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.

Robert O'Neill interview

Monday, November 29th, 1999 - 20:00
Robert O'Neill
Radio show date: 
Tue, 04/25/2000
Intro text: 
Strategic Thinking; ...

Strategic Thinking;

Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Mr. Lawrence: Good evening and welcome to The Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a co-chair of The PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for The Business of Government. The endowment was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to approving government effectiveness. To find out more about the endowment and our research, visit us on the web at

The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our very special guest tonight is Bob O'Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Welcome, Bob.

Mr. O'Neill: Thanks. Good to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, and thanks for joining us. In this first segment we would like to talk about your career in public service, and perhaps you can begin by explaining to everybody what the National Academy of Public Administration is and its role.

MR. O'NEILL: Well, the National Academy is a very special institution. It's a not-for-profit corporation chartered by Congress, and the mission of the Academy is to focus on improving the performance of government institutions, state, federal, local, and even international, so we have a very broad charter and a very broad mission. And we have worked in a variety of different capacities from citizen trust to working on the nitty-gritty of government operations.

MR. Lawrence: Who is NAPA?

Mr. O'Neill: Who is NAPA? NAPA is made up of fellows, and they are elected based on their distinctive service in the public sector and their contributions to the public service. And right now there are about 340 fellows, and we have a number of senior fellows as well who remain active and who contribute their time, and they would be names that many people would recognize. It's the Paul Volckers and Alice Rivlins in addition to a number of noted academics and others who have had long, distinguished service in local and state government as well.

Mr. Lawrence: What are some of the programs going on now? You mentioned a couple of the initiatives.

Mr. O'Neill: I did mention one on citizen trust. We have a significant focus in trying to identify what the issues are that are of concern relative to the public's view of government and their trust in both elected and appointed officials who are engaged in the business of government, and that has been a major thrust of the academy.

In addition, we have worked with the state and local government, primarily through the Alliance for Redesigning Government, which has been a major activity of the academy, and it is focused on many of the reinvention activities that have been around the country from the Oregon Benchmarks process to much of the things that are related to the changes that have been captured in books like Reinventing Government and Banishing Bureaucracy that were written by David Osborne and his colleagues.

Many of those activities are activities that have really had either a beginning in the academy or who the academy had by virtue of their fellows' contribution or the work of the fellows in their own jobs around the country. Many of those reinvention efforts have been very much a part of the academy.

In addition, we do a considerable amount of work with federal agencies. We are doing work currently with EPA on the transformation that's going on with EPA in terms of their roles and responsibilities around the country and a variety of other agencies, HUD, the National Institutes of Health, and others.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, you've been there just three weeks, I understand, now.

Mr. O'Neill: That's right.

Mr. Lawrence: So are you ready to reflect on your previous position as county executive of Fairfax County in Virginia?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, that's right. It's probably not long enough quite to be a reflective history, but certainly I have a renewed sense of perspective of that position, anyway.

Mr. Lawrence: In looking back, how do you think your expectations were when you took the job as to how it all turned out?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, I think one has to have fairly realistic expectations. It's a wonderful position. Fairfax County is a great place in terms of where to live and work as well as a very challenging government operation. It is very large, almost over $2 billion and 11,000 employees, and a variety of different businesses, so it's an extraordinarily challenging position, given what is incredibly high expectations of the citizens for the level and quality of service that's necessary and given that Fairfax is in Virginia. The real struggle is to try to maintain a sense of what roles and responsibilities are matched against what are some severe fiscal limitations placed on localities in Virginia.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, maybe you can take a step back and tell us a little bit about your career. How does one become county executive?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, actually, if one wants to back up a little, I started as an intern in local government in 1971 in Hampton, Virginia, and like most people I probably didn't know very much about what local government did because I took a lot of what it did for granted, I suspect. But I got very engaged in the work, in the service, and the opportunity to see the impact of what you were doing on a daily basis.

So it intrigued me and I worked for Hampton for quite a number of years. I went to work in the private sector for five years, and I came back to Hampton in 1984 as city manager and was there for 13 years, had a wonderful time in Hampton, and came to Fairfax in 1997.

Mr. Lawrence: And how did the Fairfax experience contrast with being city manager of Hampton?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, there are two fundamental differences, I think. One is that structurally there is a significant difference in terms of statutory responsibilities and authority granted to the city manager in Hampton versus the county executive in Fairfax, which I think the Fairfax position represented almost the epitome of a challenge in how much you could influence without having really the direct authority to do things all of the time.

