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.

Richard Burk interview

Friday, July 13th, 2001 - 20:00
Richard Burk
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/14/2001
Intro text: 
Richard Burk
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and 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 and its programs by visiting us on the Web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform. Welcome, Dick.

Mr. Burk: Hi, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And Mark McCloy, Director Office of Information Technology Reform. Welcome, Mark.

Mr. McCloy: Thank you, good afternoon.

Mr. Lawrence: Both Dick and Mark are in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

Well, as you can tell from our introductions, today's guests are going to talk to us about dealing with technology but first let's start by finding out more about HUD. Could you tell us about HUD and its missions?

Mr. Burk: Certainly. HUD is the cabinet-level agency that's charged with the responsibility for providing a decent home and a suitable living environment free of discrimination for every American and a relatively small federal agency, only 10,000 in number, compared to most other federal agencies but we have a fairly large budget, 32 billion a year, to carry out this mission.

We carry this out through alliances with state and local governments, with nonprofit community-based organizations, with about 3,400 housing authorities around the United States, and with several thousand lenders. So it's a large operation even though we're relatively small. So we partner a lot which has implications for the technology we utilize and for other management decisions that we make.

Mr. Lawrence: And tell us about the office of the Chief Information Officer.

Mr. McCloy: Basically the Office of the Chief Information Officer handles the technology at HUD. We run the systems. We build a lot of the software along with our contractors. We're responsible for the operating systems, the technology of the future for HUD, the technology of the present for HUD, and we still have a lot of technology in the past at HUD.

Mr. Lawrence: And let's bring it all the way back, then. What are the activities under the purview of the Office of IT Reform?

Mr. McCloy: I think that's probably easily summarized. We try to make sound business judgments for information technology investments, things like software, things like hardware, things like tele-communications networks. What is the best return on investment for the government? What is the best investment for HUG in general? You can look at a lot of dollars that we actually do spend but those dollar are in short supply because they're appropriated dollars and the idea is to get the best for HUD on any given year and get a project that can improve the general welfare of the people who use our services, the people who receive grants from HUD.

So it's a challenging job because we don't have enough money in any one to do everything that we'd like to do so we try to figure out what's best. A group of us get together often and analyze information technology, what we want to do, what can serve the public, what can serve our other business partners, other government agencies, and how we would get from one place to another in a short period of time with a reasonable return on the federal dollars that we invest.

Mr. Lawrence: Give us a sense of the order of magnitude. How many people at HUD are working on technology and what type of people are they? Are they just the stereotypic computer science folks or are there other disciplines?

Mr. McCloy: A lot of our folks are not the computer scientists. A lot of our folks are people who run contracts. We have an incredible amount of contractors within our organization so our job is to clearly understand a requirement from a user community and to build the system that would actually make that job profitable for the federal government. "Profitable's" not maybe the right word but when can we get a system deployed, when can we get an actual benefit to the people that we actually work with on a daily or a weekly basis?

Mr. Lawrence: And tell us about your careers.

Mr. Burk: Well, my career with the federal service actually started back in 1974 at HUD. I tell people sometimes, you know, I came to HUD when Nixon was in office. I tell that to some of the interns and they almost die thinking how early that was. But I was in the United States Peace Corps overseas and knew I wanted to spend some time in public service, came back, got a graduate degree in public administration, worked for the City of Columbus, Ohio, and anytime you're in the public sector you ought to spend sometime with the feds. So I came to Washington, D.C., and came to work at HUD, mostly in the program area.

The majority of my career is in running grant programs, housing rehabilitation. Housing finance is probably my deep skill. And coming into the information technology field, which I only really did about six years ago, mid-nineties, what you come to is you really bring the program side to this. And I have a bias, obviously, toward the business end of our endeavor.

So getting IT, information technology, to support the business area is properly what I bring to this and I got started several years ago with a geographic information system that we developed at HUD and it was very successful and then parlayed that into enterprise-wide systems and now into a cheap architect role at HUD.

Mr. Lawrence: And, Mark, how about you?

Mr. McCloy: A long time ago in a place far, far away at Social Security Administration I started to build the first COBOL programs for Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. So a lot of my early experience was with large master files and in the federal service. I'm in the federal service because it's a good job. It's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. There have been very many long days. I mean, most people say well, when was the time that you were at 3:00 a.m. in the morning on the job and I can remember some of those days at IBM running benchmarks on computer programs.

