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.

Raj Chellaraj interview

Friday, June 8th, 2007 - 20:00
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The Bureau is responsible for administrative support operations; supply and transportation; real property and facilities management; official records, publishing, and library services; language services; domestic emergency management; overseeing safety and occupational health matters; small and disadvantaged business utilization; and support for both White House travel abroad and special conferences called by the President or Secretary of State.
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/09/2007
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Human Capital Management; Managing for Performance and Results...

Human Capital Management; Managing for Performance and Results

Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, June 9, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created 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.

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Morales: Good morning. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of the The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

With its unveiling of transformational diplomacy, the U.S. Department of State has charted a bold new course in U.S. diplomacy, a course that rests on working with U.S. partners around the world to build and sustain democratic well-governed states using America's diplomatic power and resources to help people across the globe better their own futures, build their own nations and thrive under an umbrella of security and peace. Supporting this ambitious approach seems no small feat.

With us this morning to discuss his Bureau's efforts in support of transformational diplomacy is our very special guest, Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State.

Good morning, Raj.

Mr. Chellaraj: Good morning, glad to be here.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Bonnie Glick, project executive at IBM.

Good morning, Bonnie.

Ms. Glick: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: Raj, most of our listeners are probably familiar with the Department of State as the diplomatic arm of the U.S. government. But perhaps you could give us a sense of the State Department and its history. When was it created, and how has its mission evolved over time?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely. The State Department was the first federal agency, created in 1789. Thomas Jefferson was our first Secretary of State. It is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency. Currently, Secretary Rice has defined transformational diplomacy in this way: it is to work with our many partners around the world to build and sustain democratic well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct them responsibly in the international system. That means all of us need to think about how we are doing business, and adapt and change to meet these new priorities.

Here are some current initiatives under the leadership of Management's Under Secretary Fore: one, provide buildings and administrative infrastructure to 38 agencies overseas; maintain American presence with over 260 embassies and consulates, utilizing technology with virtual posts that can be accessed from anywhere in real time; help to ensure secure borders and provide a dignified welcome to visitors.

Mr. Morales: Raj, obviously, this is an extremely broad mission. Can you give us a sense of the scale at the Department of State? How is it organized? Can you give us a sense of the budget, the number of full-time employees, and its geographic footprint?

Mr. Chellaraj: There are nearly 57,000 employees worldwide. Nearly 45,000 of them are overseas. Over 7,500 Americans proudly call the State Department home who are overseas, and 37,000 locally engaged employees. There are more than 260 posts in 189 countries, and also in the United States. The State Department's appropriation for the past several fiscal years has been roughly $30 billion per year, and includes both State operations and foreign assistance. The FY 2008 request is about 11 percent increase, and it's around $36 billion.

Ms. Glick: Now that you've provided us with a sense of the larger organization, maybe you could tell us more about your specific area and your specific role within the Department. What are your responsibilities and duties as the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration? Could you tell us a little bit about the areas under your purview, how your area is organized, the size of your staff and your budget? Also, given the Bureau has responsibility for both overseas and domestic operations, can you give us a sense of how you balance limited resources between domestic and overseas operations?

Mr. Chellaraj: Wow, there are a number of questions in that one question. So let me just at least highlight the key areas. Some departments, as you know and our listeners know, have offices. Our department has Bureaus. So the Bureau of Administration provides global administrative support for the people and programs of America's diplomacy. We are proud that our work supports every foreign policy initiative, every employee and family member and every agency that's involved in foreign affairs activities.

The "A" Bureau is one of the Department's most diverse and dynamic organizations. The "A" Bureau budget is approximately I would say $600 million, with over 2,000 employees in over 30 offices. The Bureau's mission is making diplomacy work. And when I joined the Bureau, I added the word "better," making diplomacy work better. One of my priorities and our priorities in our Bureau is customer service and satisfaction. Our Bureau programs and services are very varied.

