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.

Ron DeHaven interview

Friday, December 10th, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Agricultural trade is critical to our economy. Our role is to ensure that agricultural exports and products imported abroad are safe and not a risk to trade partners. Potential health and pest risks are becoming the limiting issues within trade."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/11/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 

Monday, November 1, 2004

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created The Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new ways to improving government performance. Learn more about The Center by visiting us at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Show Hour features a conversation with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Good morning, Dr. DeHaven.

Dr. DeHaven: Good morning. Thank you for having me on your show.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Mike Wasson.

Good morning, Mike.

Mr. Wasson: Good morning, Paul. Thank you for being here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Dr. DeHaven, let's start by learning more about APHIS. Could you tell us about the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and its role within USDA?

Dr. DeHaven: Certainly. Our motto within APHIS is "Safeguarding American Agriculture," which I think really speaks to what we do. We're responsible for ensuring safe and healthy agricultural products, both on the plant and animal side. Indeed, Secretary Veneman at one point had made reference that if she were starting to rebuild the USDA all over again, she would start with the foundation, that being APHIS. We have several program units within the agency -- veterinary services, plant protection quarantine, biotechnology regulatory services, wildlife services, international services, and animal care -- all of which speak to the specific roles we have in a very broad mission area.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size? I mean, you've gone through a wide range of programs. Could you tell us about the budget, and even the skills of the people on your team?

Dr. DeHaven: In terms of the budget, it's actually grown quite dramatically. In Fiscal Year '01, we had an appropriation, or appropriated budget, of $445 million. The President's budget for Fiscal Year '05 is $828 million. That, taken along with the frequent apportionment of monies for emergency purposes, which in the last few years have averaged at about $250 million a year, we're basically a billion-dollar agency.

In terms of numbers of people, there again, the numbers vary depending on what you're looking at. In terms of full-time permanent employees, we're somewhere in excess of 4,000 employees, but when also including Foreign Service national employees around the world and temporary employees that we hire, we're in excess of 7,000 people.

Mr. Lawrence: And the skills of these folks?

Dr. DeHaven: Wide variety, as you might guess, given the program units that we have in the agency. On the plant side, we have plant pathologists and botanists. On the animal health side, veterinarians and epidemiologists. We employ wildlife biologists, biotechnologists, program analysts, economists. We have a public affairs staff with several public affairs specialists and writer/editors, and then also, because of the monies that we involve, contracting specialists and financial managers.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, can you share with us your roles and responsibilities as administrator for APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: I look at my job as providing the vision and leadership for this agency; ensuring that we have the resources, both human and financial, to carry out our mission; and then represent the agency in a variety of situations, both internally and externally.

Mr. Wasson: In April of 2004, you became administrator of APHIS. Can you tell us a little bit about the background before you became administrator?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, I graduated from veterinary school, Purdue University, in 1975, and actually went to school with the intent of being a small animal, dog and cat practitioner. I did four years with the Army Veterinary Corps, which I found very rewarding, and during that period also gained some clinical practice experience. But at the end of my tenure in the Army, I was intrigued by government service, and actually then took my first job with the government in APHIS in 1979. I spent the first six years of my career, which I think was very valuable, in the field as a field veterinary medical officer dealing with primarily livestock disease issues.

From there, I moved into a middle management position as the assistant area veterinarian in charge in our state of Mississippi. And then, four years after that, started a 12-year stint in our animal care program, overseeing administration of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. It was then about four years ago that I came back to our veterinary services unit as the deputy administrator of that organization and, of course, have been the administrator now for two years.

So I think what I find most interesting is that I went to veterinary school with the intent of being a dog and cat practitioner, now find myself as a Washington bureaucrat with far more reaching implications and responsibilities when it comes to both animal and plant health, and enjoying myself as a Washington bureaucrat, something that back in 1975, I would never have imagined happening.

Mr. Wasson: You have an interesting background, where you have both a doctor of veterinary medicine and an MBA. How did you combine your two degrees for maximum effectiveness in the work environment?

