talked a lot today about public/private partnerships.

We have a partnership with Korn/Ferry International, in particular their Futurestep Division, which ahs been supporting our recruiting and hiring efforts. We've also been energizing our recruiting efforts through partnerships with targeted non-profit organizations who subscribe to our belief that, and this is a term we think has some power, that a diverse workforce can make a world of difference. And as far as training goes, I've been tasked by our CEO to create an overarching training plan for MCC. Everything from language skills to management skills. And we're beginning with training for all our transaction teams in partnership with the Federal Executive Institute.

Mr. Boyer: Mike, you mentioned MCC's focus on low overhead, and we've talked about it on a number of questions today, but how do you respond to people in a developing community that have expressed that MCC's proposed staffing level of 300 is very lean for an organization planning to disburse $2 billion or more per year?

Mr. Ryan: Well, you know, when the road is -- is twisting and turning and you're in a race, you'd rather have a sports car. So, we're -- we're -- MCC is based on a new organizational model. And we think our -- our leanness is an asset rather than a liability.

The key to our ultimate success has got to be related to our ability to identify the right countries with the right governance and respect their responsibility for their own development. We believe this approach is more likely to give arise to sustainable efforts and lasting reduction in poverty.

If we were to increase our own numbers, we might be -- just might be more tempted to give ourselves a larger role in other countries' efforts, and we really don't want to do this. Having said that, we are concerned with the growing workload, and we're constantly looking for ways to streamline our work and procedures.

In fact, it's interesting as far as this question goes that as I left MCC to come to this program this morning, we'd had a little meeting in which we talked about our model and whether we should change it, what aspects we should change to meet the challenge of the growing workload that's -- that's certainly coming. But I'm confident that this is a problem that we can meet square on, and we aren't going to go above 300 people in Washington.

Mr. Boyer: I like the race car analogy, Mike. MCC's compact pipeline seems to be robust and growing. Could you give us a sense of the current and future pipeline, and is there a point at which expansion becomes too much for a fairly new organization like the MCC?

Mr. Ryan: Well, obviously, I can't predict how much the pipeline will develop, and because so much of our future activities will depend on congressional funding, and that again will depend on what we do in our measurements of success. But we've been signing. This past year, we've signed six compacts, and I would think that this year, I would hope we'd sign three or four. But beyond that, it would be difficult to speculate.

We've learned a great deal about what works and doesn't work based on our experience with the 11 compact countries so far and recognizing that individual circumstances make each nation unique in its capabilities and the development issues that it seeks to address, we know that we found some approaches that are replicable, and we may identify some efficiencies as a result.

Finally, I really think being a new organization is a benefit because we can implement new ideas without being burdened by our past. Perhaps a real challenge is to remain, as the song goes, "every young," and avoid the bureaucratic impulse.

Mr. Morales: Michael, you've had a highly distinguished career in public service spanning some 25 years, as you indicate.

Is there any advice that you would give to an individual who is perhaps considering a career in public sector, or who may have a specific interest in the efforts at the MCC?

Mr. Ryan: I think the most important question might be why should someone want to work for the United States government? Because, after all, MCC, even though we're different and new, is part of the -- is a part of the federal community. The answer, I think, has to be, because it's the largest, most ambitious, and most diverse enterprise in history. Working for the federal government means upholding the principles on which the country was founded in the form of the Constitution, which is still the model for many countries, and many of the countries we deal with. The federal mission is also large enough to accommodate just about any interest or skill.

What's the best preparation for a federal job? I think everybody has their own concept, but I always recommend that people get the best general education available to them, especially in the liberal arts. But, to me, that means science, math, history, and language, before they specialize.

USA Jobs is a central Web site for all federal jobs openings, and it really does contain something for everything. Our MCC.gov Web site also provides the ability for individuals to go on and do online applications for our jobs, and actually anybody who comes to talk to us, no matter who they are or where they come from or what their background, ultimately, we ask them go back to our Web site, MCC.gov, and fill out an online application.

With respect to jobs at MCC, we find a variety of technical skills useful, much like the other federal agencies in the development community. But I would encourage people to focus on foreign language skills, with French, Spanish, and Portuguese, the most useful to MCC at this time.

To work with representative other countries, there is an obvious benefit to being able to speak and understand their languages. Of course, it's not just language; we can never have too many employees with skills that include communicating across cultural lines, regardless of what their technical expertise may be.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. Mike, we have reached the end of our time, and that'll have to be our last question.

I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule this morning, but more importantly, Pete and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Mr. Ryan: Well, thank you. It's a great honor for me to be here. It's a great pleasure.

I'd like to invite everybody who would like to learn more about MCC, certainly more than -- than I was able to give this morning, to go to our Web site, MCC.gov, and there you can see information about countries, about our programs, and also apply for a job if you want, as I mentioned before.

Thanks a lot; I appreciate being here this morning.

Mr. Morales: Fantastic. Thank you.

This has been the Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Michael Ryan, vice president, Administration and Finance with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

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

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

For The Business of Government Radio Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Michael Ryan interview
01/06/2007
"MCC provides assistance in a manner that promotes economic growth and the alleviation of extreme poverty and strengthens good governance, economic freedom, and of course, investments in people."

Broadcast Schedule

Federal News Radio 1500-AM
  • Mondays at 11 a.m. Wednesdays at 12 p.m.
  • Thursdays at 11:00 a.m.

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
The IBM Center for The Business of Government
Host, The Business of Government Hour and Managing Editor, The Business of Government Magazine

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

12/15/2014
 Rachel Burstein and Alissa Black
Books@Work and Omidyar Network
Academic Director and Principal of Investments
12/08/2014
Ronald Layton
U.S. Secret Service
Deputy Chief Information Officer
12/01/2014
Victor Gavin
Department of the Navy
Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems
11/24/2014
Dr. Johannes Kopf
Austrian Public Employment Service
Managing Director

Upcoming Episodes

12/22/2014
Victoria Gordon, DPA
Associate Professor | Director, Master of Public Administration Program | Director, Center for Local Governments
Western Kentucky University