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.

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

Samuel Chambers, Jr. interview

Monday, November 29th, 1999 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Samuel Chambers, Jr.
Radio show date: 
Thu, 04/20/2000
Intro text: 
Missions and Program ...

Missions and Program

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Thursday, April 20, 2000

Mr. Lawrence: 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 improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the Endowment, visit us on the web at Endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. My special guest tonight is Sam Chambers, administrator of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service. Welcome, Sam.

Mr. Chambers: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: In this first segment, let's begin by talking about FNS. Can you tell us a little bit about it, its functions and its budget?

Mr. Chambers: The United States Department of Agriculture has approximately 29 mission areas. We are a part of one of those mission areas. The Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services includes our agency, the Food and Nutrition Services, along with another organization known as the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotions.

Our primary responsibility is to administer the Department's $39 billion in financial assets that go expressly toward supporting the nation's 15 domestic nutrition assistance and nutrition education programs. All of the programs that typically feed America's hungry and needy individuals principally come out of that $39 billion that we are responsible for.

In terms of rough statistics, we have approximately 1,660 staff located here in a headquarters operation in Alexandria, Virginia and seven regional and sixty field offices throughout the United States. The $39 billion or so that we are responsible for annually represents about 70 percent of the Department of Agriculture's budget. So, essentially, what you have is a situation where two percent of the Department's staffing resources is responsible for 70 percent of all of its financial resources.

The kinds of programs that we are talking about include the National School Lunch Program, which is operating practically in every large, small, medium size as well as rural community in the United States. Wherein, essentially, young children have access to either free, reduced or in some cases, a few cases, meals that they have to pay for in their entirety. But these are nutritious meals that are offered based on planned menus that we produce, along with other organizations, produce that schools' food service professionals provide.

We also operate the School Breakfast Program, which operates in about half of the programs, or school districts, that operate school lunch programs. So that there are some school districts that operate school lunch programs that don't necessarily operate school breakfast programs.

We have as our flagship program the National Food Stamp Program, which is approximately 50 percent of our entire expenditure. Of the $39 billion or so that we administer, $19 billion of it goes to the Federal Food Stamp Program.

We operate the Women and Infant and Children Special Nutrition Program, commonly known as WIC. We have a number of other small programs, such as the food distribution program on Indian Reservations, which is essentially a commodity program. We have a nutrition assistance program for the elderly and a number of other smaller nutrition assistance programs, including one that is not commonly well-known, and that's the special milk program. We have some school districts that don't operate a national school lunch or a school breakfast program, but do participate in our special milk program, where youngsters have access to low-fat skim milk as a part of their lunchtime meals. And that's provided through, as I said, the Department of Agriculture.

So we have a large mission that is responsible for providing access to nutrition assistance benefits, as well as nutrition education resources, and these are all national programs.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Sam, I see that you have some 30 years of public sector service. I was wondering if you could tell us about your career, prior to becoming administrator.

Mr. Chambers: Well, this September, September 3rd, I'll actually have 32 years. I started out in Michigan, in Detroit, Michigan back in September of 1968 as a public welfare trainee. Often times people will ask me, well, how did you come to be involved in public welfare programming? Quite by accident. I had completed my undergraduate degree at Southern University in Louisiana. I had a young family and one child and one more on the way. I had an undergraduate degree in Psychology, with a minor in Philosophy, and I was working at Continental Trailways Bus Lines, making $1.77 an hour, which, at that time, was top wages for somebody working as a porter. And because I had worked as hard as I'd worked to secure my undergraduate degree, I simply could not see having a college degree and working for $1.77 an hour. So, I knew that if I went to the North, where I had cousins in Detroit, I could at least get a better paying job in the automobile industry, until such time as I could get a professional job.

Well, two weeks after getting to Detroit, I was offered a job as a public welfare trainee, making $3.64 an hour. And the young lady who made the job offer to me was somewhat embarrassed and thought that I would reject the job because of the low wages. She couldn't imagine my excitement at being offered a job paying $3.64 an hour. And when she wanted to know why I was so excited about it, I said, "Lady, at best I was making $1.77 an hour. You just doubled my income."

