The Business of Government Hour

 

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

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Miguel Torrado interview

Friday, January 18th, 2002 - 20:00
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Miguel Torrado
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/19/2002
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Intro text: 
Miguel Torrado
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Monday, December 3, 2001

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Endowment by visiting us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Our conversation today is with Miguel Torrado, Associate Commissioner for Personnel in the Social Security Administration.

Welcome, Miguel.

MR. TORRADO: Nice to be here.

MR. LAWRENCE: And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Susan De La Garza.

Good morning, Susan.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Good morning, Paul.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Miguel, let's start by talking about SSA. Could you describe its mission and its activities for our listeners, please?

MR. TORRADO: Basically, our mission is to fight on the side of the angels. You can't go wrong with that. Our mission, our work, is to ensure that employees, in this country -- and that's 96 percent of all workers -- if something happens in your life -- they die, they retire, they become disabled -- that they don't fall into poverty.

We do that, of course, by administering the Social Security programs that the Congress has put in place.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Miguel, what is your role in this mission as Assistant Commissioner for Personnel?

MR. TORRADO: Well, we have 65,000 employees. We usually hire about 3,500, 3,600 new employees every year. So it is the role of the office I lead, the Office of Personnel, to ensure that we get the best qualified people for the very many different kinds of positions that we have. And of course, having done that, we also do the whole range of personnel functions, such as classification, paying 65,000 employees on time every month. The Social Security Administration prides itself that it pays the right amount to the right person on time.

And we usually say that with respect to our clients, the citizens that we serve, but in my particular shop, we pride ourselves that we pay 65,000 employees on time every two-weeks, without a hitch, among other things.

MS. DE LA GARZA: What kinds of positions are included in your workforce, Miguel?

MR. TORRADO: Well, most people think of Social Security employees as the people they see in the hometown Social Security office.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: And of course, that is the bulk of our employees. That's about, I would say, 55,000 of our 65,000. On the other hand, we hire everything from lawyers to systems experts, computer experts; obviously, personnel specialists, administrative specialists. We even have environmental health people. We have nurses, doctors. So we hire across the spectrum of functions and careers.

MR. LAWRENCE: Let's spend some time talking about your career. Could you tell us about your career in government and before?

MR. TORRADO: Well, I started life as a civil engineer, way back -- as a transportation engineer. Came stateside from Puerto Rico to do graduate work in Boston. After I completed that, I worked for a while with the Hispanic community. Went to work from that with the City of Boston. I don't know if you recall back in the mid-�70s, there was a big school desegregation order in Boston, and I was hired as a transportation director to run the school buses.

That was a very interesting three years.

MS. DE LA GARZA: I bet it was interesting.

MR. TORRADO: Indeed. After that, I figured I could do anything.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: So I joined the federal government.

MS. DE LA GARZA: There you go.

MR. TORRADO: Not only that, but it was a very demanding job, and one that was very exhausting. So, I began looking for something else.

I joined the federal government, the Department of Health and Human Services, and eventually, somebody for whom I was working, around 1986, got appointed as Commissioner of Social Security. I was at the time heading her particular agency's New York office, and she said, will you come down and help me for three months with my transition to this new job. And that was in June of '86. And she's long gone and I'm still there.

One thing led to another; we had a new commissioner who decided that she needed new head of civil rights and equal opportunity, and she said, civil engineer, civil rights --

MS. DE LA GARZA: I was going to ask how that worked out.

MR. TORRADO: Perfect match. So I got that job; not having any background in it -- did it for 10 years and I guess because I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing and I ended up doing a lot of different things -- a lot of new things -- I'm very proud that the agency, SSA, Social Security, has become, if not the leader, certainly one of the leaders in the area of diversity, and I mean, functional in the terms of affecting the bottom line. And I would like to think that I have something to do with it.

After 10 years of that, it was time to move on to something else. The person who was my predecessor retired. I said I'm interested and, much to my surprise, the boss said yes. And here I am.

MS. DE LA GARZA: That's great. What would you say to people who might be listening to us this morning about -- who might be considering a government career? What would you tell them based on your experience you just described to us?