Let me just highlight on some of them. One, domestic real property and facilities management. We do procurement, roughly $5 billion or so a year, and that's a billion with a "b." Supply and transportation. Diplomatic pouch and mail services. Official records, publishing, library services, language services. Setting allowance rates for U.S. government personnel assigned abroad, and that's a fairly key one, as you can imagine. Overseeing safety and occupational health matters, small disadvantaged business utilization. Support for both White House travel abroad and special conferences called by the President and Secretary of State.

We also do direct services to the public and other government agencies. These include authenticating documents used abroad for legal and business purposes, responding to requests under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, printing official publications, codifying policies into Department regulations, designing, publishing, and maintaining the Department's electronic forms, processing all Department public notices for publications in the Federal Register, and the list goes on.

Ms. Glick: The list does appear to go on. You're quite right when you say the responsibilities of the "A" Bureau are very varied. Regarding those responsibilities and duties, what would you say are the top three challenges that you face in your position, and how have you addressed those challenges?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely. There are many challenges just based on the types of things we do, and frankly, we look at challenges also as opportunities to see how we can improve overall customer satisfaction. Let me give you three specific ones. Firstly, our posts are scattered throughout the world in different working environments with different technological capabilities and operating constraints, and so you can imagine the issues associated with that.

Secondly, in addition, emergency or crisis situations arise, as was the case when the war broke out in Lebanon last summer. We provided the logistics support, ships, planes, not quite cars, but vans and buses for safe passage of American citizens, 15,000 of them approximately, out of harm's way. By having sound and well-thought-out management processes in place, we are able to respond to these types of unexpected situations quickly and effectively.

Thirdly, it is really difficult to predict where the next challenge will arise, so we have our antennas and radar up and be very vigilant in terms of where the next challenge will come from.

Mr. Morales: Raj, I want to switch gears a little bit here and talk about you. You've had obviously a very diverse background, starting in the private sector and now migrating over to various roles within government. I'm curious, how did you begin your career?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely. I immigrated to the United States with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering and a couple of dollars. I realized very soon after I got here that the American education, the critical thinking was a great equalizer, and so I worked, went to school, worked, went to school, and did this a few times, and I moved from the focused field of engineering to the broader issues of public policy.

The early days were simply tough, but I struggled and survived. And career-wise, I moved between private sector and government many times, and I would encourage your listeners out there who are considering a public sector career and an opportunity to come contribute in the government to consider doing that. And over the last 25 years, this is my fourth agency in government, and this has been a real tremendous opportunity. And I will always come back when a President calls, when the Secretary of State calls or when I'm called upon to serve the country.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. So with these various experiences both in the commercial sector as well as now in government, I'm curious, how have these experiences shaped and formed your current leadership style, and how are you applying those experiences to your current role?

Mr. Chellaraj: I have handled and been responsible for most of the functions that are currently in the Bureau of Administration in my prior life, prior career, either in government or in the private sector, and I really believe good management transcends both the public sector and the private sector. And let me give you an example here. Take procurement, for example. In government, you have the Federal Acquisition Regulations, known as FAR, which I'm sure our listeners are familiar with.

In the private sector, it's not too different. There's what is called DOAG. You know, there are always all these acronyms, and essentially, DOAG is Delegation of Authority Guide. And the principles are essentially the same, in areas like procurement. You want to have the proper checks and balances, the internal controls, and who can sign up to what limits, and the principles are the same. People generally say -- either when I'm in the government or in the private sector, and I hear this in government a lot -- we are really a unique organization. We are different. Not really sure whether something will work, and what I really look for is commonalities and similarities on how we can improve processes to be more effective.

Mr. Morales: So even though the core missions are different, many of the core fundamentals are really the same between the commercial and the public sector.

Mr. Chellaraj: That's absolutely true.

Mr. Morales: How is State administering its resources in more efficient ways?

We will ask Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State, 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 Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State.

Also joining us in our conversation is Bonnie Glick, project executive at IBM.

Raj, given the release of the joint State and USAID strategic plan for 2004-2009, could you tell us about the efforts to integrate USAID operations with those of the State Department, and what efforts has the Administration Bureau undertaken to streamline its operations in line with the efforts of the Joint Management Council of State and USAID?