So, to make a long story short, that was my first awareness, actually my first awareness of welfare programs. Because, at that time, welfare programs were not well instituted in many communities in the United States, particularly in the southern communities. And it was an opportunity for me to begin to practice some of what I had learned as a part of my undergraduate training.

Throughout the years that I remained with that state system, for 30 years, throughout the years I had an opportunity to move into other areas of work including supervision and administration. I did public affairs. I did constituent work for the agency. I did administrative support. I was an investigator and auditor, a policy analyst. And eventually in 1991, I was named the executive director for the agency of about 4,600 people at that particular time. I served as the executive director for seven years, prior to taking this assignment with the Department of Agriculture.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you tell us about that experience? I understand you were the director of the Michigan Family Independence Agency for Wayne County, formerly known and the Michigan Department of Social Services. Could you tell us about that experience?

Mr. Chambers: Starting out as a public welfare trainee, with no experience with welfare programs at all, was an eye-opening experience for me. I came from a poor community in New Orleans, Louisiana. But unless you had something to compare with, and because everybody lived the same kind of lifestyle in that community -- at least the part of the community that I lived in -- there was no sense of being poor. We thought everybody lived like that.

So, when I completed my undergraduate work and then moved to the north and was exposed to the fact that some people lived better than I was accustomed to living, and then began to work with the Department of Social Services, as it was known at that particular time, and then became a caseworker trainee and subsequently moved up in the organization, I became sensitized to the fact that there really were gradations of poverty that were much more severe than anything I had experienced. And that there were programs, such as the ones that I was involved in, that could in fact be a means to an end or a way for individuals and families to live a richer life.

It was during that experience that I also became aware of and worked with families that were experiencing even more trauma than typical poor families, most poor families, experience. And I'm talking now about instances of child abuse, neglect, or serious child sexual exploitation. This was something that I had no familiarity with, because I grew up in a very loving family, a poor family, but a very loving family in which children, as well as elders, were respected and revered. I had no context for child abuse at all. So, when I became a child abuse worker, you can imagine my shock and surprise to realize that there were children who were treated as poorly and as devastatingly poorly as some of the children that were on some of the caseloads that I was responsible for.

So over that 30-year period of time I had an opportunity to have a number of rude awakenings with regard to the quality of life or I should say the very low quality of life that many of our citizens experience. I became familiar with some of the terrible plight of many of our senior citizens and our home-bound who are exploited on a regular basis by other adults in the community, who steal from them, who sexually abuse them, who subject them to all kinds of cruelties and indignities. And so that, over time, really made me sensitive to the calling that I had and the need for me to continue to grow in this work that I was doing.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and tonight's conversation is with Sam Chambers, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service. Sam, in the second segment, let's talk about FNS. Let's spend some time talking about your experience. What was it like when you arrived, and what changes have you made?

Mr. Chambers: Well, this is a rather mature organization that has a staff of exceptionally competent and well-educated and well-trained professionals. It is a relatively small organization in terms of the numbers of employees that are within the entire Department of Agriculture. But it is one that is very rich in terms of its experience base and the longevity of the employees that work in that organization.

We found an organization that was, unfortunately, rooted in its culture, somewhat resistant to change. It has, as a part of its cultural orientation, some resistance to outsiders or people who come in from the outside, particularly people who are appointed as a part of a political appointment process. And so, I found an organization that was not tempted by my experience and by my holy words of encouragement that we could do better as an organization. So we had a very rocky start, in terms of some of the things that we wanted to do and some of the things we felt we needed to do.

We knew we needed to address the culture of the organization and help them understand that the organization had before it a number of challenges that could only be overcome if its management and leadership structure and its management and leadership style were more flexible and more open to change. So one of the first things we did was to introduce a total quality management process. Heretofore, they had been working with a consultant for about a year and a half, without substantive results, and the undersecretary who appointed me was very frustrated. And one of the early requirements that she placed on me was, "I want a total quality management culture established right now."