MR. TORRADO: The first thing I would say that there probably hasn't been a better time to join the federal government than today. And that's because we're facing what everybody calls a retirement wave. There's going to be all kinds of people retiring over the next 10 years. I'd like to point out that for every retiree, we'll get at least three trickle-down promotions; as a 15 retires �

MS. DE LA GARZA: Oh, okay.

MR. TORRADO: A 14 gets promoted to backfill; a 13 to a 14, you know, and so on and so forth. So the number of opportunities that will be available for advancement over the next 10 to 15 years are going to be incredible. If you're a young person joining the government now, you're going to have a great open field in front of you if you have the right skills.

The other thing is that, regardless of what you say about working for the government, you are doing something for the betterment of humanity. And that sounds trite, but it is true.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: And that combined with a decent working environment with reasonable wages; you're not going to get rich, but you're not going to die of poverty, either. And the opportunity to make a difference, I think, makes for a good job.

MR. LAWRENCE: Let me follow-up on something you said a second ago. You said you were proud of the functional diversity within SSA. What did you mean by that?

MR. TORRADO: Well, everybody talks about diversity and we could talk about numbers; at Social Security, 72 percent of all our employees are women, and that percentage holds, not exactly, but pretty much throughout the ranks. Hispanics are roughly 11 percent of the workforce. African Americans are roughly 26, 27 percent. Asians are close to 3 percent. People with severe disabilities are about 2.6, 2.8 percent, and not only at the lower end, but all the way through the grade scale, so that same kind of proportion that you see also pertains at the 15, the senior executive level.

And the question is why did we get there? And I would like to say that yes, we did the right thing, which we did; and the legal thing, which we did. But the driving force was that about 10, 15 years ago, the agency realized that there was an impact on the bottom line of the agency. An agency that serves a population that is diverse as the American population; it actually provides better service for less cost if our workforce reflects the diversity that's out there in terms of all the citizens that we serve.

So, coupled with a commitment to doing what's right and doing what's legal, I think the agency began to drive to try to have a workforce that reflected the people that we serve as a business need.

Let me give you one very concrete example of that: Several years ago, there was a lot of discussion about the possibility of interpreter fraud. Somebody who spoke a different language at home came in to get services; they brought a third-party interpreter, and there was some concern that too many errors were being made -- that they needed to be corrected --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: And even the possibility of the interpreter causing some frauds. Well, if you want to eliminate interpreter fraud, what's the easiest way? Eliminate the interpreter. And you do that by hiring somebody into your workforce that is trained and as capable as anybody else, but on top of that can serve another language.

Well, today, we have employees in our district offices that handle well over 50 different languages. And of course, they tend to be distributed where there's a demand for those languages. Roughly 16 percent of the country's population speaks a language other than English at home, and that percentage is growing. That's just --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Mm-hmm.

MR. TORRADO: One example. So in order to serve our own needs, as in our own business needs, we diversified, we engage in diversity and we've been very successful.

MR. LAWRENCE: When you look back at your career, is there any one position that best prepared you for your current job?

MR. TORRADO: Probably, no. It's interesting because I came into this job without any hard background in human resources and personnel. But I belong to the school that says, you know, if you're a good manager, if you progress to increasingly more difficult assignments into your career, you can't help but pick up a set of skills, managerial skills, executive skills that will serve you well no matter what the particular subject matter of the job is.

I might not be a personnel specialist, and I don't pretend to be, but I can make good decisions.

MR. LAWRENCE: It's a good stopping point and it's time for a break.

Return with us after the break as we continue our conversation with Miguel Torrado of the Social Security Administration. We'll ask him about the human resource flexibilities in the Managerial Flexibilities Act when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Miguel Torrado, Associate Commissioner for Personnel at the Social Security Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Susan De La Garza.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Miguel, President Bush recently announced his Managerial Flexibilities Act, which includes human resource flexibilities to help recruit and retain federal workers. Can you describe some of the key human resource flexibilities provided in this initiative and how they might relate to SSA?

MR. TORRADO: Certainly. It's interesting, because from my perspective, and it's a very personal perspective, I don't think he's proposing any new flexibilities. I think he's proposing to enhance existing flexibilities, so that when the Act talks about retention or relocation or recruitment bonuses, it's giving managers more flexibility to use those. We already have some of those flexibilities.