Dr. DeHaven: As I mentioned with my veterinary degree, I think that degree has opened up a wide array of opportunities, both from clinical medicine to being a Washington bureaucrat. The master's in business administration came at a time when I had made the career decision that I wanted to stay with government and focus on management of programs and people. I realized at the time, and actually fully came to realize during the course of obtaining that degree, that we need to market ourselves and run our government agencies like business runs itself. And so I think through both degrees, the doctor of veterinary medicine and the MBA, I've had the technical background, the technical experience, but also now the management experience to provide oversight and leadership for a government agency and focus on running government like a business.

Mr. Lawrence: I'd like to pick up on that point where you talked about getting an MBA, when you began to understand the importance of management. What was it like as you were transitioning from a doer, when you were describing, you know, providing services to animals as a veterinarian, and to becoming a manager? Could you take us through that?

Dr. DeHaven: I think before that, Paul, I even realized that while the private veterinary practitioner certainly has some strong and influential impact on families and individual animals, by working with a government agency, we actually have tremendous impacts on population of animals. And so that's where I wanted to take my career was in veterinary medicine, but looking at a broader picture, recognizing that animal agriculture has tremendous implications for our economy and for the health and well-being of a large number of animals as well as the basis for employment of many people in this country. So I recognized the potential there; had also had a taste as a middle management of managing people and managing programs and enjoyed that as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about some of the differences in terms of your training as a veterinarian and then what you began doing as a manager. One of the things I'm drawn to is sort of the size of the groups of people you dealt with. I imagine, from having animals, that a veterinarian experiences one-on-one, and generally, the customers don't complain very much, I imagine, and now you're with much broader teams of people that you have to influence. Tell us about some of the differences in the training.

Dr. DeHaven: You know, ultimately, Paul, it comes down to dealing with people one-on-one and having interpersonal skills, whether you're dealing with that pet owner or a herd owner whose herd of cattle has just been recently diagnosed with brucellosis. From there, you take it to my current position, where typically, I'm working one-on-one with individuals who represent larger, broader constituencies. At the end of the day, it's interpersonal skills and working one-on-one with people. It's just the stakes on different -- whether we're talking about an individual animal or an individual herd of animals versus populations of animals. At the end of the day, it's a matter of employing good common sense and having the interpersonal skills to explain your situation and your position.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the speed of decisions and the things you can make an impact on? I imagine it must have been very rewarding to you to work one-on-one in a small setting and solve a problem with an animal, and see that work its way out, and now to think about solving something in a population seems much hard and would take more time.

Dr. DeHaven: I think that for the most part is very true. When you're dealing with an individual animal, oftentimes, it's life-and-death situations and decisions need to be made very quickly. On the other hand, when you're dealing with populations and diseases and disease programs that have broad implications for a large population of people and a larger population of animals, typically that decision-making process is much slower, requires a transparent and open process that allows the public and all stakeholders to have an input on that decision. That's how government does work and should work, and we certainly emphasize having an open and transparent process.

Not everyone is cut out for that kind of work. Bureaucracies are intended to be somewhat inefficient, so that they provide that opportunity for everyone to have input. It's something that you develop a skill and ability to work within our system, which, again, by some accounts is intended to be somewhat inefficient in that it does provide for broad constituencies to have input.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting. As I think about you getting an MBA and your point about, you know, making government act more like a business, and you talked about the need for inefficiencies, are there any other places that you've noticed where it almost shouldn't run like a business?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, we don't have a bottom line, per se, to worry about in government in terms of having to generate revenue. Rather, making the best use of taxpayers' dollars that are appropriated by Congress or otherwise made available to us. But whether you generate a revenue or have an appropriation, it's getting the most bang for your buck, making sure that how you use that money is used efficiently and effectively. In our case, it's for the public in general as opposed to private business, where you have that customer that you're trying to give them the most benefit for their dollar spent.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the need for openness and transparency.

We're all aware of mad cow disease. How are we tracking and testing for this disease? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to tell us about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Well, Dr. DeHaven, let's talk about mad cow disease. And with the scare of the disease entering in the United States, how is APHIS able to track and test cattle for the disease?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, we have actually been testing cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, since 1990, increasing every year the number of animals that we test. In 2002/2003, we tested some 20,000 animals. And these are animals for what we consider to be the high-risk or target population, meaning that if we do have the disease, these would be the animals that would be most likely to test positive, some 30 times more likely than the average adult cow in our population.