Mr. Chellaraj: Thanks, Al. Again, there are several questions there, and I'll try to highlight the key points. Interestingly enough, I worked at USAID a while back. In fact, my office then was on the same floor as where I am today, just down the hall. Who would have thought I'd be back again?

Frankly, USAID does certain functions very well, and State does certain functions well. This is about getting the best of both. State and USAID have been attempting to restructure our overseas presence to meet the challenges of transformation diplomacy and sustainable development. We both recognize the need for a shared overarching vision for management partnership, overseas and domestically, to contain growth and consolidate administrative support services. The Joint Strategic Plan established the Joint Management Council. The Joint Management Council's mandate is to identify opportunities for cooperation, cost avoidance and improved service through operational improvements. The results from our pilot posts are very encouraging.

We believe the joint approach will result in significant savings as well as a more logical, more manageable administrative platform at our overseas posts. Our focus in the Bureau has been identifying the activities where we carry out tasks that are common to both organizations. We believe that by doing this, we discover opportunities to both save money and enhance performance for both of us.

Mr. Morales: So how has this joint effort enhanced the ability of both organizations to ensure that the nation's foreign policy and development programs are fully aligned, and how has it impacted your workload?

Mr. Chellaraj: Sure. In terms of impacting the workload, it is a little difficult to quantify, as some individuals and offices directly concerned with the joint management initiative work on projects would be underway regardless of whether we had a joint management effort. Let me give you an example. We have something called the Integrated Logistic Management System, or ILMS. This is a very customer-friendly IT platform that enables us, both our contracting officers, logisticians, and most importantly, our customers, to track items from the time they are purchased until they're eventually disposed of.

Through ILMS, we get a clearer picture of our worldwide logistics operation than we've ever had before. Enhanced transparency and a whole new level of accountability for our resources. This particular initiative and effort will be important to the success of joint management, particularly overseas.

Mr. Morales: So to provide a more specific and broader context, could you provide a brief overview of such initiatives, such as the right sizing initiative and regionalization?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely. Transformational diplomacy has a number of ramifications for the Bureau of Administration, and Department management generally. For example, we're addressing the practice of each Bureau or post providing the full range of administrative services. Today's technology allows, as you know, many of these functions to be performed by a smaller group of people anywhere in the world and shared among Bureaus and posts. For example, the Department is working on establishing human resource centers of excellence.

The Bureau of Administration's executive office is one of those centers of excellence. Overseas, the security environment concerns underscore the need to provide the most efficient support services in the safest possible locations. My office is working with the regional bureaus to expand the number and scope of services currently provided by regional support centers located in Frankfurt, Bangkok, and Fort Lauderdale.

Another regionalization initiative that the "A" Bureau spearheaded along with the regional bureaus is the standardization of support services according to best practices identified and endorsed by a central governance council. These efforts I'm sure will facilitate our ability to further consolidate and regionalize overseas support services.

Ms. Glick: That sounds great. Given even tighter budget constraints, would you tell us a little about your efforts to administer the resources of the Department in the most efficient ways? How has the International Cooperative Administrative Support Services System that's known as ICAS assisted you in this regard? How does it operate and who uses it, and to what extent has it achieved its primary goals? Are there any plans to enhance the ICAS system and its use?

Mr. Chellaraj: Bonnie, the ICAS system that you refer to is really a cost-sharing mechanism. Industry has been using this for 15-plus years, and it provides us, the U.S. government, a platform for overseas shared support services. The State Department is the primary service provider at more than 260 posts worldwide. State provides these services for the Department employees, and most importantly, for the employees of dozens of other federal agencies posted overseas. There are more than 280 separate entities that receive invoices under the ICAS system. And it is really a customer-driven interagency mechanism for managing and funding administrative support services.

For example, it gives the post the authority to determine how services are delivered at what cost and by whom. This is about acting locally, ensuring that service providers are formally accountable to the customer, and incorporates a full-cost recovery mechanism for the Department of State.