But I have to tell you, and I appreciate it as an HR person, as a human resources person and I appreciate all the flexibilities that we can get. We're competing, regardless of whether we are or not in a recession, we are still in a tight labor market. And when we get out of the recession, it's going to be even tighter. So we are competing out there with other federal agencies and with, certainly, the private sector for the best and the brightest to come in and work for us. And in a sense, we're competing almost at a disadvantage. I can't go out to a recruitment fair and spend $50,000 on a very glitzy booth --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Booth or something, right.

MR. TORRADO: With all kinds of giveaways to attract in that works. And so, as a human resources person, trying to get for my agency the best people that we can, I appreciate any flexibility that I can get. But here's the catch: I can't even use the flexibilities that we have today to the extent that I would like to use them, because it doesn't matter how many flexibilities I have; if I don't have the money to make those flexibilities real, for all practical purposes, they don't exist.

So what if I can pay a retention bonus or a relocation bonus or offer somebody 25 percent of their salary just to come work for me, if I don't have the money to pay the 25 percent of their salary. And at a time when we're going back to possibly deficits in the budget, when every agency's budget is very tight, it's very hard to carve out for those purposes when you still have a mission to accomplish and you have to pay for it.

MS. DE LA GARZA: What techniques are you using then, Miguel? You said you hired 3,500 people a year. That's a large number of people to hire. What techniques are you using?

MR. TORRADO: Well, one thing that, I mean, we use every flexibility that we can get our hands on. We hire using bilingual registers. We hire using the outstanding scholar provision. We hire using the management intern program. And of course, we use the standard ways of hiring.

We are fortunate in the sense that because we are all over the country, and our employees are all over the country, to a large extent, we use our own employees as a recruitment network to refer people in. And we try to put people out there to recruit that can actually sell what we do.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: We're in the midst of creating a new ad campaign that uses the tag line, you know, "come help us help someone."

MS. DE LA GARZA: Oh, okay.

MR. TORRADO: And I'd like to believe that young people out there still have a certain amount of idealism and �

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: That attracts them.

MR. LAWRENCE: Executive pay compression is not addressed in the President's initiative. Is this a problem at SSA?

MR. TORRADO: I don't know that I would call it a problem. It's a concern. Obviously, we have most of our executives receiving the same amount of pay; with the only difference being whether they're located in San Francisco or in Washington, D.C., or things like that.

It's not an easy problem to solve. I suspect that many of our executives stay with us until they're eligible to retire and either have their finances in order and decide they're going to go be a beach bum for the rest of their lives, which is better than having to work 12 hours a day, or get an offer from a private sector company to do something similar at twice the salary. And then of course, they have their retirement and then they leave.

They don't leave before, because it's hard, after you put in 20-odd years of service, to give up on something that you are about to collect, a retirement paycheck. But, frankly, for the responsibilities that most executives have, the pay is low, relatively speaking, and you have all kinds of executives with, say, a new executive with -- if you're sort of saying entry-level executive duties and the deputies, deputy commissioners at Social Security, which are the top career people, at the very top of the ladder making the same amount of money. And one has 100-times more responsibility than the other.

There's an issue of fairness there. How do you solve that in a system such as ours where you have to keep some balances with what Congress makes and so on and so forth? I don't know. I only have the questions and we don't even know all of those.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Accountability within government agencies is an important issue. If more flexibility in HR is delegated to the individual agencies or departments, Miguel, how will SSA build accountability into its HR processes?

MR. TORRADO: Well, it's interesting, because I have a personal bias. As a one-time engineer, I like numbers. And I'm a strong believer that you can't have accountability without measurement and you can't have measurement unless you have things that you can measure. So that's one issue. Where you have a mission that isn't quite as measurable as perhaps ours is, you tend to have accountability problems.

The second thing is that I am not sure that I buy into the accountability argument, itself. I prefer to think about timely feedback. And let me give you a concrete example of that.

If you have an agency goal that has to be reached in three years and it's a complex goal, it's not going to happen overnight; but by the same token, it's not going to happen if you hold the manager or the executive leading it accountable once a year or twice a year with some kind of performance system. By the way, we have had, at least during my career in the federal government, five or six different performance assessment systems, none of which has worked very well at all.