We began to work immediately upon arrival, and by February the 1st of 1999, we implemented that new cultural change process. And that has led to significant redevelopment of the culture of the organization. Our staff has now been empowered at the most elemental level, the individual employee level, to be creative. We have a number of reinvention efforts that have already begun. Some have, in fact, been completed. We have revolutionized the entire training process, rebuilt that. We have totally redone the strategic plan, made it simpler, streamlined it, and made it integrated in terms of its focus and its core mission. We have now developed the first ever integrated planning process, so that all of our planning in the agency, regardless of where that planning emanates from, will have to fold in with our strategic plan and the major goals and objectives that we've established with that plan.

We are about to announce the institutionalization of a planning structure, so that there will be an individual in my office, who reports directly to me, who will be responsible for keeping us focused with regard to our plan and updating our strategic objectives. We have also created the first ever Leadership Institute, and the first 21 of our potential new senior leaders are going through an intensive fifteen-month program, which is designed to create the next bevy of senior leaders for this organization.

We commissioned the first double succession plan, recognizing that this was a mature organization, we wanted to know what would be the short and long-term implications of retirements, normal attrition, in our organization. Only to discover, as a result of that, that over the next four to five years, we're going to lose 40 percent of our middle-to-senior management. The organization had no plan for addressing that. The organization had no awareness of its vulnerability. But once that information was available, then we immediately went into a planning mode, and so this Leadership Institute will produce some of that cadre.

We are about to institutionalize a new program, whereby we are going to improve our recruitment strategies. We're going to introduce a brand new strategy for recruiting beyond what I refer to as "The Shores of Gitchee Gumee." We're going to go to the non-traditional sources for future employees, so that we have a bevy of employees available who've been pre-screened, pre-certified, and pre-interviewed in terms of their interest in coming into the federal government. And these employees, along with those that we are developing in-house, will provide us with a richer mix of employees who have significant leadership skills, who have strong commitment, strong educational backgrounds, strong experience bases and who come in ready to take names and get the job done.

Mr. Lawrence: I've read about your Leadership Plan 2000 and Beyond. As I understand, it was adopted to help bring about quality and implement the strategic plans. What were the driving forces behind the development of this plan?

Mr. Chambers: Actually, three things: one, the assignment that was given to me by my undersecretary, who gave me very explicit instructions. She did not tell me what it should look like. She simply told me that she wanted it. Secondly, I've had experience in my previous life of having developed a total quality management process. I've done a lot of study. I've trained organizations and people around the entire United States. I still do that as a part of this assignment.

I've done strategic plans in the past for the organization I came from. And so, we had a process that I developed a number of years ago, known as the five "P"s of quality management, which is based on, as I said, my 32 years of professional experience in what works and what doesn't work. It’s based on the philosophies of Juran, Deming and Ishikawa and all of the great thinkers in this area. But practicing and developing processes that really, over time, have proven to be meritorious in my review that was the second thing.

The third thing was just the imperative. Recognizing that this was an organization that has been under siege, it has been under an experience of at least five years of continuously declining resources, but at least five years of escalating expectations and requirements for products. So, that argued for efficiencies. That argued for rebuilding. That argued for a reorientation of the culture and mind-set of the leadership. It argued for a constancy of focus on purpose and mission and objectives.

And so, we used Leadership 2000 and Beyond, which is basically an eclectic approach to quality management processes based on a set of principles that I've practiced myself, and developed it into this cohesive concept of the five "P"s of quality management -- which has worked, over time, for me and has worked in the organization that I came from and, miraculously, is working in this agency today.

Mr. Lawrence: It is time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And tonight's conversation is with Sam Chambers, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service. Well, Sam, in this third segment, let's talk about managing FNS and dealing with employees. In our last segment, you described tremendous changes that take place. And my first question is, how do the employees deal with all this?

Mr. Chambers: Initially, I think the employees at the lower levels of the organization looked at this with great skepticism. They've had administrators come and go. If there's one constant, it's change, for them. And they've had prophets come and make prognostications about change in the past and the benefits of adopting change and so on and so forth, without much popular result.

They looked at me as the next person in a line of people who will come in and attempt to produce change that would not result in any change at all, or certainly no improvement in the quality of their lives. People at the middle, and even some people at the top, looked at me and some of what we were offering as a threat, a threat to their homeostatic and comfortable lifestyles. Many of these people have been in the organization for 20, 25, 30 years. They were comfortable doing things the way they were doing it. As far as they were concerned, and at least several people said to me openly in meetings, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." My retort to that was, "If it ain't broke, then break it." Nothing remains constant in this life. We all age, whether we like it or not. And there's a significant amount of beauty products on the market that are available to attest to that.