Ms. Glick: Raj, you serve as chair of the ICAS Executive Board. Would you tell us about the strategies ICAS has developed to address several recommendations outlined by the General Accountability Office regarding the need to improve ICAS accountability and enhance its cost containment capability?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely. The ICAS Executive Board -- let me just give you a little background on that. It is really composed of 15 senior representatives of Cabinet-level agencies, and we meet quarterly or more often depending on what the needs are. And this is set up similar to -- akin to a corporation that would have a board of directors and management. There is a working group -- we have several subcommittees, and it is staffed and funded office within the Department of State. You're right, the GAO's report in -- I think it was in September of 2004, which was the first systematic review of the ICAS performance since it was established in 1998.

And overall, I must say the GAO found that ICAS is generally effective in providing quality administrative support in an equitable and transparent manner. Like all organizations, we take these recommendations seriously, and it will continue to be a work in progress as it evolves and we adopt the recommendations and continue to move forward.

Mr. Morales: Raj, I want to turn to the President's Management Agenda for a moment. The Department of State is one of only two federal agencies out of about 15 that have recently achieved a Green for both status and progress on the PMA's federal real property initiative. Could you elaborate on this achievement, and could you tell us about your efforts in developing and implementing an OMB-approved asset management plan? And I'm curious, what advice would you give to some of your colleagues who are perhaps pursuing the same area?

Mr. Chellaraj: The responsibility for asset management of real property is really shared by two bureaus within the Department, the Overseas Building Management office and the Bureau of Administration. In terms of advice, the short answer is there are no quick fixes. Be real detail-focused, results-oriented, and continue to monitor the progress.

Mr. Morales: Now, competitive sourcing is another initiative under the PMA. Could you tell us about some of the key competitive sourcing initiatives being pursued by State that have affected your Bureau, and as a member of the Competitive Sourcing Executive Steering Group at State, could you give us an update on your Department's overall progress in this area?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely Al, happy to. The important thing about competitive sourcing is we are looking for the most effective outcome for the government, whether the work is done inside the government or outside. And competitive sourcing is not outsourcing, and that is a concept that has been misunderstood. It is a really effective management tool, a tool designed to obtain the best value for the government, whether the work is done internally or externally. We completed the first standard competition, and it was to transform printing and publishing activities for the Department, with an estimated savings of $80 million over the next 10 years.

This is fairly significant. Modernizing printing and publication services will -- we believe -- will enhance the Department's ability to communicate its public diplomacy message in a more-timely, compelling and visually interesting way to overseas audiences. There were actually three offers that we received, and the award went to the revamped in-house organization, the Global Publishing Solutions Group. The in-house organization shifted to a market-driven pricing arrangement and adopted industry best practices and performance standards.

The Department overall from a broader picture on competitive sourcing has a green plan charting future studies which we have submitted to OMB, and we've committed to plan in terms of how we move forward. We are reviewing other administrative functions and really rethinking how the Department delivers domestic administrative services.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

What are some of the challenges in administering the diplomatic missions in Iraq and Afghanistan? We will ask Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State, 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 Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State.

Also joining us in our conversation is Bonnie Glick, project executive at IBM.

Raj, what are some of the significant challenges your Bureau faces in administering the diplomatic missions in Iraq and Afghanistan? How does the model for overseas management support within your Bureau ease the burden of administrative support in dangerous posts such as these?

Mr. Chellaraj: Thanks Al, for that question. Operationally, the model for overseas management support is now known as the Iraq Orientation In-Processing center, OIP. This center developed several concepts and methods to ease the burden of administrative support in danger posts. While developed for danger posts, many of these have potential applicability for other overseas posts.

Employees from all federal agencies who are bound for Iraq and who are subject to chief of mission or the ambassador's authority, go through the center to receive their electronic check-in, their OpenNet and e-mail log-ons, cyber security training, deployment support, common access cards and so forth.

This remote check-in process allows the employees to take up their responsibilities sooner at posts. It also saves embassy human resource personnel and diplomatic security staff considerable time and effort in the processing, and spares them from responding to policy questions from multiple federal agency headquarters and entering security eligibility data into the Department of Defense systems.

Mr. Morales: Now, Raj, earlier we talked about the very complex mission that your organization has, so I'm curious, what kinds of interagency, private sector, and nonprofit partnerships are you developing to improve operations or outcomes at State, and what are you doing to enable the success of these partnerships and collaboration efforts?