I think that the better way to proceed is to ensure that you are somehow measuring progress toward your goal; in that particular case, once a month, and sharing that information with the people that are responsible for moving you towards that goal so they know where they are and they have sufficient time to use that feedback constructively to go in a slightly different direction if they have to.

The issue of timely monitoring and timely feedback, it might a more critical one than accountability. There's a flavor to accountability that says, we want to make sure that we hold you accountable, which means that if you don't produce, we're going to punish you, and if you --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Mm-hmm, in a punitive sense.

MR. TORRADO: Produce, that's what you were supposed to do so we're not going to do anything about it. That's my own personal bias.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Okay.

MR. LAWRENCE: Earlier, you described 65,000 employees, and you went through the different kinds of employees, the different skills and the different areas and the different locations around the country. That makes me wonder, what kind of technology does SSA use to manage its employees?

MR. TORRADO: Let me divide that into two different questions: What kind of technology do we use in general? And, well, obviously, we don't have space shuttles and stuff like that. In terms of computer technology, we are not at the leading edge, certainly not far behind. You can think of Social Security as an information-processing agency. We collect your data about your wages and your contributions, and you are 110 million employees in the workforce. And we store that through your work life and we keep it. And then when you reach 65 or whatever and you retire, we pull it out and use that to compute a payment that we make to you every -- so obviously, that's a huge data processing operation. And to do that, we use the latest available technology.

Interestingly enough, it's taken us a little bit longer than I would have wished to move in the direction of using that technology to do our personnel work or our human resources work. And that's the big struggle right now.

We went through a phase that lasted about 10 years where we tried to come up with an enterprise system that took care of everything, and somehow, holistically, in one fell swoop automated everything. And in the end, it was a big failure, which we have now discarded and moved to what I call an opportunistic strategy. Whenever we can find a small system that takes care of one of the business processes of human resources, of personnel, then we automate that.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, it's time for a break.

Come back with us after the break as we continue our conversation with Miguel Torrado of the Social Security Administration. How are leaders being developed in your organization? The Social Security�s leadership development program is one of the best.

We'll find out more about it when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Miguel Torrado, Associate Commissioner for Personnel in the Social Security Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Susan De La Garza.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Thanks, Paul.

Miguel, PWC recently commissioned one of our endowment reports, which was done by Ray Blunt, and it was entitled "Organizations Growing Leaders." And in that report, Mr. Blunt identified Social Security's leadership development program as one of the best in federal government. Can you describe for us your leadership development efforts so that our listeners can understand what you've accomplished at SSA?

MR. TORRADO: Certainly. Obviously, Mr. Blunt is a very perceptive analyst.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: We do have a very extensive, and I would like to think, very good, leadership development program. And it isn't one program. We have a number of programs that I suppose work with each other over the course of a career to help identify and develop people with potential.

At the core of that program is a series of three developmental programs, each lasting between a year and a half and two years. At the very highest level, we have the senior executive service candidate pool that people who are GS-15 can apply for that. If they get selected, they go through the program and eventually become senior executives. And the agency's committed to promoting into the senior executive service from the people who have gone through that program.

At the next level below that, we have what we call the advanced leadership program, which lasts about 18 months. And people in the GS-13 and -14 grades can apply for that program. And below that program we have the leadership development program, which people in the -11 and -12 grades can apply for.

Except for the SES, senior executive level candidate program, each program entails a temporary promotion to the next higher grade during the duration of the program. And it requires the participant to take three or four temporary assignments and components in an agency other than the one where they are presently located, so that somebody who may be a regional office employee may end up doing an assignment, say, in budget; another assignment, say, in personnel, and an assignment on the Hill or with another agency so they can see how the people do things similar to what we do. And to get other perspectives.

That is coupled with, of course, classroom training and a mentor and other things. Now, we do that nationally and we go through cycles of about two years with each program. But in addition to that, every region -- and we have 10 different regions, and every major component within the agency has their own set of similar programs. They don't have a senior executive candidate program, but they have the advanced leadership and the leadership development programs that we have. And in some cases, they might even have something at a lower grade.