Because of the recent cases in North America, both of them native born in Canada, but one found in the U.S., we have entered into an enhanced surveillance program beginning June 1st of this year. Since June 1st, we have tested somewhere in the neighborhood of 98,000 animals in this high-risk or target population. And of course, all of them thus far have been negative.

Our goal is, during a 12-month period, we want to test a statistically significant number that would, if we have the disease in the U.S., even at a prevalence as low as 1 animal out of 10 million that's positive, that we would find the disease. So our goal is, during this 12-month period, to test somewhere in excess of 250,000 animals, and then can say with some degree of statistical significance whether or not we have the disease, and, if so, at what prevalence.

Mr. Lawrence: Take our listeners through the process of testing. You describe statistics, so I have a picture in my mind of sampling, much like we would anything else, and then running the tests. And so I'm curious, is that right? And just what does the test entail?

Dr. DeHaven: That is correct, Paul. We, unfortunately, don't have any live animal tests available to us at this point in time. There's no blood test. In fact, the test involves getting a piece of tissue from a very specific section of the brain, in the brain stem. So we're collecting these samples from animals that have died on the farm, have gone to slaughter, or otherwise would be animals that have died or are destined to be slaughtered.

We're picking these samples up off of animals that die on the farm. Typically, they're sent to a rendering plant, and we collect the tissues at rendering. Some animals that become nonambulatory at slaughter, they go down, if you will, and are not allowed into the human food chain, we test those animals as well, but also animals that are going to public health laboratories and state diagnostic veterinary laboratories, animals that are showing some central nervous system disorder.

So after the animal dies or is otherwise selected for testing and is euthanized, this portion of the brain, a small piece of tissue, is taken from that section of the brain and then it's subjected to one of half a dozen different tests that we've approved for this purpose. These are rapid screening tests.

So the samples are collected at slaughter plants, rendering plants, diagnostic laboratories, and then that sample is shipped to one of seven laboratories around the country where this testing is done. If any of the animals or tests come up anything other than negative on one of those screening tests, then it goes to our national reference laboratory, that's our National Veterinary Services laboratories in Ames, Iowa, for confirmatory testing.

Mr. Lawrence: Are there steps to implement measures and risk assessments for better effectiveness of tracking disease? As we were preparing, I was reading about the animal registry program.

Dr. DeHaven: The animal registry, I assume, Paul, you're talking about our National Animal Identification System, which is the system that we are currently developing that would provide for some kind of electronic identification on every animal, livestock species of animals, in the country. It's almost ironic in that because of the recent finding of the BSE case in the state of Washington, we're on an accelerated path to implement this national animal identification. And ironic in that BSE is a non-contagious disease, so it's one that we have the luxury of a matter of days or even weeks to trace animals.

On the other hand, if we were to have a highly contagious disease enter the United States, such as foot-and-mouth disease, we would need to be able to track animals in a matter of hours in order to be able to contain and, hopefully, eventually eradicate that kind of disease that might be introduced into the United States. So while certainly animal identification on every animal in the country would be useful for a number of domestic disease programs that we have ongoing, certainly in terms of our BSE testing program, it would be critical to have that kind of system in place were we to have the introduction of a highly contagious foreign animal disease.

he system that we're implementing would then involve electronic identification on the animal, and there's a number of different technologies that can be used, such as radio frequency, ID microchips. But the idea would be that in a maximum of 48 hours, we could trace animals that were infected or had been exposed to infected animals.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, recently APHIS partnered up with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency on developing a single portal on agricultural biotechnology regulations, which is usbiotechreg.nbii.gov. Can you tell us how this came about and what this site offers?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, the three agencies that are involved in regulating agricultural biotechnology APHIS, Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency all have very distinct and different roles. But the public really wants one site where they can go to to answer all of their questions, regardless of which agency might have specific regulatory authority. So we worked with our colleagues at FDA and EPA as well as the White House's Office of Science Technology Policy to develop this website. As with all of our regulatory programs, our goal is to be open and very transparent in the process so that we can have a coordinated and risk-based approach.

I think biotechnology represents some unique challenges, in that we walk a very thin tightrope in terms of ensuring that we have adequate regulations to ensure protection of the public and the environment, but, at the same time, not over-regulating to the extent that we unduly restrict growth in an industry that has so much to offer to society.