Mr. Chellaraj: Sure, happy to address that. Our offices throughout the A Bureau partner with other government agencies, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations regularly to achieve their individual missions. I encourage the A Bureau staff to seek out the best in class in their respective fields, both government and private sector, and benchmark against them.

For example, we sponsor the Management Immersion Program, where we place Foreign Service officers in recognized, well-managed external organizations to learn management best practices and bring them back to their posts and the Department. Another example is our Overseas School Advisory Council. Having been a product of several degrees myself, I take real pride, and this is very important to me and for us in the Administration Bureau and the Department.

In '67, the Department of State established the Overseas School Advisory Council, a public-private partnership with U.S. corporations that have substantial overseas operations. OSAC, as it's known, is the longest-running advisory committee in the Department. The purpose of this partnership is to obtain the advice and support of the American corporate community in providing quality education for U.S. citizens, children attending overseas schools.

Currently, there are 194 American overseas schools in 132 countries assisted by the Department of State, and serve 112,000 school-age children of U.S. government and private sector employees stationed abroad, as well as children of host country and third country nationals.

Mr. Morales: Along the same lines of partnerships, could you tell us about the Department's commitment to the small and disadvantaged business community? We understand that your Bureau annually recognizes selected small business contractors who have displayed exemplary performance. Could you tell us more about this award and your Bureau's efforts in this area?

Mr. Chellaraj: The Department of State is committed to ensuring the small businesses, including small disadvantaged, (8a), women-owned, HUBZone, and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses have the maximum opportunity to participate in the Department's acquisition.

For example, last year, the Department awarded approximately $1.3 billion to small businesses. The Department's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization is a strong advocate for small business firms, and has a strong history of providing outreach to the small and disadvantaged business community.

Our office participates in many small business outreach events locally and throughout the U.S. that offer small and disadvantaged business with opportunities to learn about contracting. For example, we participated in 38 events last year. We also have a successful record of achieving small business goals.

Here's something we're very proud of: the Small Business Administration presented the Department with the Gold Star Award for excellence in achieving small business goals in both 2005 and 2006. We are also proud of the mentor-prot�g� program, which encourages large business prime contractors to provide mutually beneficial assistance to small businesses.

The Department recognizes the achievements and contributions that small businesses make to its mission during the annual Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year Award ceremony. The Award is sponsored by the Bureau of Administration. It recognizes contractors that have displayed exemplary performance, customer service, management and technical capabilities.

The 2006 award was presented to a team of four highly skilled interpreters, translators, who traveled with our ambassadors in Iraq and provided interpreting support. We also host a small business trade fair at the Department each June for firms that sell office supplies and common usage items, as well as three information technology fairs a year, a prime subcontracting networking session in October and in veterans business affairs. So we do quite a bit in this area, and that is why we are successful, and we're really happy that the Small Business Administration has recognized us for this.

Mr. Morales: That's quite impressive.

Ms. Glick: Turning again to the topic of language services, the State Department has an Office of Language Services that effectively delivers timely, world class interpreting and translating services to the Department as well as language training.

A significant challenge, though, facing this program is recruiting a pool of direct hire employees and contractors who are among the world's best interpreters and translators. How has your organization handled this challenge, and are there any plans to relax some of the Office of Personnel Management's applicant rating procedures and security clearance requirements, which may hinder the recruitment of direct hire employees in this area?

Mr. Chellaraj: Surely. This is a very critical area for us, and we compete head-on with many organizations, particularly international organizations. Our language staff services has a staff of approximately 45 interpreters and translators working in eight languages, and a roster of 1,500 contractor interpreters and translators in 40 languages.

Finding talented individuals to perform these tasks, evaluating their abilities and ensuring that they can pass the necessary security scrutiny will always be a challenge. State Department has certain advantages, we believe. The work we ask our interpreters and translators to perform is difficult, but it's also interesting and it's international. Anyone who can say they work for the State Department, whether as a staff employee or as a contractor, enjoys considerable respect in the profession, we've come to know, because we are well-known for the rigor of our testing process.