From Social Security Administration I moved into the private sector for a short bit of time and then back into the government at the Department of Commerce. One of the projects that I was involved in at Commerce had to do with the NEXRAD (?) radar. NEXRAD radar is the weather radar that's used throughout the United States and in our territories which actually brings us day to day weather.

I think that the crowning achievement of that was that we were able to forecast weather fairly accurately. Within four hours we were dead center on accuracy. We were able to predict tornadoes before they killed people. We were able to save lives. So that to me was probably one of the crowning achievements that I helped manage.

I was actually the program manager and fielded the first ten units for the NEXRAD radar. And the other 162 units fielded at that time were throughout the country while I moved onto another project.

Went back into the private sector and played IPO in a time that might not have been a good IPO time. So I had a very good offer from HUD to come in and help run the Office of Information Technology Reform, which is an interesting commodity in government because now you're applying business rules to the federal government and trying to make wise financial decisions when you're going to invest money.

That's something that when you're looking at an IPO and some of the different problems that you have are very, very similar in nature. So if you put the two together I'm a dead ringer for something called IT reform and how do you do a project, how do you build the system.

I was fortunate because I'm one of the older folks that have actually done a real web-type program. I've been involved with the Internet and we've made some money through the Internet in the company that I was involved in which at that time became a little bit difficult as the market did its topsy-turvy things.

But smart business people can survive in any kind of a market. Why did I come into the government? It's a good job. Don't kid yourself. I mean, we make good bucks and we have a good time doing it and plus there's some incredible challenges in working with people and working with systems that are 20 years old and working with systems that are one minute old.

So it's an interesting place to be and the folks I work with are very interesting, also.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy about innovation at HUD, find out more about the information technology that they're using when The Business of Government Hour continues.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation is with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy of the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

We know that HUD has completed an enterprise architecture plan in the last year. Could you tell us what this is and how you went about completing the plan?

Mr. Burk: Well, I might take just a second to say we didn't complete the plan. We've just begun, in fact. There isn't really a plan per se when you talk about enterprise architecture as much as it is a process for bringing all the relevant parties together to make sure that the information technology appropriately supports the business mission and does it in a way, as Mark points out, that we get a decent return on that investment.

That return is that we're able to deliver the message, get the information to whomever needs it at the right time, and get the right information there. So the architecture helps you do that in the sense because it's basically divided up into four layers as we characterized it.

You have the business architecture itself. What is HUD's business from a functional point of view? Then what information does it need in order to support those business lines? So you have an information layer, if you will, and that is architected in a particular way, then the applications that those data are manipulated by, and then the systems and the technologies that are utilized that those applications reside on.

And you want to be able then clearly to interrelate those four layers and so one of the processes that we were able to develop to help was a tool that we borrowed from the Customs Office, where it was initially developed, and this was a way to give us a picture of our current state of the architecture. And then you could go into any one of those levels and look up, let's say, if I went in the applications layer and I took a look at all of the applications that HUD has. We have 241 information systems at HUD. That tells you something, a little bit.

So you want to be able to look up to see well, what data do those systems manipulate and in support of what business line and then look down to be able to see well, what is the architecture that it resides on. And you can come in at any layer and take a look at those aspects.

So if you want to then go in to modify the systems or develop a new system or eliminate one of the systems or achieve other goals, end obsolescence, reduce redundancies where appropriate, or introduce new technologies you then have an ability to be able to say okay, I want to carry out that project. How does that now impact my whole architecture, and how am I now bringing that whole system along because this is a moving target, we have additional drivers, we have new laws that get passed, new policies by the new administration.

You want to be able to accommodate those and to accommodate them quickly because you cannot have these long 12-, 18-, 24-month window of opportunity. For most of the folks that come to HUD that are in political positions that's their term here and they want to get a response fairly quick.

So you have to be able to be able to respond quickly. You have levels of complexity here within, as anybody who deals in this field understands, so responding to both of those plus the changing technology really force you to need to do this with engineer principles, with architecture in mind, and not simply happenstance as perhaps it has been done in the past.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the implications of enterprise architecture on IT capital investment?

Mr. Burk: Anytime you want to make a decision with regard to a particular project, and Mark really heads up this area, you want to be able to say is this in conformance with where we as an organization, as an entity, want to go in information technology. And you need to be able to answer that question at a variety of levels.

It may be in support of the business line appropriately but it's not in tune with appropriate technology. We may be collecting a lot of that information. As you well know, as most people in large organizations know, we collect a lot of different kinds of information and sometimes we don't even know the data that we collect.