So, there was skepticism. There was fear. There was panic. And there was some out and out disgust and outrage with the fact that we were introducing all of this change and promotion that we were going to do this within the life span of two years. That is the maximum time available to me as a part of this current administration.

Overcoming that, of course, required several things. It required one that I continue to be committed to the charge that I have been given by the undersecretary. Two it required that I continue to be committed to myself and the expectations that I've always lived by myself in terms of being productive and having something to show for my efforts at the end of every day. And three, it required proof. I had to establish rapid results for staff. I had to appeal to them at their basic levels, and then I had to "walk the talk." And we constantly talk about "walking the talk." They had to have evidence. They had to see change, and they had to see it in their lifetime. And they had to believe that they would benefit from it.

One of the first things that we did was make them a part of it. The license to improve a process that is a part of our TQM process itself. It is a mechanism by which we provide local empowerment for individuals to look at their work, the way their teams work, and then look at outdated processes, and new methodologies that they can sponsor, that they can author, that they can create, they can divine and innovate. And without needing to get extraterrestrial approval from higher ups in the administration, go about the business of making those changes. Since February the 1st of 1999, we've been able to document 165 locally inspired, individual employee-directed licenses to improve, where individuals, as far as our administration is concerned, simply have to acknowledge what they're doing. And as long as they have the blessing of their immediate supervisors and they can identify other individuals who have an interest in working with them, they are free to innovate.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of changes have those projects brought about?

Mr. Chambers: Those projects have brought about simplifications in work processes and work methodologies. They have brought about major changes in terms of how we recognize employees. We have a recognition campaign right now that is pre-funded. It has resulted in major streamlining, in terms of workspace requirements.

I'll give you an example. I was down in Florida visiting one of my offices, one of my field offices, an office with about 15 people. And I was introduced to a student assistant, a summer assistant, who was aware of technology and presented to me an idea for taking all of the many files that we have currently stored in file cabinets and managing that paper using CD-ROM technology. I came back and talked about that. I said to him at the time, "You have an automatic license to improve. You don't even need my permission. We will procure the equipment. You demonstrate the technology and produce the savings, document the savings, and then we'll empower you to go forward and do this." That office did not move swiftly, but in talking about it, a young person up in my northeast region, up in my Boston region, heard about the idea, and now they have actually implemented it.

Again, it did not require any official approval or sanctions from any higher ups in the organization. It just simply required that folks consider the opportunity available to be creative.

Mr. Lawrence: I notice with your quality management effort that you also invest in employee training. What's your strategy for training?

Mr. Chambers: Our strategy for training is based on an idea that was given to me some time ago that says that every employee who joins an organization has a right to expect some opportunity for personal actualization as a part of their commitment, when they join that organization. We may hire an individual as a program analyst. But over the lifetime of that individual's career service with this agency, one would hope that that person would become agitated enough to want to grow in the organization. That means that they are going to go outside and get some professional training and some job-related training on their own, perhaps, even pursue advanced degree work in a college setting or university setting.

But we have an obligation, I think, to also meet that person halfway and provide them with the tools and resources that would help them develop, so that they could aspire to do more in the organization. Recognizing that the organization that I inherited had a very low visible commitment to professional development, we pumped some money, dedicated some money, to training and professional development.

We took the very limited resources that were, at that time, housed in our human resources development that really were not being exploited as well as I thought they should, and relocated them to my office personally to be managed and developed. I assigned them to my quality manager so that he could ensure that the training that we did was consistent and compatible with our overall goals for quality management and leadership development.

We then went out and procured the services of an organization to produce a Leadership Institute, based on proven design work that had been developed in another sister agency. We then front-funded 15 months of that program as a demo. We put in place a recruitment strategy for the best and the brightest of our young people in the organization, and then we committed them to a 15-month aggressive, leadership development program.