So that was one of the big differences between the two positions. The other is just the size of Fairfax. If you just wanted to communicate with just the employees, the 11,000 employees, what a challenge that was to do that on a consistent basis.

And then if you wanted to do it in a community in most communities you would say, "I want to go meet with the chamber." There are a number of chambers in Fairfax County, and there are 1,700 or more citizens associations. So the idea of communicating a vision and articulating that vision and getting feedback on that continually so you're relevant in the community is a real challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, how about some of the changes you're most proud of in Fairfax or in Hampton?

Mr. O'Neill: Boy, that's a big question. Probably the easiest thing to do is to focus on the Fairfax one. I think the two things which I have some sense of accomplishment is, one, internal within the organization to try to get the organization to really focus on empowering employees to do creative and good work and to try to create a series of mechanisms from recognition systems to reward systems to try to encourage employees to do their best on a continual basis. Not just a one-time basis, but how do you continually improve day after day, and you make that really one of the things that people will come to work thinking about. And I think that we've made some good strides.

We certainly didn't get it all done. I don't think you ever do that, but we certainly got some momentum started in that direction, and I think we tried to engage the work force very broadly to try to be a participant in setting the direction for the organization.

The second part is trying to focus on revitalizing some of the older communities in Fairfax County, many of those inside the beltway and along the Richmond Highway corridor, in trying to provide a framework for the county to focus on those revitalization issues. Fairfax, large as it is, has the dynamic of a rapidly growing, new community in some parts and that of an inner-ring suburb in other parts. So the challenge from a policy standpoint of trying to balance those demands is really a significant effort for the elected officials and the senior appointed officials, and I think we got the balance, I think, about right and hopefully a focus on the revitalization that will be significant over the next few years.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, how does one go about leading the change in an environment that is so unique or perhaps so constrained?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, first of all, I think you have to believe it, and I think people know it when you really do believe it, and I think particularly a person in a senior leadership position has to devote a considerable amount of time in engaging the work force and people in the community about "what's in it for them."

Often change is perceived to be something that has negative connotations to people, and so one of the things that I think is a responsibility of leadership is to say, "yes, it may be difficult to go through the journey, but at the end of the journey it may be worth it and here are the things that might make it worth it to you" and being able to do that in a variety of forms.

Fortunately, the technology gives us some advantages now. We can do things over the Internet, and we can do things in voice and video that we couldn't have done 15 year ago. But it doesn't replace looking that person in the eye, the senior leadership in the eye, and having many meetings across the county to try to convince people that the direction we're going makes some sense.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, great. Now time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with Bob O'Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Bob, how about if we shift gears here and talk about reinvention of government? Would you agree with me that local government has really been leading the way in the reinvention over the last decade?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, I think that one important perspective is that reinvention, if you separate the term, has been going on in a variety of different places at various levels for a long time. I think in the last segment of reinventing that's gone on, a lot of the cutting-edge work was done at the local level or the state government level probably because in many cases, the demand to do that was very close to the citizens' expectations about services and the quality of those services and the cost of those services. It gets played out pretty close in city halls and county courthouses throughout the country.

And so I think there was a real pressure to do business differently, and so many of the local governments had to respond to that pressure and try to get in front of that curve and in fact, many of them were then recognized as being part of the reinvention effort.

But that would also be true in a number of states. You could go through, whether it's Wisconsin or Michigan or any of the other experiences from around the country at the state level and in fact probably in some of the conversations you've had previously here.

There are certainly some examples within the federal government as well where people have taken a real, hard look at the way they do business and try to focus differently to produce better outcomes at lower costs.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned earlier the Alliance for Redesigning Government. Can you tell us about that?

Mr. O'Neill: Yes. The alliance was really the academy's focus to try to bring together the really leading innovators, particularly from state and local government, and try to provide an environment where you could nurture the innovators; those people who are really doing cutting-edge work, trying to provide a connection so that they knew that there were other people out there and identify clearly what the best practices were.

I try to contrast that the alliance was really trying to take what the state of the art was and then make it the state of the practice. And so you're trying to take what are the leading-edge ideas and take them to scale, and the forum that was created by the alliance was an opportunity for us to try to do that. Bringing together the real creative, I think, in many cases many of those who were the inspiration for the movements to reexamine the way we did business and then the practitioners who were struggling with how to make that work.