And so in a response to developing a new system we may say okay, let's develop a whole brand-new system and we'll go out one more time to the public and we'll ask those kinds of questions and get that data in when we are already doing that. So we need to know already what data that we have. And in every one of these areas, you want to be able to do it as intelligently as possible, in line with new technology, and at a cost that is reasonable.

Mr. Lawrence: What lessons have you learned from this process?

Mr. Burk: How tough it is to get everybody on the same sheet of paper because this is a collaborative effort. This is not a group of architects who sit in the room and decide by themselves and then come out with a set of standards or guidelines. If anybody attempts to do that we know that will fail.

So it must be a collaborative effort with the business side as well as the IT side and, as I was saying beforehand, coming from the business side I appreciate that very much and in order to get buy-in from the business area they need to participate in the development of the standards themselves and then approve them.

So I think that is one big lesson that you learn, plus it's very important to make sure that there is a process, again I go into that, for having the individual business areas come together and see the commonalities that they have. So at HUD we have public and Indian housing, we have the Office of Housing, which is single-family and multi-family, and we have community planning and development. Lots of times they operate in their own particular stovepipes. The systems get built appropriately as well.

So to afford them the opportunity to come together to see some of the same common issues that they're dealing with some of the same clients and need to be addressed and need to be supported in IT with the common platforms, the common data elements, with common systems.

Mr. Lawrence: We also know that HUD has recently completed an e-government strategic plan. Could you tell us about this plan?

Mr. Burk: What we've done is gone out and taken a look at both our business partners and the citizens and HUD folks themselves internally and say how can we better connect with them utilizing the Internet. We did a couple of things, took a look across the entire panoply of programs that we have and identified certain particular areas that were appropriate that worked for us and then tried to project out into the future what are some other things we could do.

For example, we sell 70,000 properties a year at HUD that come into our portfolio and we have a lot of people who come to our Internet page and say gee, I've had a life-changing experience. I've got divorced or just got out of jail or something along that line. Can the federal government help me in terms of does it have a house that I might be able apply to?

So having that connection with the public directly is part of our Internet strategy. As I mentioned beforehand, most of our business, though, is done through outside organizations, business partners. So the whole issue of how do we work with those business partners to serve citizens becomes critical for us.

So for us it becomes very much government to business or government to government and our e-strategy emphasizes those areas in particular.

HUD is very location-specific. We are in 90,000 locations every day. So knowing where we are working across the entire enterprise is critically important so one of the things that we have developed and we'll just be rolling out this month in fact will be a presence on the Internet on our home page, geographic information system, that ties together a variety of data sources within HUD and answers the question what is HUD doing in my area, in my congressional district, or my city, or even my neighborhood? And go in and zero on down to that, answer those kinds of questions across the entire range of HUD's programs. That's useful. Those are some parts and elements of the strategy itself.

Mr. Lawrence: HUD has also taken steps to improve its financial management of the IT capital investment process. Could you tell us more about these activities?

Mr. McCloy: I think I can help on that. Last year we really got into it heavy. My boss, Deborah Stoffer, actually was the leader in putting the programs together supported by our Chief Information Officer, Gloria Parker. But the idea in capital planning and what we've done over the past is we try to establish a baseline.

A baseline's established on schedule, a baseline's established on cost, and a baseline is established on risk and technical involvement. And effectively every quarter we sit down with about 200 different projects and their project managers and find out how folks are doing against those plans that they originally created and we use a term called "earned value."

The term "earned value" means where are you when you said you would be someplace in time and dollars expended. If you're behind schedule and have got some problems then we try to help by slowing the project down some. If you're ahead of schedule and you need more money then we're happy to try to move more money around within the organization so that you can make the day and your project a little bit better.

So it's an involved process. It's checked often through technical reviews and these control reviews, and we try to do what's best globally for HUD.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform, and Mark McCloy, Director, Office of Information Technology Reform, in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at HUD.

Well, let me follow up on our last segment. The Information Technology Reform Office supports the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee. Could you tell us about the Technology Investment Board?

Mr. McCloy: Yes, and maybe the way to describe it is through a process. I had mentioned on a quarterly basis we got together and reviewed projects and on a yearly basis we get together and review what is going to be funded. But after we review it we make recommendations to what we call the Technology Investment Board Executive Committee. This is the committee headed by the Secretary of HUD and all the assistant secretaries are members of the Board.