In a very real sense, this is nothing but an extension of a fundamental agency policy that has been in place; it's an agency value, it has been in place for 65 years, that says we value training --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: We invest a lot of money in training, beginning when you come into the agency as a GS-5, GS-7 claims rep. The first thing we do is we send you to training for 13 weeks, and that's just the beginning.

So these programs to develop leaders and get them ready to step into jobs as they become available at higher levels is nothing but a continuation of that; an extension of that philosophy.

MR. LAWRENCE: What would you say the key features of these leadership development programs are? You described different job experiences, even moving up a level temporarily. And then you described course work. But I'm wondering, how are leadership skills being developed? What's the real key feature that you think is taking place?

MR. TORRADO: Well, something happens that I wish I could say it happens by design, but it happens, really, by happenstance. In an agency like ours, there's constantly a number of new initiatives, new thoughts brewing up, and people think why don't we go in that direction, why don't we try this, why don't we change that. And what has happened over the last several years is that the people that ended up staffing, if you will, many of those projects, come from the developmental programs on a temporary assignment.

And these projects are, by their very nature, change-oriented, which require you to exercise management skills; which require that you work for somebody who is in charge of that who has demonstrated the use of skills. So developing by doing applies very much to the development of leadership skills.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Miguel, many federal agencies are beginning to focus on driving leadership skill development into all levels of employment in an organization. I was interested in the fact that you said many of your divisional units are starting developing leaders before the even -11 and -12 level. How do they go about doing that? Is that a very job-specific kind of development or what's the approach that they use?

MR. TORRADO: Well, certainly the lower the level, the more job-specific it is. But as you begin to advance past the -11 level; for example, then it becomes broader. Now, in an agency such as ours, where we have 1,300 district offices and the district office functions by itself out in a locality; the district manager is God out there.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: The district manager has to know how to manage, and the people that are going up through the ranks leading to that job have segments of that job to do. They have to have a certain amount of leadership ability. And of course, there's a standard career path that favors the development of those skills. You come in as a claims rep, you become a master claims rep, if you will, at a

GS-11 level. Eventually you get picked to be a supervisor as a -12, and then you become either a branch manager or an assistant district manager. And eventually, you make it to a district manager in a small district. And then to a district manager in a larger district. And eventually then, you get some assignments to headquarters or to the regional office. And through that kind of thing, you develop leadership skills from the very beginning.

The emergence of the programs and the numbers that we're doing. At any one time, we probably have about 1,000, 1,200 people in one or another of the programs -- is a response to the forecasted loss of people the next 10 years to retirement. We fully expect to lose about 37,000 over the next 10 years; 27,000 of those through retirement and another 10,000 for other reasons, in a workforce of 65,000. And the ones who are retiring are retiring from, in general, the higher levels. So there's a critical need to develop people to step in to replace those people when they leave. And it's not replacing at just at the -15 level, as we said before --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: There's a trickle-down effect, so when somebody at the -15 level leaves, you're basically promoting 3 or 4 people up a grade. So you need somebody able to step into the -12, so somebody can step into the -13, so someone can step into the -14, and so on and so forth.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Have you used formal succession planning techniques to identify who will participate in your leadership development program, or does your career ladder pretty much handle a lot of that before you?

MR. TORRADO: It depends on what do you mean by formal succession planning.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Okay.

MR. TORRADO: Do we sit down and say we have this position and Suzy Q. and John Doe and Pepe Perez are the ones that we want to groom for this? No, we don't do that; not quite that way. Do we identify potential talent? Yes. Do we groom it? Yes. Do we have a sense of how many people that we're going to lose at each level? Yes. Do we size our programs to do that? Yes.

MR. LAWRENCE: How does SSA incorporate the presidential management internship program into its leadership development activities?

MR. TORRADO: Well, I'm glad you asked that, because I forgot to mention it. We treat the presidential internship program as one more developmental program, with the added value that it's an injection of fresh blood from the outside. And that's not a minor thing for us, because the bulk of our people come in at the GS-5, GS-7 level and make it through the grades up to the executive level. So, having an injection of fresh blood at mid-level is a very valuable thing for us.

MR. LAWRENCE: How successful have you been retaining them after their two-year period of time?