And so the alliance has had a number of programs not only about what people normally view as the reinvention movement but also things around citizen trust and the relationships between not for profits and governments because often many of the services that we are now providing are really in partnership with a variety of different actors. That's one of the most creative things that is being done in governments around the country, and the alliance was a place for us to identify those and to try to learn from those particular experiences that could be used by others so that the learning curves could be reduced substantially.

Mr. Lawrence: What did the state and the federal government look like from a local perspective?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, that's an interesting question. I suspect the easiest thing is that there was clearly, I think, if you asked any local government official, that this wasn't quite an equal partnership, and being the junior partner in this inter-governmental system often is very frustrating. You're challenged to do an enormous amount in terms of trying to achieve important things in communities and given very few of the tools that are necessary to do that, or the goal is identified for you and then somebody tells you how to do it.

And the example I use, and, pardon me, I'll use a Virginia example. When someone sits and describes how a program ought to run and they try to do that uniformly across a state like Virginia, for instance, to suggest that the approach that might work in Fairfax County, given the demographics and the dynamics in our region, and that would work in Wise County all the way in the southwest of Virginia and to think that the same approach might work, I think, is false on its face.

And so often what local governments are trying to do is suggest, if you will, what it is you want to achieve and give us some flexibility and the how, that's a pretty good partnership, and we think that would work. And often that's what you hear local government officials and state government officials trying to suggest.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, what kind of help? I mean, they may describe the how, but what kind of help would you then want from the state or the federal level?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, often what you are looking for is, again, the opportunity to know what's going on outside of your particular community, being able to access a perspective that's much broader, that is, either on a state basis or a national basis, maybe even international, to try to learn from the experiences others have had and how you connect because we are a very disaggregated market. It's hard to know what's going on in other places, so that's one thing that you can do.

The second is that obviously there are issues that have to do with broad concerns about values like equity and uniformity, and some of those issues where certainly the state and the federal government have an responsibility and an obligation to make sure that things are dealt with equitably across either a state or the United States. So there are valued pieces that are lamentably here that are important for the state and the federal government.

And then, lastly, it's resources. Certainly, local governments are probably the least financially capable of doing many of the things and probably carrying many of the biggest responsibilities, and so the fiscal resources often have to flow from the state and federal government. And I think most local officials are willing to be accountable for the performance, but often it's very hard to get the resources attached appropriately to the responsibilities, and that's one of the great frustrations of our inter- governmental system.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's interesting you mentioned equity. I'm wondering how you thought about that issue from Hampton and Fairfax perspective. Did you feel the same way in both places, or did it change based on the resources available?

Mr. O'Neill: No, I think the issue was still, again, equitable treatment. It doesn't necessarily mean it's the same treatment, but is there the same opportunity created by the fiscal systems and whether it's Fairfax or Hampton, actually, some of the similar issues were there.

And as I spoke around the state and around the country that was one of the things I tried to draw is that in the scheme of things, Fairfax being one of the most wealthy communities in the United States, Hampton is probably in the lower third of communities in terms of wealth. There was a lot of similarities of issues that related to fiscal capability and equitably being able to distribute services so people had equal access and opportunity to those.

Mr. Lawrence: And do you have any suggested changes for --

MR. O'Neill: I have lots of those, but that would probably a different show.

Mr. LAWRENCE: Well, it's time for a break now. We'll be back with 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, and tonight's conversation is with Bob O'Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Well, Bob, in this segment I would like to talk about the future of government and get some of your thoughts about where it's going to go and maybe first start with technology. What impact do you think technology will have or continues to have at the local government?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, I think government, not only just local government but government at all levels, is going to have the same extraordinary impact that it's had on businesses. It's going to reshape the way we restructure organizations. It's going to reshape the way we can engage citizens. It is one of those functional changes that is going to transform the institutions with which we work.

Part of the dilemma that governments face is that we tend to lag in technology investments and those things. It takes a while to convince people that those things will pay rich dividends. But on the other hand it does give us an opportunity to sit back and see what's going on particularly in business and industry and be able to judge from experience on how this might apply. But it's an enormous set of challenges as we start to think about e-governance, not just e-government.