So once we've made technical decisions these folks can sit down and apply whatever decisions or priorities they wish. If they disagree with us then they change whatever they want to change.

It could be that the Secretary of HUD decides that he wants to put emphasis on Project X or bring in his own project and he wants to apply different funds for that. Obviously that is a go at that point but the issue would be we only have so many dollars. So we try to figure out where the dollars will be subtracted and how we can do a secretarial or an assistant-secretarial initiative at that point.

So we recommend to the Executive Committee exactly what we think is best for HUD and they either agree or disagree. Most of the time they do agree but, as I said, if they have some priority that they want to make happen or put more emphasis or more dollars on something then they do it.

And the system actually works. It gets a little difficult because there are limited dollars and on an average year we probably have 30 to 40 percent more requests for dollars than we actually have dollars so obviously we've got to figure out what is the best process to make this happen.

We try to do it. We recommend where the best returns on investment are and the Executive Board chaired by the secretary actually make it happen. Until their approval, nothing is real.

Mr. Lawrence: We understand that the Office of IT Reform is charged with developing and implementing an IT performance measurement program. Could you tell us about the program you're currently using?

Mr. McCloy: Basically we're in the process of developing the performance measurement program. That is the tail end of the process. When we put together an investment portfolio what we sit down and say is that we need X dollars and at some point in time something will happen. That something is measured after the system is delivered.

We're in the process of trying to put it together with other federal agencies, how you measure performance at the end of the process, but it really isn't the end. This is the many years, the operational dollars that are important to the government on a year to year time frame.

If we said that we're going to process 10,000 new housing applications in six months are we doing that? Does the system meet up to that? Does it need more dollars to do it? Is the system that we have in place the wrong system, meaning that it might have been aged technology because it takes a while to field some of the systems out there and we might need new technology.

Obviously there's new software released every day and we might have to upgrade it.

It continues the process through the entire life cycle by measuring it when we actually have an operational system and it's done by establishing a baseline and then reporting against the baseline that you've already established.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me skip back to the beginning of the process because the Office of IT Reform is charged with conducting economic and risk analysis of proposed IT projects. What lessons could you pass along to other government leaders about undertaking these types of reviews prior to committing to an IT project?

Mr. McCloy: First thing, pay attention to your mission. Don't go outside of the mission of the department. A lot of folks we talk about creeping requirements. Don't do that. I mean, do what the mission says.

If it's housing, stick with housing. If it's safe housing, stick within the parameters of safe housing. Understand clearly what your requirements are and don't go monkeying around with them and get user buy-in. Too many projects in the federal government we haven't had a clear understanding of what the user said and we chase the project all the way around the scoreboard and can't figure out what the actual requirement was.

You have to put those in concrete and you have to make sure that senior management has a positive buy-in, they understand what you're going to do, and then do it, and don't keep changing the requirements. So effectively the lesson learned is hold the folks to the task that they agreed on before they got the capital venture from the United States Treasury.

That's it. They made a deal with a requirement and you don't go changing it in the middle unless you get senior-level approval that you're going to pitch a different way. And, I mean, when you don't it doesn't work. I mean, we have too many projects in government that just don't work.

Mr. Lawrence: Other guests have discussed the difficult --

Mr. McCloy: Of course, we don't have them at HUD.

Mr. Burk: No, that's right. Yes, HUD to the contrary notwithstanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Other guests have discussed the difficulties in implementing large IT projects or even halting the momentum of an expensive project. How do you deal with those two issues?

Mr. McCloy: One of the things that we've learned about building software over the last ten years is small teams work very, very well; large teams don't work. To me if a project is off-track cut the dollars, slow it down, get different management running the project.

Bring in a superstar or two or a technical wizard or genius. They're few and far between but when you bring them in, I mean, there are folks that are gifted and talented in the government doing fellowships, et cetera, or you could bring in a Lincoln Lab. You can bring in a very, very credible organization that has faced the same problems in another place and let them help you and don't be so "prideful" is the right word that you won't listen to some of the advice that they give you.

Go back, make sure that your users are happy. If your user is unhappy, take a hike. I mean, it's the bottom line. Dick?

Mr. Burk: Well, I think experience is the key factor here that you're looking for. Even if somebody is terribly bright and understands a particular field, whether it be data warehousing or whatever it happens to be, but if they haven't walked through that once before, if they haven't walked through that in a pretty good-sized organization and understood not just the technology or it but the other side of it, how do you get and maintain user buy-in to the project at hand and extend it over a period of time?