Mr. Wasson: Well, earlier this year, USDA and APHIS will prepare an evaluation of its biotechnology regulations and several possible regulation changes, including the development of a multi-tiered risk-based permitting system and the enhancements of the deregulation process to provide flexibility for long-term monitoring. How is this process coming along, and what impacts does this have on the stakeholders?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, you're right. In January of this year, we published a notice of intent in the Federal Register and said in this notice that we plan to prepare an environmental impact statement, or EIS, to consider possible changes to our biotechnology regulations. Through the EIS and a change in regulations, it would provide for a multi-tiered system that would provide some flexibility in the commercialization process for biotechnology products, genetically engineered products, and provide for new policies in field testing, for example, for pharmaceutical plants, plants that are genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical compounds or other industrial compounds, as well as providing a mechanism for dealing with adventitious presence. That would be the presence of genetically modified organisms in organisms that are thought to be or expected to be non-genetically modified.

Before even starting this process, however, we met with stakeholders and got their input and, through this notice of an intent to prepare an environmental impact statement, received over 3,000 public comments. We've reviewed and considered those comments, and we are currently in the process of writing this environmental impact statement, the impact that new regulations might have. The public will once again have an opportunity to comment on this EIS. And then ultimately, we would be publishing a proposed rule, once again for public comment. So again, emphasizing our open and transparent process in developing any new regulations.

Mr. Wasson: In the wake of terrorist attacks against the U.S., bioterrorism has been of a great concern. For instance, the Bush Administration passed the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. What is APHIS's part against bioterrorism?

Dr. DeHaven: It's been part of our responsibility in APHIS to respond to the introduction of foreign animal, plants and plant diseases, and pests as well as animal diseases. So we have considered ourselves for several decades to be first responders when there is an accidental introduction of a plant disease or a pest or an animal disease.

What has changed obviously with the recent times, most notably since 9/11, is the recognition or realization that we not only are vulnerable to an accidental introduction of pest or disease, we've vulnerable to an intentional introduction, an introduction that could have far-reaching implications for the economy of the United States. So we have renewed and emphasized our role not just in dealing with domestic disease programs, but in terms of response to the introduction of a foreign animal disease or a plant pest and disease, recognizing that that could be an intentional introduction.

We have worked closely with FEMA to develop what's called an emergency support function for agriculture, ESF-11. APHIS has the lead in that, meaning that just like FEMA has a responsibility to respond to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, the FEMA function would also apply to an agricultural emergency such as an unexpected or intentionally introduced foreign animal disease or a plant disease. So through this emergency support function and working with FEMA, APHIS would have the lead in responding to an agricultural emergency, but through FEMA would have all of the resources of the federal government at our disposal to deal with that kind of situation.

APHIS is also the lead agency for the agricultural component of the Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002, where we have worked very closely with CDC in coming up with a program to ensure that university laboratories and private laboratories that are dealing with agents that could have a bioterrorist use, that there are proper controls and inventory of those kinds of agents. We refer to them as select agents.

We actually have a liaison person with APHIS who works at CDC, who works with them on issues that would affect both animals and plants, zoonotic disease, if you will, as well as any bioterrorist agent that would have not just human health, but also animal health implications.

Mr. Lawrence: How is e-government being used to streamline processes at APHIS? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven, its administrator, to tell us about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Well, Dr. DeHaven, the scope of APHIS's protection has expanded beyond pest and disease management. APHIS has assumed greater roles in the global agricultural arena. What management challenges has this presented for the leadership of APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: Paul, thank you for the question. And we're realizing more since 9/11 than ever before that our first line of defense, speaking from an agricultural perspective, is not at our ports and borders, but rather overseas. We don't want to wait until potentially harmful diseases, agricultural diseases, or pests are at our borders to exclude them, but rather have people offshore who realize and are our eyes and ears in terms of what threats are out there, and keeping those kinds of things from ever entering our ports and borders. That's our first line of defense, is offshore.

But APHIS is always walking a tightrope in terms of safeguarding American agriculture, but also facilitating trade. Agricultural trade is critical to the economy of our country. So our role is to ensure that those products that we import from abroad as well as our agricultural exports are safe and don't represent any risk to our trading partners. As we enter into more and more trade agreements with our trading partners where historically trade has been restricted by quotas and tariffs, now what's becoming a limiting factor is what we call the sanitary/phytosanitary issues, those issues that represent potential health and pest risks.