And if you think about how the technology will get used the first order usually is around the information exchange, that is, getting access easily to information that government has and that people want to be able to access and use in some form to make them better-educated citizens or to use it for their own interests.

The second level is what I've called the transaction level, the ability to do business on a 7-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day basis rather than on some sort of 8-to-5 model, and there's a variety of different experiments going on relative to how much you can transform the business around that 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week kind of format.

And in the third and I think potentially the most interesting and the most dynamic is how you can use the technology to really engage citizens on issues that change the way the citizen relates to their government around the big, broad policy issues and the decisions that you have to make as a government. And I think we've only seen really the tip of the iceberg, both in terms of the literature about discussions about what that potential might be and also real live examples of how that might get played out.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, why don't we start at the beginning, because I'm debating in my own mind of whether government can adopt technology successfully like many of examples we see in the private sector?

For example, it often takes lots of money, and you've talked previously about the constraints government faces. It may result in reduced head count, which government struggles with, and also it will probably result in increased service, which in a private-sector settings generates more profits but there is no equivalent. So I'm wondering if the whole, even formula works within government.

Mr. O'Neill: Well, I think some of the things that you've just referenced are some of the big challenges about how we can adjust government institutions to the technology, but let me try to take them one at a time.

One instance that I think will be controversial but it's a different model, how we might in government work in partnership with private industry to make the infrastructure investments that are necessary to support basically e-government and e-commerce. For instance, are there some opportunities for partnerships between software and Internet companies and those kinds of groups where there is some value- added created in which there might be a price derived that may be either borne by the customer or borne by the government in some way. In some mix that allows the investments to get made earlier rather than just looking on the appropriation and capital-outlay structure to finance that infrastructure.

And I think there is enough value added in the way the information can be formatted and how easily it can become accessible if we use the technology, that there may be enough value added that there are people who are willing to pay what would be necessary to amortize the investments over time.

So I think maybe one idea that's being played out in a number of places around the country is 'is there a different sort of financing model to get the technology in place rather than just relying exclusively on government appropriations?' You will have to rely on some but maybe not exclusively. So that's the first area that you talked about.

In terms of the impact, and I'll say the work force, there are a couple of things. One is that one of the real challenges that I think we're going to have in government is how we're going to compete in a market place for talent where unemployment in many of the areas is pretty low. So in many cases, even if government wanted to add lots of people, the competition out there is so fierce that we may not be able to do it. So the technology may allow us to actually enhance the level of service and the quality of service without having to draw huge increases on the work-force side.

The other part of it is for the existing work force that's there it provides a really interesting opportunity, if you are creative, about how we might make a lot of the work that we do more family-friendly. For instance, we can do it at different times. We can do it from different locations. We don't all have to be in the same place. So it provides some opportunities for us to do some things that make government work or working for the government increasingly attractive.

I think the things that make people want to come to work in the public sector are we do interesting work, we do work that matters. If we can create some work environments for people so that they can continue to grow and develop their skills at the same time issues around work and family- friendly environments that's going to help us to compete for that work force out there and hopefully the kind of quality people that are going to be necessary to make government work.

So those are some of the things that I think are really opportunities. When you get to the challenge of how one makes that work there are some real linkage issues that we've got to focus on. I mean, how can we make sure that elected officials, for instance, really have an understanding of the value of the investments that are going to be made and how those investments may play out, what is it worth it to them, what do I get out of it in the short term, given what my alternatives are in terms of investments? There is a whole range of those things that I'm not sure we've done a very good job of structuring for senior decision-makers and elected officials.

If you read a lot of what I think is ground-breaking work being written on the experiences, you're starting to see real partnerships between private, not-for-profit, and government, between elected officials and appointed officials, trying to develop a fabric here that provides an infrastructure for e-commerce on the government side.

But then again, as I said, I think the real dimension here that has extraordinary power is the use of the technology to connect to the citizen so that the citizen can have a real impact on decisions that impact their lives, whether it be on a national basis or a local basis.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me just ask about the laws and maybe our just general feeling of discomfort with the government using technology. For example, we go on, enter our name, and it knows what we've been purchasing, what we're reading, and makes suggestions so that information about us is being used, one might argue, quite effectively.