Some people use it as terminology is marketing. I don't know if I would really talk about that but there's an educational process in it and there is a constant feedback loop back to the business owners and to the people affected that has to happen as you move through the development of the project in order to sustain that kind of support.

In those instances where the project is going South you can have the best policemen in the world but I will tell you that the end user, the project buyer, will let you know soon enough if that thing is going wrong.

Then what you need to have is a mechanism in place so that issues around that project can get surfaced and get dealt with. Some folks talk about having an enterprise-wide project management office, some office where you can go to say hey, I've got a serious problem here. I've had changing requirements or the user-owner has changed and therefore has a different set of requirements or we've run into a snag here technically and we need to get this resolved.

We either need to bring in somebody stronger or we need to reconfigure the integrated product team or a whole variety of other factors. We need to take a look at the new technology because something's gone wrong with the firm or something's gone wrong with the technology in a place where the project director can get that resolved and then move on and do it quickly.

So much of the real problems that I have experienced and seen, some firsthand, I might admit, have been simply that these things have let go and there's not a resolution of the issue quickly.

Mr. Lawrence: What's the relationship between strategy and IT modernization?

Mr. McCloy: I think when you're trying to do a strategy you're trying to look at a process that will get you to a location in time and place and equipment. Where IT modernization is you just might have to crank something up that actually is more compatible to the technology of the day. You really have to sit down and think before you act.

I learned something from NASA a long time ago. And what I learned is if you have ten seconds to solve a problem use the first nine to think about it and do it in the tenth.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point for a break. Coming up, we'll discuss the expected wave of retirements and find out whose going to be running HUD. More of The Business of Government Hour in just a minute.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Dick Burk, Associate Deputy Chief Information Officer for IT Reform, and Mark McCloy, Director, Office of Information Technology Reform, in the Office of the Chief Information Officer of HUD.

One of the many challenges facing organizations is recruiting and employees, especially in the technology sector. How do you find this at HUD?

Mr. Burk: Yes, it is a serious problem, to restate it. We lost a large cadre of our technology folks several years ago as HUD moved from approximately 17,300 down to 9,300. Similarly, at that same time, as I mentioned earlier, you go from 3,400 loans per day to 5,400 loans per day. In an earlier time we were not making any homeless grants. We now make close to 5,500 grants a year.

So the work has gone up exponentially while the staff has been cut in half and if you really have IT supporting the business that means IT grows, the number of systems, the size, the complexity of them enormously, and the need to move quicker and at the same time you don't have the people around.

So we've relied heavily on contractors. We've made certain issues clear to the contractors who do come on board with us and that is that we are in a partnership role. We will try as best we can to define precisely what it is we want, the deliverable out of every task and contract, and hold contractors responsible.

We ask them to take a little bit broader view of the role. We can't write into every contract exactly this partnership role, although we try to articulate it, but, as one of the examples I used earlier, when you think about well, what is going to be the buy-in to this particular piece of technology that I am preparing and developing, how is that organization going to adapt accordingly, I expect a contractor to think through that. I expect a contractor to make suggestions to me with regard to all right, now would be an appropriate time now to begin to approach these levels. At HUD we see that they are responding or have the potential to respond or need to buy into the technology or buy into the solution right now and so that's what we do.

Mr. Lawrence: There's a lot of talk about partnership and even you talked about it broadly when you said think broadly. What does partnership mean to you?

Mr. Burk: Well, to understand HUD in its broader context, not just the 9,300 people in the 88 field offices, to understand our business and our business is working with these business partners and so when a contractor comes in I expect them to understand that concept.

It is a special relationship. I don't know if it is unique in the federal government but certainly working with state and local government folks we offer them maximum feasible participation in deciding where those dollars go and how HUD business is developed and worked. That is a critical piece to the way we work. Understanding that is part of being a business partner.

I think there are other aspects to it as well. I suppose maybe it's similar to other areas of the government where you really are sitting side by side at the table together and you ask them to participate, be critical. This is not just a one-sided relationship. I expect this is a two-way conversation. I will be critical of them but I expect them to also come back to us and say we don't see it that way at all. Here's the way we see it type of thing.

That's an honest relationship. That's an honest partnering relationship and we look for it. I might add I think that's exactly what we've gotten from PWC and other contractors.