And so APHIS is becoming front and center in terms of -- it's those technical issues, the issues that are involved in safeguarding American agriculture, are the same ones that are limiting trade. So there's increasingly more and more emphasis and pressure on APHIS to resolve those technical barriers so that trade can continue unrestricted, but doing so in such a way that we don't jeopardize the health and safety of agriculture in the United States.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, in the last segment, we have learned that APHIS has worked with many different agencies to develop informational websites and protecting U.S. agriculture. Are there any lessons learned and advice you would give on working and managing interagency?

Dr. DeHaven: I think there's one overriding thing, and that is that the administration, our Congress, and, probably more importantly, the public expect there to be interagency cooperation. They're not really concerned with whether there are two or three or four agencies that are involved in some area of oversight. They want to make sure that government agencies that have a role are working together and that there's a coordinated approach.

I was talking a minute ago about trade issues. And so APHIS has a critical role in facilitating trade, to the extent that there are technical issues, to make sure that we don't unintentionally export or import disease or pests. But to do that, we work very closely with the Foreign Agricultural Service, an agency within USDA, in establishing those trade policies and working with our trading partners around the world.

I think the BSE, or mad cow, situation is an excellent example of the need for interagency coordination. APHIS has a role in terms of surveillance of our live animal population. Food Safety Inspection Service, another agency within USDA, has a responsibility to ensure that the food produced from those animals is safe and wholesome. And our colleagues in FDA have some responsibility as relates to animal feed as well as cosmetics and other products that would be made from those animal products. The public, the department, indeed the Congress expect us to work very closely together in dealing with those issues that cross agency boundaries.

Mr. Wasson: Well, early in 2001, APHIS launched an e-gov initiative that streamlined its permit process and application online. What are some of the challenges with this launch?

Dr. DeHaven: In the context, Mike, of ensuring that we are user-friendly to our public, we want to provide the option for that public to request our services either through the traditional paper methods or electronically. For example, both our plant protection quarantine and veterinary services units have a permit process where one can apply for a permit that would allow for the movement of otherwise restricted materials into or out of the United States. Our biotechnology regulatory services unit also receives requests for permits for permitting the use or testing, field testing, of potential biotechnology products.

The challenge for us was to develop one coordinated system that met the needs of all of these different purposes and do so in a way that is user-friendly and not create a three separate system. So we have that traditional bureaucratic issue of getting the funding, getting approval for the system that we're developing, selecting a contractor, and then working closely with that contractor. But all of those things are coming together, and we would hope to pilot a project for this permitting system early next year.

Mr. Wasson: Are there any other e-gov initiatives on the way within APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: Actually, there are several that we have underway, and our intent is to provide an electronic mechanism of any interaction that we would have with our public. Another example is that we license and register facilities under the Animal Welfare Act. This is primarily facilities that are involved in research or exhibition or the commercial sale of animals, and those types of facilities need to be either licensed or registered with us under the Animal Welfare Act. So rather than, here again, submitting a paper application for that kind of license or registration, we're developing a system to do that all electronically.

Mr. Lawrence: This naturally leads into a discussion of the President's Management Agenda. And could you tell us about APHIS's plans to action to implement the agenda? For example, one area of interest is the integration of performance and budget information.

Dr. DeHaven: Our mission goals in APHIS, Paul, are safeguarding American agriculture and facilitating trade. And as I've alluded to, those two goals can be a little bit of a conundrum in terms of competing interests; in terms of safeguarding agriculture, but at the same time facilitating trade and, in doing so, potentially running the risk of accidental introduction of pest or disease. So having said that, our pest and disease programs very readily lend themselves to a cost-benefit analysis. What's the program going to cost? What's the potential export or market that might be out there, or what is the value of that commodity to our own economy? And then doing a cost-benefit. Is the cost of that program going to yield potential benefits that will exceed those costs?

Here again, we also know that by instituting various plant and animal disease programs, we can improve our export markets. We can improve the exportability, if you will, of certain markets. And so is that potential market from a cost-benefit analysis greater than what the cost would be of implementing some of our programs? APHIS has actually scored very high within the Department on the OMB process to review program assessment, if you will, where we have scored high in terms of the value of our programs versus the return on that investment.