And yet I think there is a sense that we don't want government to be able to do the same thing. So can we have our cake and eat it, too, or what's the balance between our discomfort with lack of privacy?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, I think that's the constructive tension that's going to be out there. There is going to be this increasing demand for responsiveness and also the ability of government, like you were describing with, to anticipate my need.

But that is going to run square into the issues around security and privacy protection, and you see that on the private side, on the e-commerce side, that concern. And so I think the challenge for legislatures is where in the laws do you strike that balance between universal access to all information or information only in segments, and how one structures that is going to be one of the emerging, I think, legislative issues over the next 10 years.

Mr. Lawrence: Can our government respond to this? My sense has always been that our government was designed to be slow and methodical and thoughtful, and yet this new e-world is fast and full of mistakes and people attempting different things. Can the challenge you describe actually be dealt with?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, I mean, one of the interesting conversations is that it's the people who are working on this e-commerce side whose perspectives are their product life cycle is measured in hours and days, and you are dealing with institutions who measure their cycle time in decades.

Mr. Lawrence: Exactly.

Mr. O'Neill: My guess is you don't want government doing it in hours and days because there is a whole series of engagement questions and opportunity for discussion and dialogue, and our structure is set up to have a check and balance in it. But can we do it on the government side quicker? Yes. Can we do a better job of sharing information so people make better informed decisions? Can we do a better job of engaging people quicker to make decisions? Yes.

I think the technology allows us that opportunity, so maybe we can move that cycle some. We can move the expectations of the individual citizen who now expects to go on line 24 hours a day and register a decision will probably have to adjust that perspective some, and I think people respecting the trade-offs within democracy will be tolerant of that. But both sides have to move.

Mr. Lawrence: Great. And it's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a moment.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with Bob O'Neill, the president of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Well, in this last segment, Bob, I would like to turn to the future of federal government. I know NAPA has historically had strong interest in the federal government. I'm wondering from your perspective what are the issues facing management in the federal government.

Mr. O'Neill: Well, my guess is our show is not long enough to go through all of those, but I think there are a number that are fairly significant, and I'll deal with not necessarily the policy side, I'll leave that to others, but speak from the standpoint of what's necessary and what are some of the issues around managing the government institutions that are part of the federal government.

One of those that is clearly significant is how we increase our focus on, for instance, human-resource planning. I mean, who is it that's going to work for the federal government? If you look at the demographics of the work force, particularly the federal work force, there is this huge bubble that will be retirement eligible in a short period of time, so what's the succession planning for the executive service, the middle managers, and all of the technical components, technical capabilities that are represented by the individuals? What is our human-resource planning activity? And that is a huge undertaking in institutions the size of the federal government.

And my guess is we have significantly underinvested in that activity and in fact probably in the course of the last 15 or 20 years really drawn down the human-resource development and planning functions within many of the agencies such that I suspect for the next administration, whoever that might be, is going to start to become a more significant issue in how do we do succession planning. How do we identify critical talent that's going to be necessary at the career level to continue to maintain the quality service that's out there?

So, for instance, our Center for Human Resources has been focusing on that issue with a consortium of human resource professionals from throughout the federal government trying to identify what are the technical elements of human-resource planning, what resource requirements are necessary, what are the skills and capabilities of the human-resource professionals and other leaders in the federal agencies to focus on those issues and trying to exchange best practices.

So that's one particular area. We just spoke of another one that I think is going to still be a major issue for the federal government, and that's the issues around the technology, and, of course, we're going to do some things in the academy in partnership with GSA.

We're going to have John Koskinen in March deal with the lessons learned from the Y2K experience, which in many cases have as many organizational and planning dimensions to them as they do the technology dimensions. And so we're trying to identify how one links some of the technology challenges and opportunities with some of the planning and resource-allocation questions that will need to be made. So that's a second one.

With the Government Performance and Results Act, I think we're in a world where people have increasing expectations that the functions that are performed will be done well, but in fact we will also achieve the outcomes. How do we measure our own performance and what do we use as the real indicators of that performance, and how do we benchmark that performance against the best in class so that we know if there is a gap? What is that gap and what are the strategies to close the gap between the best and where we are?

So there's a lot of those kinds of activities that are going to be significant as we transition in the last year of the current administration and move to the next administration.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me go back to the HR issues you described and pick out two of them. The first is we understand that the federal government has a very difficult time recruiting technology professionals. I think that's true in the private sector as well, but I think they have more constraints. We've talked a lot about technology. So I would be interested in your comments on that.