We then developed a strategic plan for professional development for all of our staff. And our senior leadership team has now recently blessed that plan, and we are very aggressively moving to put that plan in place and to have the first training available late summer of this current year. All of this was done within two years of having signed on to this job.

Mr. Lawrence: The agency is committed to quality management, because you believe it will help the agency improve the nation's nutritional health and end hunger. How do you feel that FNS is doing in terms of moving closer to this mission?

Mr. Chambers: In the last two years, we have galvanized our work force. We have developed a community, what we refer to as a community food security strategy. We have empowered and required every one of our staff, throughout the entire system, to become personally involved in working with those local communities, being creative, providing leadership.

We have re-honed our agency's vision and the new vision challenges us all to end hunger and to improve nutrition and health as our primary objective. This is what we do every day, day in and day out. We are moving further along those lines. We have created new resources, new tools. Many of those are up on our public website. Individuals and organizations throughout the United can learn more about what we're doing and actually pull down information that would demonstrate to them our commitment as an organization, and as individual professionals, to achieving this particular vision for our organization.

So, we're moving aggressively forward. The newly reformatted teaching plan is now in place in our organization. Every one of us who goes out and does any public speaking tries to find some way to highlight that strategic plan and that vision. And as I said, we now charge all of our administrators and all of our staff with the responsibility for living that vision through their professional connections and personal relationships as a part of their job.

So, we are moving forward. We've given ourselves five years to show significant benefit, but we're not waiting for five years' proof before we feel that we are moving in the right direction. So we are, each year going to be readjusting and fine-tuning our objectives, so that we make certain that we are moving aggressively toward that end.

If you're interested, I can give you an example of what one of our managers is doing down in the southeast region, which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Virgil Conrad, regional administrator, has convened all of his commissioners from the states that he is responsible for and gotten their agreement to sign on, at the highest levels of government in those states, to a campaign to end hunger by the year 2005 in the entire southeast region. This has heretofore never been done before, that one of our offices and one of our management teams has been able to get agreement with state officials to end hunger by the year 2005.

Mr. Lawrence: An admirable goal. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a minute. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers. And tonight's conversation is with Samuel Chambers, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service. In this last segment, Sam, let's look ahead to the future, and let's talk about technology. Technology is becoming an increasingly important part of the success of all government agencies. Can you tell us about the role of technology at FNS?

Mr. Chambers: Just like many other levels of government, we are finding as our staffing resources diminish, but the work load and work expectation continues, that technology offers us significant benefits in maintaining an adequate work flow and producing the quality of products that are required to support these nutrition assistance and nutrition education initiatives. One of the things that we've done is we've continued to upgrade the quality of the technology, the computers and the other technological aids that our staff use in order to do their work.

We are limited in staff resources and the availability of computers and, even in my case, the availability of a laptop computer or the availability of a cell phone or the availability of a pager. In more recent cases, the availability of a Palm Pilot makes my work a lot more efficient and provides me with additional opportunities to access staff and to respond to requests for information and to react to the additional challenges and assignments that I have. So even in my own work life, I can see significant advances in terms of my ability to do the many things that I have to do efficiently.

We have found that in order to meet the increased and oftentimes more rapid demands for access to information about our services and programs, we have been able to increase client access or customer access significantly by the internet and by the development of additional websites within our internet. In the very near future, we'll be introducing extra-net that will allow us to communicate in real time with our principal state cooperators or state agency providers, providing them advanced information about changes in regulations, changes in new policies and so on and so forth. So they'll be able to introduce those things and react to them, where appropriate, as quickly as possible.

We are also relying upon technology to expedite access to program benefits into reduced waste and reduced fraud in our programs. By the year 2002, October of 2002, we will have our entire food stamp program up and all of our benefits being authorized electronically. There will no longer be any food stamps. In fact, we're looking right now at re-titling or renaming the program because there will no longer be any coupons.

Individuals will be accessing their program benefits in the Food Stamp Program by use of magnetic cards, similar to the ATM and credit cards that you and I use today for transacting much of our economic transactions. Welfare recipients, food stamp recipients, social security recipients, VA benefit recipients and many others in the foreseeable future will be transacting all of their business exchange with us by way of electronic media.