Mr. Wasson: How is APHIS making the adjustments on the move of its port-of-entry inspectors to the Department of Homeland Security?

Dr. DeHaven: We've gone through a very difficult transition. It was in March of last year that we transferred somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,600 agricultural quarantine inspectors to the new Department of Homeland Security. These 2,600 inspectors are the people at our ports and borders whose job it is to ensure that we don't inadvertently allow into the country prohibited products that might also harbor plant diseases or animal diseases. So it's been somewhat of a difficult transition for us to lose those inspectors while at the same time ensuring that they continue to have a very active role in performing that agricultural mission at our ports and borders.

We found newfound friends with our colleagues in the Customs and Border Protection, one of the major units within the Department of Homeland Security. And we think that through the creation of this new department and overseeing all of the inspection activities at the ports and borders, not just agricultural, but Customs inspections and immigration inspections, that there is ample opportunity for improvement, and at the end of the day, having a far better system. Our role is to continue to provide the policy and training for those inspectors at the ports and border, making sure that the agricultural mission remains very high on their priority list. And in order to do that, we've had a couple of initiatives underway.

We're working with our colleagues at DHS to have a quality assurance program to ensure that that inspection is happening as it should, but also that we've got good communication. Current issues, is there a new outbreak or a new situation that would cause us to send an alert to the ports and borders to be on the lookout for a particular commodity or a disease that might be presenting itself? Changes in policy -- and we continue to, again, provide the training for the agricultural inspectors, including the new agricultural specialist within the Department of Homeland Security. So we're developing a newfound friendship and relationship with our colleagues at DHS. And, again, I think that at the end of the day, there's a potential to have a much more effective system.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting, especially all the technology described that underpin the programs.

With all the technology being used today, how are skilled IT professionals being recruited and retained? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven of APHIS to tell us about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Mr. Wasson: Well, good morning. Dr. DeHaven, in the future what changes of shifts do you see in APHIS's role in protecting U.S. agriculture?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, I think we're already seeing some of those shifts. We're seeing more new and emerging diseases in the last few years than we've ever seen before, and I think that's reflected in the apportionment of monies that we've received to respond to some of those new emergencies and emerging pests and diseases. During the eight-year period from 1993 to 2000, we spent some $475 million in responding to those kinds of plant and animal emergencies. In the last four years, that number has soared to $1.1 billion. So in half the time, we've spent twice the amount of money responding to some of the new and emerging plant and animal pests and diseases.

We've touched base already on the fact that as we enter into more trade agreements with our trading partners around the world, some of the technical issues to safeguard American agriculture are becoming those issues that are limiting trade, and so increasing pressure on APHIS to resolve those technical issues in a way that applies appropriate safeguards, but doesn't unduly restrict trade.

And then as we mentioned before, with the events of 9/11, the anthrax situation here in Washington, D.C., with the recognition with the foot-and-mouth disease in Europe that we, too, are vulnerable, we have an increasingly important homeland security role within USDA in general and APHIS in particular. I think we're realizing as an agency that emergencies are part of our norm. As we go about our day-to-day business, that's going to include responding to whatever the current emergency is, either on the plant or animal side or, heaven forbid, both of them.

Mr. Wasson: How does APHIS plan on integrating and protecting its science and technology infrastructure?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, I think the credibility of our whole agency is that we are a science-based organization. We need to stay science-based and keep that as part of our roots. We have expanded, in fact, that science base in our agency, and I'll give a couple of examples.

Within our plant protection quarantine unit, we've created a Center for Plant Health Science and Technology. So as we're dealing with the domestic disease programs and coming up with new science-based ways of dealing with them, or have a trade issue that requires a science-based resolution, it's those scientists at CPHST, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology, that are responsible for coming up with those kinds of science-based resolutions. And on the animal side, a similar organization is called the Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health.

Clearly, when it comes to regulating biotechnology, we have to be science-based there. It's an evolving industry; the potential benefits are huge. We have to understand the science and ensure that our regulations are science-based.

Our wildlife services unit has gone from an organization that managed damage control on livestock to one that is really a wildlife disease management organization, employing a number of wildlife biologists to ensure that where there is interaction between wildlife and domestic livestock, we're appropriately managing the disease concerns there. So we are science-based, and our future credibility is dependent upon ensuring that we're employing the best science in our programs and activities.