And the second issue is just the whole succession planning, how big an issue is it? I've heard it described the following way, which is many are getting eligible to retire and will and few are joining the government. And you do the math on that and you figure out there might not be is many people around as we need, so when you add those two together you begin to feel a little uncomfortable.

Mr. O'Neill: Well, let's deal with the technology one. First of all, we're never, particularly in areas that are as hot as for instance, IT, going to compete on salary on the federal side, but there are some things that we can structure that are significant recruiting opportunities and perhaps even advantages. And, again, some of it is the nature of the work. If you let people work on big systems that are complex with current technology and the use of those systems are to do things that people value, I think that draws people. I think people want to do increasingly challenging work, and they want to do it in a meaningful environment. And there is no more meaningful environment than the work that's done by federal agencies, for instance.

And so I think that is one of the opportunities. And, as I mentioned earlier, I think one of the real human-resource challenges is how we create a work environment. If we are not going to compete on salary, what are we going to compete on?

We're going to compete on challenging work. Maybe we create the kind of professional development opportunities where people can grow their skills over time, and they may not work for the federal government forever but the fact that they have been here is a value that they can relate in the marketplace later.

And the third area is I think that the opportunity to move laterally across a set of disciplines. If you think about what many of the management and human-resource thinkers describe is that we'll all be in multiple careers over time. I may be in a technical career part of my time, I may be in a managerial discipline for part of my time, or I may be in something totally unrelated to that a third time.

Well, we have those breadths of experiences within the federal government. If we're pretty good at moving people to maximize their interest and maximize the return that experience may play in the sector.

So there's a lot of those issues that I think really create some opportunity for us to compete, but it's going to be a challenge, and that's one of the things that the Human Resource Consortium are working with, again, the human-resources professionals from around the federal government are trying to struggle with.

Mr. Lawrence: And should we be worried about what we call the other Y2K problem, which is the many people leaving and the few people joining? Is that a real numbers issue that's going to --

Mr. O'Neill: I think it is a significant issue and one in which, again, whoever the next administration is, is going to have to begin to focus on that question because, as I said, if you just look at the demographics there are some significant challenges in terms of maintaining the technical and managerial and leadership competencies as people reach retirement age.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, you mentioned the Government Performance and Results Act, and I know the academy has a center for improving government performance, so I've been thinking about government management. What do you think the major issues are facing the federal government as it really tries to roll GPRA out?

Mr. O'Neill: Well, probably first and foremost is how to institutionalize that over time so that you have solid performance measurement for enough longitudinal data to make informed decisions, whether they be decisions that are really managerial or policy in terms of the way one allocates resources. And I think there are a number of things, once you've got it institutionalized, that are pretty big issues.

How do you look at measures that cut across agencies? We look at programs typically by agency by agency but many of these programs relate to one another for a much broader outcome. How do you relate those across the agencies so that the measurement is truly on the result and the outcome that you are trying to achieve?

That's an extraordinarily difficult challenge, building the capacity within the agencies but then connecting the agencies. And then, if you think about that, that's only the beginning of the challenge. Then you have to relate those to your state and local partners and in many cases not-for- profit partners who are out there actually performing must have the service delivery.

So you would theoretically like to have a significant linkage between the data collection and performance measurement that's being done actually where the service is provided and it rolls up through a structured system to the federal government. Those are things that still have to come.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm sorry to say we're out of time, but I want to thank you, Bob, very much for spending some time with us this evening, and thanks again.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. To learn more about the Endowment's programs and research, visit us on the web at See you next week.

Robert O'Neill interview
Robert O'Neill

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  • Mondays at 11 a.m. Fridays at 1 p.m. (Wednesdays at 12 p.m. as
  • available.)

Our radio interviews can be played on your computer or downloaded.


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Transcripts are also available.


Your host

Michael Keegan
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Leadership Fellow & Host, The Business of Government Hour

Browse Episodes


Recent Episodes

David Grant
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Former Associate Administrator
Professor Jim Hendler
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Director, Institute for Data Exploration and Applications and Tetherless World Chair of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences, Computer Science
Commander Eric Popiel
U.S. Coast Guard
Program Manager for the Evergreen Program

Upcoming Episodes

Vice Admiral Raquel Bono
Director, Defense Health Agency
United States Navy