MR. TORRADO: Well, let's see, we hire in a given year anywhere between 30 and 40 PMIs, and we probably end up retaining, if we get 40 returning, probably 30 or more of them.

MR. LAWRENCE: When you look back, how do you think you'll measure success in this leadership area?

MR. TORRADO: Well, ultimately, if we end up surviving the retirement wave without a decrease in the level of service that we provide the American public, that will be the ultimate measure. Immediately, if we don't have trouble filling the higher-level positions that will become available with qualified people that would be a more immediate indication that we've been successful.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a good stopping point.

Come back with us after the break as we continue our conversation with Miguel Torrado of the Social Security Administration.

This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Miguel Torrado, Associate Commissioner for Personnel at the Social Security Administration.

And joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Susan De La Garza.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Miguel, we've been very impressed with the leadership development program that Social Security has implemented.

What lessons-learned have you learned from the development of this program that you could pass on to other agencies?

MR. TORRADO: Well, the thing that comes galloping to mind is the notion that people need to be aware that this costs lots of money and lots of resources. Not only in the money that you put into the training itself, but also, if you take somebody out from their productive job for 18 months, 24 months, that's two FTEs, right? Two full-time equivalents that you're losing from production. And I believe I mentioned that we have at any given time between 1,000 and 1,200 people in one of these programs. Out of a workforce of 65,000, that's a lot of people. And while of course they are engaged in productive activities as part of the development program, there is some decrease in productivity there, so that's a huge cost. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that you have to have a method of selection that guarantees you that you're getting the best possible candidates --well, there really is no guarantee, but promotes it -- as opposed to generating the same kind of managers that you had before. It's very easy to say I want to pick people who look like me, only that act like me. You want people that have the aptitudes and the skills, actually that they want to develop. And, usually, that has to be done through some kind of assessment center that's well structured, that deliberately looks for the attributes that you want. Those two things are key.

MR. LAWRENCE: You described this as a resource-intense activity. How do you withstand the budget pressure not to cut there? My observation is that in times of decreasing budget, training somehow seems to go, if not first, pretty near the top. How do you withstand that?

MR. TORRADO: Well, it helps, and I'll be the first one to admit this, it helps to be in an agency that has traditionally over time had as a cultural value training, training, training. But nevertheless, it's a constant struggle. And what happens is, you know, the commissioner is the ultimate decision maker. The deputies are sort of like the Cabinet. And you basically go before them and you say, you said you wanted to have these programs and you said you wanted to have x-number of people in these programs. This is how much it's going to cost. If you want us to have those programs, those are the resources that we'll need to have.

And it sounds harsh and very calculating, but it has to boil down to that. We have been fortunate that we have had a string of commissioners committed to doing this, and I think in large part because we have been able to articulate the need to develop people to be ready to step in to programs.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Miguel, I was interested in what you had to say about the assessment center as a means to select your leadership candidates. What kind of characteristics do you look for in the candidates that you bring into this program?

MR. TORRADO: Well, you look for somebody that, within the culture of the agency, is willing to take risks --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Okay.

MR. TORRADO: And I say within the culture of the agency because I think we're a fairly conservative agency in that respect. You're looking for people that have a certain amount of analytical skills. You're looking for people that can present an argument succinctly to a manager. You look for people who can think on their feet and, I hate to admit this, but you're also looking for people that understand the agency.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: Interestingly enough, at the senior executive candidate program, in a class of 45, we typically have 2 or 3 people from outside.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Oh, interesting.

MR. TORRADO: As I say, so it's not just people who know the agency, but that's one of the things that we look for.

MR. LAWRENCE: We hear a lot these days about the difficulties that agencies have in recruiting and even retaining technology workers. Is this an issue at SSA?

MR. TORRADO: Of course, now with the new special pay that OPM, the Office of Personnel Management, approved over a year ago, things have gotten a bit easier at the level where the pay applies. Unfortunately, the pay only goes to a GS-12 grade level, and we're finding that at levels higher than that, it's becoming increasingly difficult, not so much to retain, although that's also a problem, but to bring people in.

And when you have career people in the systems area, you tend to have people that develop a certain set of skills in a particular area. And a set of skills that you need at a particular time is not always the set of skill that you have --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Mm-hmm.