In our recruiting efforts for qualified contract interpreters and translators, we require individuals with the highest skill levels and in many languages, and this means that the pool of qualified applicants is limited, in some instances because there's no recurring commercial need for interpreters and translators, and certain languages of limited diffusion.

We actually have to find individuals with strong language skills and provide them with training in interpreting or translating. Let me give you some examples. We've achieved considerable success in the programs we've organized in such languages as Haitian Creole, Urdu, Hindi, Albanian, Vietnamese, Macedonian, Turkish and Greek.

The search for interpreting and translating talent, particularly for the languages of limited diffusion will be an unending quest, and it'll continue. Our staff attends conferences, seminars, regional gatherings, academic symposiums, and job fairs to find the talent we need to perform the work that is required by our clients at the White House, the National Security Council, Department of State, among others.

We also work closely with our colleagues in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, turning to your question about the security challenges, to perform the required background checks in a timely manner. We receive excellent support from our Diplomatic Security Office, but there are no shortcuts, as you know, when you're trying to do background checks on people who have lived all over the world. This will always continue to be, I believe, a work in progress.

Ms. Glick: As the Chief Acquisition Officer, would you give us a sense of how procurement works within the Department of State? Given the State Department's global footprint, how decentralized are procurement operations within the Department, and what are the benefits of this decentralization, what are some of the challenges? Also, to what extent does your acquisition model emphasize the customer is king approach within your area?

Mr. Chellaraj: Sure. Procurement is a key area for us. In our Department, it is unique, because we have over 200 individual procurement offices at each embassy and post. These offices are located in virtually every country on the planet, with every imaginable set of market conditions. Some of this procurement must be done at post, because necessary goods or services can only be obtained there. Some examples would be renting a facility for a conference or obtaining janitorial service and vehicle maintenance.

These overseas procurement responsibilities are handled by Foreign Service officers who generally manage procurement, as well as a larger portfolio which could include warehousing, shipping, housing and motor pool operations. Locally hired procurement staff would support our Foreign Service officers.

For both the Foreign Service officers and local staff, one of our priorities is to provide worldwide training and oversight of this procurement workforce. Our Office of Procurement Executive, which is in our Bureau, uses the Department's improved Internet capability and e-mail to assist with these trainings. We have all the online training, we have the website, we have the help desk. So all we have made as part of standard operating procedure.

And the Department also uses regional procurement support offices. These are the ones I mentioned earlier in Frankfurt, Fort Lauderdale. It doesn't have to be procured from posts; if it doesn't have to be, we don't do it. We do it regionally as best as we can.

We're also focusing more on our technical representatives. In government, it is called COR, Contracting Officer Representative. And we hold seminars to build a community of practice. These CORs need to learn from each other. This is in addition to the normal training required to be designated a COR at the Department. We are also focusing on strategic sourcing. We've selected medical supplies, furniture, and digital copiers as strategic sourcing targets, commodities that the Department uses throughout our worldwide operations.

For example, we are piloting buying medical services by teaming up with larger partners such as DoD and the Veterans Administration. We are negotiating furniture contracts that'll standardize the types of furniture at posts for easier asset management and will leverage our worldwide purchasing power. With digital copiers, we are more concerned about supplier management and increasing the availability of suppliers.

So there are a number of things under way. Procurement is a real critical function, and we want to ensure that as we standardize and we change some of these processes, we maintain procurement integrity and the proper internal controls and the checks and balances are there.

Ms. Glick: That's great. One of the other areas that you focus on is in the area of allowances, and the Office of Allowances coordinates policies, regulations, standards and procedures for overseas allowances and differential payments throughout the federal government. Would you tell us about the e-Allowances Initiative, and what is the status of this initiative in its implementation?

Mr. Chellaraj: This is an area, where again, we are trying to focus on the customer and improve the service. The Office of Allowances, which is very closely monitored, for obvious reasons, as you can imagine, protects the interests of U.S. government and its employees and families serving overseas by ensuring that overseas allowances and differentials are appropriate to reimburse them for extraordinary costs and difficult living conditions associated with serving abroad.