Mr. Lawrence: Are you concerned as the skills of the technologists at HUD change from perhaps people who were hands-on doing all the work before to now the people who monitor contractors?

Mr. McCloy: Our skill base has changed. I mean, clearly I grew up in an environment where I was a programmer and now I'm having to give those instructions to a contractor and it's difficult because there's a ton of rules and regulations and codes that have to be followed and the penalty for not following some of those can be career-ending.

And it's important, this partnership, that you work with a team, that everybody understands the same general guidelines, the same general rules, that you have to play by and then you try to make it work the best.

I mean, I always try to explain it like the 4 by 100 relay. When you pass that baton the Olympic team's done it 1,000 times and when you're passing information, data requirements, hopefully you're passing it friendly to the contractor, the contractors are working in a friendly environment with you, and that it's a team effort.

And every once in a while I always like to say when I've screwed up something my team knows what to say. They say what Mark really meant to say was, and that's the indication, Mark, you just blew it. Let's try something else.

And it has to work that way. You can't be afraid to say if something is really off the wall or something is really good, and they don't want to be in a position when something's really good to let it go by the board. I mean, you don't want to have somebody in a meeting who's a dynamic super-star but out of his field for that day dominate a meeting. So it's interesting.

Mr. Burk: Getting back to that issue about the partnership, there are times when a contractor needs to come in and say look, for the dollars that you're asking for and for what you're looking for you're not going to get there, given our best experience. Now, that is very tough for a contractor, particularly because they're going to say well, the likelihood here is they may terminate the contract and I'll be out and I just spent a lot of money bidding on this thing.

So I fully understand the pressures on the both sides. There is another day and this is a relationship that is being built between a contractor and HUD and we want to maintain that and I think the contractor does, too.

The worst thing that can happen is for the contract to go forward, HUD not to be satisfied or the government entity not to be satisfied, and the thing falls on its face. And you go back to the contractor, the contractor says well, this is what you asked me for. You've articulated and you say well, okay, fine, we'll deal with someone else from now on, thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of advice would you give to a young person who's interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Burk: Oh, come in. It's very interesting. Everybody's talking about the dearth of folks who want to come into the federal government. I don't believe that's true at all. We announced 700 positions, I think, back in the fall or back last year and we had 27,000 applications. I mean, it was just phenomenal.

So I think people do want to come into public service. It's a challenge. Where else would you find this kind of breadth moving from all of the different fields that are represented even just in one agency like, HUD?

I've found it fascinating over the years as I've moved around within HUD from policy development and research to the program areas into IT, into the Office of Administration. And the ability to move around and move up and have increasingly challenging positions, I think, is very appealing.

Mr. McCloy: Let me sum it up maybe a different way. Federal employees led the mission to put a man on the moon and federal employees put thousands of people in homes along with our partners in government and in housing authorities have put thousands and thousands of people in homes. What an incredible challenge to make the planet a tad bit better.

Mr. Lawrence: What kinds of skills would you recommend a young person have or what were you looking for in those 27,000 applications?

Mr. Burk: Well, the breadth of capabilities. It's hard to be specific about that. I don't think it's any different from in the private sector. You're looking for some deep skill, some skill that a person feels associated with and comfortable with, whether that be budgeting or finance or IT in a particular area but some grounding and then the ability to remain flexible and the willingness to continue to learn because I hate to hear this but when I came into the federal service the thought that I would be in IT later on was the most foreign thing in the world.

And so the willingness to learn and the ability to then stay current, those are some qualities. I think you have to be creative and that's a funny word to use. A lot of people don't think about that in the federal government but I think you have to be creative, particularly, like, in the scenario I painted beforehand where you have twice the work and one half the people and you still need to make things work and work better than they had earlier. You have to be creative to be able to do that.

Mr. McCloy: And they would be working with dynamic personality people like Dick and myself and that is a real plus.

Mr. Burk: Oh, my gosh, we just lost thousands of people who potentially would come to HUD, Mark. Watch out.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's probably a good point to end because I'm afraid we're out of time. Dick and Mark, I want to thank you very much for our conversation today. It's been fascinating.

Mr. Burk: Thank you, Paul, very much.

Mr. McCloy: Thank you, have a good day, and Go, Redskins.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Dick Burk and Mark McCloy of HUD.

To learn more about our programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness visit us on the Web at And at the site you can also get a copy of today's transcript of this interesting and insightful conversation.

See you next week.

Richard Burk interview
Richard Burk

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