Mr. Lawrence: Throughout our conversation this morning, you've talked an awful lot about very complicated programs: technological, statistical, and scientific. So let me ask you just about the employees who support you. Let's start with technology. How is the agency recruiting and retaining skilled IT workers?

Dr. DeHaven: Indeed. With all the program activities I've talked about, Paul, we couldn't carry out all those activities if we didn't have an excellent support staff, and we do, and that runs the gamut from our IT specialists to our financial managers. On the IT side, especially in the last couple of years, actually recruitment of good quality IT specialists has not been an issue for us. Typically when we put out an advertisement for a vacancy, we get a good number of applicants. And so I'm proud of the caliber and expertise of our IT specialists within the agency.

Having said that, I think that there is a couple of things that we can do, or several things that we can do if that becomes an issue in terms of providing financial incentives to attract some of those IT specialists. But I think even more fundamental than that is within APHIS, we have an organizational culture that values our employees and places high value on family values. So I think we're a family-friendly, employee-friendly organization, but we can also provide those kinds of financial incentives if need be.

Mr. Wasson: How is APHIS supporting agriculture trade between the U.S. and its trading partners?

Dr. DeHaven: Within our international services unit, we have a separate team we call the trade support team, which is really the interface between APHIS, our Foreign Agricultural Service, and the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, where we are collectively working on agricultural trade issues. I think especially in the last decade, trade has become increasingly important as we enter into all of these trade agreements. And the technical barriers to trade that APHIS is responsible for are becoming increasingly important. So we have this team of individuals with geographical responsibility around the world that deal specifically with those issues from a technical standpoint, but also serve as our liaison between other parts of government that are dealing with agricultural trade issues.

But we're also expanding our presence overseas. We have APHIS employees in 29 countries that are working on not just facilitating trade, but being our eyes and ears in terms of the agricultural threats that are out there in terms of what potential threat might be coming to us from different parts of the world because of the animal and plant disease situations around the world. So I think we have an increasing role, and we certainly have had over the past decade an increasing role in trade, and I don't see that doing anything in the future except expanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. DeHaven, if I've done my math right, you've dedicated your career to public service, almost 30 years if I remember the dates from our first segment. So I'd like to ask you to be reflective and talk to a person who's maybe interested in a career or just starting out in public service. What advice would you give to them?

Dr. DeHaven: I think one of the most frustrating experiences of my 30-year career in government was getting that first job. There was no good process to tap into the system, get your questions answered, and effectively compete. So while I think we've made some tremendous inroads and are much more user-friendly today than we were in the past in the perspective, and there's ample opportunity to get information from the Internet, I would encourage folks to be patient and persistent.

I would also say, at the end of the day, certainly for me it's been worth it. Certainly don't come to work for government if you just want to draw a paycheck and sit back and look forward to a retirement. Plan on working, working hard, but also plan on the rewards being substantial. I think the impact, for example, that APHIS has on American agriculture is tremendous. And so while the work is hard, the hours can be long, the rewards are equally as large.

I would also encourage those that are interested in coming to work for a particular agency learn what you can about the agency before you go for a job interview. I can't tell you the number of people that I've interviewed for prospective jobs that know next to nothing about the agency. And indeed if you are truly interested in working for that agency, it just makes common sense that you would have done some background and know what that agency does and what kind of position that you would be interested in.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm afraid we're out of time. That'll have to be our last question. Dr. DeHaven, Mike and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule this morning.

Dr. DeHaven: Well, thank you, Paul, it's been my pleasure, and Mike as well. I appreciate the questions and the opportunity to explain to the public the wide variety and important functions that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service plays. We've got a great group of dedicated employees who work hard day-in and day-out.

And for those of you that are interested in knowing more about our programs, I would encourage you to visit our website. That website is www.aphis.usda.gov. And we've got a comprehensive website that will explain to you more about what we do in our various programs as well as provide mechanisms for you to get answers to your questions if you need services from our agency.

Again, Paul and Mike, thank you very much for having me on your program.

Mr. Wasson: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Dr. DeHaven.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Ron DeHaven interview
12/11/2004
"Agricultural trade is critical to our economy. Our role is to ensure that agricultural exports and products imported abroad are safe and not a risk to trade partners. Potential health and pest risks are becoming the limiting issues within trade."

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