Conditions at our overseas locations may change abruptly. Our current subsystem for submitting and reviewing allowances is a paper-based system, which obviously will have a lag, as you can imagine. And we really think this delay is unacceptable and began developing e-Allowances, an online way of doing things with quicker turnaround, so the surveys are done, it's reviewed properly, and the adjustments are made in a very effective manner.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the U.S. Department of State?

We will ask Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State, 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 Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State.

Also joining us in our conversation is Bonnie Glick, project executive at IBM.

Raj, given the management changes already underway at the Department, where do you see the Bureau of Administration going in, say, the next five years?

Mr. Chellaraj: Sure. If I had to blue-sky this, my objective during my tenure is to ensure that the fundamentals are in place and working well, that we have the flexibility to respond to the changes coming in the future, such as the new IT capabilities. And it's a work in progress, and certainly will be influenced by the external environment.

There will continue to be an evolution to more quicker turnaround, you know, better cycle times, solving issues in real-time.

To your point about advice for successors, I would say focus really on people. People are the key to making things happen, and I would say attracting a talented, innovative, diverse team of experts on the Bureau team, and continuing to do so, is very important. We are currently focused on that, and the Department and the Bureau need to focus on that, and also the processes -- do the standard operating procedures -- are they making sense, and are we doing things the most effective and efficient way possible?

Mr. Morales: Now, Raj, I understand that BusinessWeek has identified the State Department as one of the top 10 places to launch a career, specifically for new college graduates, and was the only federal agency listed in the top 10.

Could you tell us how significant this recognition is to your Bureau, and how has this recognition benefited your Bureau?

Mr. Chellaraj: Oh, this recognition is very important. As you know, competition is intense for top-notch employees, and on that list you will find many recognizable names who are in the Fortune Top 10, Top 20 companies. I recently spoke at an entry-level officers' conference for those serving on their first or second tour in the Middle Eastern region, and the work experience and the academic credentials these individuals offer the Department are very impressive. They represent a wide range of backgrounds and areas of expertise, and language skills. This is exactly the type of individual the Department needs both here and overseas.

Ms. Glick: To that end, and in the spirit of the BusinessWeek ranking, what steps are being taken to attract and maintain a high quality technical and professional workforce?

Mr. Chellaraj: That's a great question. The Department senior leadership, including Secretary Rice, are fully committed to ensuring the Department's workforce reflects the excellence and diversity of America; we want the best and the brightest to come to State, and we are seeking diversity. Now, well-run private companies, as you know, have already realized this and have taken major steps in this direction. Not having diversity is not an option. Look at President Bush's leadership team here at State.

In addition to doing diversity, we are also forming partnerships with many organizations, take part in conferences and gotten our message in print and electronic media. We have diplomat residents in 17 college campuses currently across the country and growing. We identify, counsel and mentor. We have broadened outreach to many minority organizations. We need Arab-Americans, Turkish-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, scientists, IT professionals.

In terms of the recruiting for the civil service, the Department is one of the most active participants in the President's Management Fellows Program. In FY 2004, we ranked second among overall government agencies for employing the Presidential Management Fellows. We've expanded the Career Entry Program, which is a two-year career development program open to the public, with positions in areas like contract management, personnel management, financial management and other areas and other areas.

In addition, we've done something fairly unique. We have a number of students, interns and career development programs. We have something called a "Stars Program," which is a student program that allows students to work part-time on Freedom of Information Act issues and declassification programs. We have something called CLIMB, which is an entry-level career ladder program for logistics professionals. State really is reaching out to ensure that we have the best and the brightest workforce, and that is why I believe that we are on the Top 10 list.

Ms. Glick: It is fantastic, and it's quite an accomplishment. Attracting employees is important, retaining employees is important. How do you ensure that your employees have their appropriate training and skills to do their jobs? What's your organization doing to ensure that it has the right staff mix to meet the upcoming challenges that will be faced by the Department of State?