And so, we have a deadline to meet just in terms of the Food Stamp Program, which is half of our program benefits of October 2002, when all of those benefits will be transacted electronically. We're looking at our farmers market program, where essentially farmers, community farmers, are actually able to provide access to program recipients to fresh fruits and vegetables through a local farmers market. We're looking at how we can utilize technology to increase participation and to make that participation more efficient than currently is available utilizing paper and coupons.

Technology and e-commerce is breaking new ground for us in this environment. Eventually, I can foresee the day when there will be no paper, card stock, being used at all in the transaction of any of our business. With the electronic benefit transfer program, for example, in food stamps, we're able to more quickly and more accurately reconcile transactions. We can look for transaction patterns that illustrate or provide evidence that there is some sort of trafficking, illegal trafficking going on or misappropriation or misdirection of program benefits. It allows my investigators more data than they've ever had available to them to track down those individuals who are trafficking in program benefits and to shut down those operations more quickly than we ever could have shut them down in the past.

Of course, having electronic data available to us in real time provides more accurate and more assurance of being able to get speedy and positive convictions in those situations that are most egregious. So, we are looking at providing faster access to information, faster access to program benefits, more efficient administrative processes for ourselves, more efficient staff work within the organization, more efficient communications. And more frequent and assured access to the benefits, the $39 billion worth of benefits, that we administer every year.

Mr. Lawrence: In our last segment we talked about dealing with change. Certainly it sounds like the technology you describe will bring about tremendous change in FNS. I'm wondering how are the employees dealing with it and how are the customers to not have stamps any more when they get food stamps? Sounds like a very different thing than I might be used to. How are they dealing with it?

Mr. Chambers: Well, there are some challenges. As I said, we have a very seasoned work force. Many of these individuals within the next four to five years are going to be leaving us. And unfortunately, many of them have had some difficulty with adopting, accepting some of the new technology. For example, we are about to pilot the use of the Palm Pilot or personal data assistant for our senior managers as a way of being better informed and having access to more accurate information, program information and the like. We've actually had some of our managers express complete disagreement with this technology, indicating that they have had no interest in it in the past, they have no utility for it, and it is something that they are not going to introduce.

I once said to some staff in reaction to complaints about requirements to use new technology that that may in fact explain what happened to the dinosaur. When the environmental conditions changed, the dinosaur couldn't adapt. At least that's one explanation as to what happened. And so, what we've said to them is, you can adopt the dinosaur mentality if you choose, but progress will move forward, and this agency will move forward. So, there's been that reaction. There's also some negative reaction out in the consumer community, because we have a lot of consumers that have not really been introduced to this technology and it does in fact produce some fear, some scary prognostications for some individuals.

There is a lot of education that needs to be provided to the consumer community. There is even some education or re-education that is going to be required for some of our staff. But I have to believe that the great majority of our staff have adopted the technology generally.

Many of them are pushing for the creative and innovative ideas that we're now testing and attempting to put into motion. The concept of the extra-net was designed by one of our high-impact work groups, one of our staff work groups. This was not an idea that I produced. The staff themselves felt that we needed to improve our communication in real time with our providers and other state collaborators and cooperators.

And so, the great majority of our staff has responded tremendously. The great majority of our consumers have responded. Many of our larger providers have responded very well. The large grocery chains, for example, have found that they can be much more efficient in their management of our program benefits through magnetic cards technology.

And so, overall, I would say 80 percent of the reaction has been very, very positive. It's been the outliers that have really posed some temporary problems for us. But I view these as temporary problems.

Mr. Lawrence: How about some other key issues facing FNS in the future?

Mr. Chambers: I think there is a major issue that is going to confront us even more in the future than today and that is the adequacy of staff resources. This agency has taken significant hits in the past. I believe, personally, that we are significantly underfunded, and significantly overcommitted. And so I think at some point, we're going to have to seriously consider scaling back the mission of this agency or increasing its staff resources.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much, Sam. I've enjoyed the time you've spent with us today. It's been a very good conversation.

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 in new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web, www.endowment.pwcglobal.com. See you next week.

Samuel Chambers, Jr. interview
04/20/2000
Samuel Chambers, Jr.

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