MR. TORRADO: Or those are the employees that you have with seniority. So you're always trying to seed what you have with people from the outside at the higher level with very highly developed skills. And it's tough to do that. Now, it's become easier the last six months or so with the dot-coms going bust, but over the longer period of time, it's not easy because we're not paying competitive salaries.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Miguel, if we step back for a second here and really look at the overall vision that you have for SSA's human resources over the next 10 years, how do you see SSA evolving from a human resource perspective?

MR. TORRADO: That could probably take 8 or 10 doctoral dissertations to --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Very well.

MR. TORRADO: Let me point out a couple --

MS. DE LA GARZA: We can arrange an endowment report on that or something --

MR. TORRADO: Absolutely.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right?

MR. TORRADO: A couple of things: I think with the changes in technology and the changes in expectations that the people that we serve have, I mean, if you do your banking through the Internet, for example, why would you want to do business with a government agency face-to-face?

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: There is a changing expectation among our customers for how we as an agency ought to do business. And it's increasingly going more the Internet route.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Yes.

MR. TORRADO: For an agency that has traditionally prided itself on giving

face-to-face service, there's almost a cultural crash there. So we're going to have to have people that are more technically savvy over the next several years. And as the complexity of our jobs gets higher and higher because we're automating the easier functions and the remaining ones are the more complex ones. So we'll have to have people that are more technologically savvy; even more skills than the ones we've had in the past, at the same time that we're having difficulty competing in the labor market.

From a very parochial point of view, from the personnel perspective, I tell my folks if we're not recruiting 100 percent on the Internet in 2-1/2 years, we won't be recruiting, period.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: And that means changing the way we do business so we can take advantage of the opportunities that technology allows us to do. And I don't mean this as a criticism, but we as a group, in the personnel and the human resources area, tend to be very conservative when it comes to using new --

MS. DE LA GARZA: Technology?

MR. TORRADO: New technology. That's the challenge for the next five years, to be able to move and maintain a cutting edge in the employment field, in the labor market, and competing with other people through technology without losing the quality of what we do.

And let me add one other thing: We will have to hire to replace the 27,000 people that will retire and the other 10,000 that will go for another reason. We'll have to hire another 12,000 to replace some of the replacements.

MS. DE LA GARZA: Right.

MR. TORRADO: So we'll end up hiring 50,000 over the next 10 years. And when we count in trickle-down promotions, we're talking about 200,000 major personnel actions over the next 10 years.

MS. DE LA GARZA: That's incredible.

MR. TORRADO: That's a huge workload.

MS. DE LA GARZA: That's incredible.

MR. LAWRENCE: Often, when people talk about the future, as you did, they talk about the new skills the staff will need. But I've often wondered, well, what new skills will the managers and the leaders need to deal with these new employees in this new environment?

MR. TORRADO: Well, the fundamental leadership will be the same. The fundamental management skills will be the same except, perhaps, that I think the days when you can tell people this is what you're going to do and you're going to do it because I'm the boss -- this very rigid structure -- if they haven't disappeared yet, will disappear soon. I think you have to get into a mode, and the managers and the executives will have to get into a mode where you have to learn to get a job done by getting the resources that your people need to do the job. Listen to what they want to do and how they want to do it, and when they have a new idea say, yes, you here are the resources and get out of the way and let them do it.

MR. LAWRENCE: Some imagine that bosses or managers might disappear altogether. They think in a technologically enabled world, the organizations will be flattened and there will be less of them. Is that possible?

MR. TORRADO: Well, managers, yes. Executives? Probably to a lesser extent. Leaders, no. You will always need leaders.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, that's a good stopping point, because we're out of time.

Miguel, we want to thank you for joining us this morning.

MR. TORRADO: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

MR. LAWRENCE: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Miguel Torrado, Associate Commissioner for Personnel at the Social Security Administration.

Be sure and visit us on the Web at endowment.pwcglobal.com. There, you can learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. And you can also get a transcript of today's interesting conversation. Again, that's endowment.pwcglobal.com

This is Paul Lawrence. See you next week.

Miguel Torrado interview
01/19/2002
Miguel Torrado

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