Mr. Chellaraj: Bonnie, the Department established a civil service training continuum, which is a tool designed to be a career planning roadmap and a means to ensure that an employee systematically acquires the knowledge and skills needed for successful performance from entry-level to senior-level.

In addition, we have identified certain types of trainings as mandatory for all employees, or in some cases specifically for employees at a grade level. Give you some of these examples: computer security awareness training, mandatory leadership training, equal employment opportunity diversity awareness. Our Bureau works with our colleagues at the Foreign Service Institute to develop and teach a variety of courses; both classroom and distant learning courses, on topics such as emergency preparedness, grants management, procurement.

I mentioned the Management Immersion Program that we have sponsored. I personally encourage and support our own staff to participate in external training opportunities such as the Department of Defense National War College and the Department of Agriculture leadership programs. One of our own special assistants will start at the National War College this August.

Mr. Morales: Raj, there's an ongoing discussion around government, and even in the private sector, about the pending retirement wave. How are you preparing for this within your organization?

Mr. Chellaraj: Sure. Happy to address that. Along with the rest of the federal government, this is an important human capital issue at the State Department. As part of the Department's broad succession strategy, we have developed numerous initiatives and programs designed to ensure we have the right number of people with the right skills to carry the Department's mission.

The Foreign Service system, which is roughly 60 percent of our workforce, is an up or out career system. Higher-level positions, needs will be met by those already in the system through promotion and seasoned employees according to anticipated needs at each level. With the civil service currently -- 14 percent or so of our civil service workforce is eligible to retire, and by 2010, nearly one third of our civil service workforce will be eligible to retire. This is a fairly sizable challenge for the Department of State.

To prepare for this, we've undertaken several initiatives under the leadership of the director general. The Foreign Service Institute School of Leadership and Management Development ensures the leadership training is part of every employee's career path. We project that by the end of the first quarter of 2007, 100 percent of the State Department's target population of roughly 7,000 mid-level employees will have completed this program.

There is the Senior Executive threshold seminar, which is a mandatory 2-1/2-week course for employees newly promoted to the Senior Executive Service or the Senior Foreign Service. Mentoring is also emphasized in the Department, both for our civil service employees and Foreign Service employees. Our own Bureau of Administration also promotes and encourages using individual development plans for our employees.

The individual development plans, or IDPs, as they're known, is a statement of long- and short-term career goals and development objectives that provides a systematic approach to the training needs of employees. By planning needed training and experiences in consultation with their supervisors, employees are better able to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to contribute to the organization in achieving their career goals, and more importantly, meeting the Department's mission.

Mr. Morales: Raj, we're coming to the end of our time, but I want to ask, given your diverse and highly successful federal career, what advice would you give to a person who perhaps is considering a career in public service?

Mr. Chellaraj: That's a great question, and that's a great last question. First, I highly encourage everyone to work in the public sector. The government needs innovative, dedicated and energized people. As you consider what you want to pursue, I would remind your listeners do what you're really passionate about. This may mean your career follows a non-traditional path; it certainly has for me. When I started my career, I did not plan to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration. Lastly, I would also say work hard, do your job well and you will get recognized and rewarded.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic advice.

We have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule, but more importantly, Bonnie and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country across the various roles you've held in our government.

Mr. Chellaraj: Thanks again. It's been a delight being here. In summary, as you can see, we in the Bureau of Administration touch a lot, we work hard at making diplomacy work better. And thanks again for the opportunity to speak to your listeners and share with them our mission and programs. I'd encourage our listeners to look at www.state.gov for very timely information relating to the Department of State.

Thanks again, it's been a pleasure.

Mr. Morales: Great. Thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Raj Chellaraj, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration at the U.S. Department of State.

My co-host has been Bonnie Glick, project executive within IBM.

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 Hour, I'm Albert Morales.

Thank you for listening.

This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation.

Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org.

Raj Chellaraj interview
06/09/2007
The Bureau is responsible for administrative support operations; supply and transportation; real property and facilities management; official records, publishing, and library services; language services; domestic emergency management; overseeing safety and occupational health matters; small and disadvantaged business utilization; and support for both White House travel abroad and special conferences called by the President or Secretary of State.

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